What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the Wilhelm Scream Blog-a-Thon. This is when you might be asking just what that means. Well, upon announcing this event, our esteemed host used this description.
The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in a number of films and TV series, beginning in 1951 with the film Distant Drums. The scream is usually used when someone is shot, falls from a great height or is thrown from an explosion.
If you would rather read about several films featuring the “Wilhelm Scream,” rather than get thrown off a precipice yourself you can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
To me, the description of the “Wilhelm Scream” sounded tailor-made for a western. To that end, why wouldn’t I do one of my favorites which is on the short list for greatest westerns ever made, and one done by my fellow former U.S. Marine Sam Peckinpah.
The Wild Bunch is a tale of a group of drifting cutthroats led by Pike Bishop (played by William Holden), The other notable members of Pike’s crew include Dutch Engstrom (played by Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gorch (played by Warren Oates and Ben Johnson respectively), Angel (played Jaime Sanchez), Buck (played by Rayford Barnes), and a guy known as “Crazy” (played by Bo Hopkins),
Set against the waning days of the Old West and at the height of the Mexican Revolution, the group finds themselves in the fictional south Texas town of Starbuck in 1913. In a scene that sets the tone for the whole film, they ride past a group of children who are torturing a pair of scorpions by dropping them on a bunch of red ants.
With half of the group dressed a U.S. Cavalry soldiers, the “Wild Bunch” robs the local railroad office, but unbeknownst to them, another “wild bunch” is on the roof of the hotel across the street. This bunch is led by railroad detective Patrick Harrigan (played by Albert Dekker), a former member of Pike’s gang Deke Thornton (played by Robert Ryan), and a scruffy quartet of bounty hunters named Coffer (played by Strother Martin), T.C. (played by L.Q. Jones), Huey (played by Paul Harper), and Jess (played stuntman Bill Hart).
Obviously, Harrigan’s gang is chasing Pike’s “Wild Bunch” to collect the bounties on their heads. But what is sure to be the classic western shoot-out is interrupted by a temperance parade led by Reverend Wainscoat (played by Dub Taylor). Using the parade as a distraction, and the railroad office workers as hostages, Pike’s “Wild Bunch” manages to escape, but not before the aforementioned gunfight resumes. In typical Peckinpah fashion, many people are killed, including innocent bystanders, several of the bounty hunters; only six of Pike’s men survive. One of those is Buck, who has been shot in the face and is now blind.
To make their escape, Pike leaves “Crazy” to hold the railroad workers hostage. Eventually as Harrigan’s men take to the street to rob the dead, he kills “Crazy.” Meanwhile as Buck can no longer ride a horse, Pike mercifully kills him.
Pike and his men cross into Mexico, where Freddie Sykes (played by Edmond O’Brien) is waiting with fresh horses and gear. Together they realize the railroad office was set up a trap; all the so-called “plunder” is little more than bags filled with steel washers. This discovery nearly splinters the group; the
completely insane excitable Gorches almost turn on Angel and Sykes, but they are stopped by Pike and Dutch.
Another emerging twist comes in the reason why Deke Thornton is out for revenge against Pike. It seems Thornton was granted release from prison in exchange for bringing in Pike’s head. With such motivation, that’s why Thornton continually disparages Harrigan’s posse as “gutter trash,” while he continually pursues his prey with them. Depending which version of this film you see, it is revealed through a series of flashbacks (many of which were cut in the original version) that Pike abandoned Thornton to the railroad detectives. These flashbacks also reveal the source of nagging leg injury; he was shot by the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair.
But another revenge tale burgeons when Pike’s bunch arrive at Angel’s village to learn it was attacked by General Mapaché (played by Emilio Fernandez). During the attack, Angel’s father was hanged and his girlfriend was taken by Mapaché for his own. As a result, Angel remains obsessed with vengeance, even though he tell Pike differently.
Pike’s bunch arrive in the town of Agua Verde to trade their horses. However, this town is also where Mapaché has established his headquarters. When Pike’s group encounter the General, Angel sees his girlfriend presenting a pony to Mapaché. Enraged, Angel shoots her, which nearly starts a shootout with the Mexican soldiers.
After Pike and Dutch defuse this tense stand-off, they are hired by Mapaché to rob a train carrying a shipment of U.S. Army weaponry. Pike’s bunch agrees to the job for a price of ten thousand dollars. But without Mapaché’s knowledge, they also deliver rifles to Angel’s village so they can defend themselves.
Pike’s bunch make their way to the train, but during the robbery, they discover Deke Thornton and Harrigan’s are also on the train. Laden with their plunder, Pike and his men outrace Thornton and Harrigan to a bridge over the Rio Grande. Another gunfight breaks out, which gets confused when a squad of dopey cavalrymen join it. right behind them. Pike and his bunch cross the bridge into Mexico. But when Thornton and Harrigan et al try to follow them, Pike’s men dynamite the bridge. this doesn’t stop the pursuit; it only delays it.
As Pike’s bunch makes their way back to Agua Verde, they unearth a Browning machine gun in their haul. In a bit of foreshadowing, this happens just in time for them to meet a small band of legendary Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s men…who just happen to be friends of Angel. Meanwhile, while waiting for word of Pike’s robbery at a telegraph station, Mapaché and his troops are attacked by forces led by Pancho Villa and thoroughly defeated.
