Sam Peckinpah was a fantastic director, but by all accounts, a mean drunk and drug-addled brute. Like a lot of artists, he was not appreciated much during his lifetime and he died at age 59 due to his hard living. He was one of the first directors to use many of the same actors in his films. Among his friends and collaborators were James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Harry Dean Stanton, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones. Can you imagine a night out with that crew? His films were often violent and bloody by the standards of the day, but pretty tame now. Many people have written that his main theme was the passage of time and the inability of some people to adapt to the changing times. I would argue it is more about individuals, who through a lifetime of selfishness, lost opportunity and moral ambiguities, have reached the point where they just don't really care anymore. They are ill-equipped to even pull off their "last score", like a group of toothless lions scrapping it out with hyenas. His films never made much money, and some have aged better than others. I recommend the following if you get the chance:
1. Ride The High County (1962): This is a pretty straightforward western with the typical Peckinpah story: burned-out old men trying to figure out how to...figure things out. It stars Randolph Scott (Gil) and Joel McRea (Judd) in pretty much their last feature movie. Mariette Hartley is also in it. Warren Oates plays a drunken redneck. Gil and Scott are hired by a banker to escort some gold down from a mine in the Sierra Nevada's. On the trail, Gil decides that should steal the gold but Judd disagrees. Our boys tangle with Oates and crew before a final shootout at a ranch. This is actually on TCM quite a bit.
2. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973): This movie has just about all of Peckinpah's cronies in it and the version usually screened on TCM is outstanding. James Coburn (Garrett) is the Marshall on the hunt for Kris Kristofferson (Billy). Fantastic movie. It also stars Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Harry Dean Stanton, LQ Jones, Chill Wills, Jason Robards, Jack Elam, and Bob Dylan. Great dialogue...offbeat...cool soundtrack. A must watch.
3. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974): This movie is a hot mess...and I love it. The story is pretty simple: a Mexican jefe hires Warren Oates (Bennie) to bring him the head of the man that got his teenage daughter pregnant. Bennie and his girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) take a trip to retrieve the said head. Along the way, they run into hitmen, outlaw bikers, and spend time in some of the seediest establishments south of the border. In the end, there's a double-cross, and the usual Peckinpah pirouette of violence. Also stars Kris Kristofferson, Robert Webber and Gig Young. It is rarely shown anymore but worth viewing.
4. The Wild Bunch (1969): This is probably Peckinpah's most famous movie and arguably his best. in 1913 Mexico, after a score goes bad, William Holden (Pike) leads his over the hill gang to Mexico (of course) to figure things out. The crew includes the ageless Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, and LQ Jones. On their heels is bounty hunter Robert Ryan. Things (of course) go bad in Mexico and the boys catch themselves in a shootout with the Federales. Strother Martin is also in this. It's frequently on TCM and always worth viewing.
5. Junior Bonner (1972): This is not your typical Peckinpah film. Sure, it had the loner trying to figure things out as the world changes around them. However, there is no bloody shootout or any violence to speak of. Steve McQueen plays a rodeo star (Junior) that returns home to tangle with the bull Sunshine, that nearly killed him years before. He finds that his father (Robert Preston) is in the hospital and his brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) has sold out by becoming a millionaire developer looking to destroy the family home as one of his latest projects. It is a great film, but not what viewers at the time expected of a Peckinpah/Mcqueen collaboration and it did poorly in theaters. Also stars Ida Lupino and Ben Johnson.