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The Films of Sam Peckinpah

The Deadly Companions

Ride the High Country

Major Dundee

The Wild Bunch

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Straw Dogs (May 27/05)

It's interesting to note that Straw Dogs received a heaping dose of controversy when it was released back in the early '70s, thanks to its heavy emphasis on violence and revenge. Now, in this post-Schwarzenegger and Stallone era, the film can't help but come off as tame and antiquated (particularly when compared to such mindlessly bloody films as Commando and Predator). Dustin Hoffman stars as David Sumner, an American mathematician who moves to a small British village with his wife (Susan George) - where he quickly comes under attack from the locals, who have apparently never seen a woman before. While there's no denying that Straw Dogs is an effective and engrossing film - particularly in its last half hour - there are plenty of problems that prevent it from becoming an all-out classic. The one-dimensional portrayal of all the villagers is certainly right up there, as is the bizarre unwillingness of David's wife to fight back during a pivotal rape sequence. Likewise, director Sam Peckinpah employs a laid-back pace that's awfully drawn out (the film is at least a half hour overlong) and his use of some seriously dated editing techniques is questionable - though there's no denying that the filmmaker does an amazing job with the action-packed and suspenseful third act (it's clear he's inspired several contemporary directors, including Sam Raimi). It's because that portion of the movie is so powerful that we're willing to overlook the various faults, and it certainly doesn't hurt that Hoffman delivers a stunning, unforgettable performance.

out of

Junior Bonner (July 7/09)

Steve McQueen's first collaboration with Sam Peckinpah, Junior Bonner casts the actor as the title character - an aging rodeo pro who rolls into his home town of Prescott, Arizona for its Fourth of July festivities and is subsequently confronted with a whole host of familiar faces (including his down-on-his-luck father and his black-sheep brother). Peckinpah has infused the proceedings with an exceedingly deliberate sensibility that proves an appropriate match for Jeb Rosebrook's laid-back screenplay, and there's little doubt that the ensuing atmosphere of authenticity plays a significant role in the film's admittedly mild success (with the fully fleshed-out nature of even the most minor of supporting characters ultimately reflecting Rosebrook's impressive attention to detail). And although McQueen offers up as compelling and magnetic a performance as one might've expected, Junior Bonner nevertheless remains curiously uninvolving for the majority of its running time - as the leisurely pace effectively prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the material. This is despite the uniformly stellar performances and the inclusion of a few genuinely poignant sequences, with the scene in which Junior sits down for an honest chat with his pop (Robert Preston's Ace Bonner) certainly the most apt example of the latter. The end result is an affable piece of work that never quite becomes the stirring drama that one imagines Peckinpah was shooting for, although the movie is undoubtedly a must for fans of McQueen - as the actor effortlessly steps into the shoes of a much more low-key character than he's come to be associated with.

out of

The Getaway (June 21/09)

Though its myriad of less-than-enthralling elements are compounded by a seriously overlong running time, The Getaway ultimately comes off as an above-average thriller that's elevated by the inclusion of several electrifying sequences and an expectedly charismatic turn from Steve McQueen. The storyline follows recently-paroled convict Doc McCoy (McQueen) as he and his girlfriend (Ali MacGraw's Carol) are forced to go on the run after a bank heist goes awry, with the bulk of the proceedings detailing the couple's efforts at reaching a safe house near the border while avoiding the murderous advances of a vicious cohort (Al Lettieri's Rudy Butler). There's little doubt that The Getaway takes an awfully long time to grow on the viewer, as the movie suffers from an almost egregiously slow opening half hour that's exacerbated by Peckinpah's reliance on eye-rollingly ostentatious editing tricks (with Quincy Jones' grating score certainly not helping matters). The robbery that kicks the story into motion inevitably proves to be the film's turning point, although - admittedly - the episodic midsection does ensure that some segments are far more enthralling than others (ie Doc must scour a train station after a petty thief makes away with his loot). Peckinpah's penchant for visceral instances of violence is never more evident than in the movie's action-packed final showdown, in which Doc is essentially forced to take on a small army's worth of mob soldiers within a dilapidated hotel. It's a fantastic sequence that inevitably cements The Getaway's place as a crackling thriller trapped within the confines of a bloated disappointment, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of both McQueen and MacGraw's work here (ie the revelation that the two actors fell in love on the set is hardly surprising, as the chemistry between their respective characters is palpable).

out of

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

The Killer Elite

Cross of Iron


The Osterman Weekend

About the Blu-ray: Straw Dogs arrives on Blu-ray armed with an impressive 1080p transfer, with bonus features limited to TV spots and a trailer.
© David Nusair