Now, even more wanting of the cache of stolen weapons, Mapaché sends Captain Herrera (played by Alfonso Arau) with a large group of soldiers to meet Pike’s bunch in a wide ravine. But once again, this nearly turns into a shoot-out when one of the Mexican soldiers fires on the wagon carrying the weapons. Things escalate to the point of of Pike lighting the fuse on the dynamite they had rigged on the wagon for just such an occasion. The situation is literally defused by two things; Herrera executes the soldier who fired on the wagon…and Pike’s bunch show they’ve assembled that machine gun. Herrera realizes he is out-gunned and retreats.
Now having less and less reason to trust the Mexicans, Pike’s bunch hide their haul of weapons; all fifteen cases of rifles and the machine gun. The give the weapons to Mapaché in increments in exchange for their money. The problem comes when Angel and Dutch arrive in Aqua Verde, at which point Mapaché reveals that the father of the Angel’s girlfriend ratted on him about giving rifles to the villagers. The Mexicans take Angel prisoner, and Dutch is powerless to do anything about it.
Pike and the remainder of his bunch regroup in a canyon just outside of Aqua Verde. They discuss what they are going to do while they are waiting for Sykes to return with their pack horses. But then they are treated to the sight of Sykes being massacred by Deke Thornton and Hannigan’s gang. Being outnumbered, Pike decides not to come to Sykes’ rescue; instead he opts to return to Agua Verde to wrest Angel from the Mexicans’ custody. Not so surprisingly, Mapaché refuses to release Angel.
Even the first-time viewer realizes Mapaché’s refusal sets the stage for a final showdown. The next morning, the four remaining members of Pike’s “Wild Bunch” assemble a small arsenal and march through Agua Verde to demand Angel’s release. Originally, a drunken Mapaché feigns releasing Angels, but then cuts his throat. As a result, Pike and Dutch riddle Mapaché with bullets.
Yet another tense stand-off occurs and the Mexican soldiers under Mapaché are unsure of what to do in the wake of his killing. Dutch looks at Pike and laughs…he thinks they may have just gotten away with gunning down the Mexican warlord. But Pike isn’t done yet; it becomes clear this is going to be his “last stand.” That’s when Pike takes direct aim at Mapaché’s German Army advisor Captain Mohr; killing him in cold blood.
Now the final battle bursts forth. Bullets and blood fly as Wild Bunch shoot their way through Mapaché’s troops and seize the machine gun. Lyle and Tector take turns manning the machine gun to rain death on the Mexicans before they are both killed. Despite having the machine gun, the “Wild Bunch” is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers possessed by the Mexican troops.
After the battle, the “Wild Bunch” is completely wiped out; Mapaché’s army has precious few survivors. Deke Thornton rides into Aqua Verde; Hannigan’s men begin looting the bodies. Thornton looks down in pity at the dead; he takes Pike’s unused revolver as a memento. When Hannigan and his bounty hunters decide it’s time to return to the United States, Thornton declines to join them. This proves to be a fortuitous choice as they are ambushed and killed along the way.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
A few months back when legendary National Football League (NFL) coach and broadcaster John Madden passed away, I said that there would be a tribute coming in the near future. That’s because when Gill from RealWeegieMidget Reviews announced this blog-a-thon, I knew I was going to write about The Wild Bunch. That’s because I also knew there was a perfect sports analogy in that film.
Just days after this blog-a-thon was announced, Coach Madden left us for his final reward. But I had already decided this installment in this series was going to be dedicated to the wildest bunch the NFL has ever seen…John Madden’s Oakland Raiders of the 1970s.
Make no mistake; there’s a linear comparison between Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Madden’s Raiders. While one bunch shielded themselves from the sun with cowboy hats and the other protected their skulls with football helmets, they shared one unmistakable trait. Both bunches were a collection of cast-offs who had a unity forged in fire and led by an unconventional visionary. Pike Bishop…meet John Madden.
Pike Bishop is a far cry from your traditional “Western” protagonist…in much the same way John Madden was nowhere near your typical NFL head coach. Before Raiders’ owner Al Davis named Madden as his head coach in 1969, his only head coaching experience was a small community college in central California. When Davis first hired Madden to be the Raiders’ linebackers coach in 1967, he was the defensive coordinator at San Diego State.
Having a distinct proclivity to take “the path less traveled,” Al Davis’ Oakland Raiders were perennial contenders; they lost Super Bowl II two Vince Lombardi’s football leviathan Green Bay Packers. But Davis coveted that title for his Raiders, and he felt it would take an upstart, off-beat coach to lead his upstart off-beat team.
The story of Madden’s Raiders could only happen in this time. Pike Bishop and his “Wild Bunch” could really only exist in that border zone between the last days of the “Old West” and the Mexican Revolution. Madden’s Raider are as much a function of the dissolving border between the American Football League (AFL) and the NFL; a merger which saw the waning days of the “Wild West” days of professional football.
Teams take on the personality of their leaders. Today, too many football coaches are carbon-copies of each other; there just aren’t anymore John Maddens, and their likely won’t be ever again. As such, there’s never going to be another team quite like Madden’s Raiders.
Just as The Wild Bunch did The Oakland Raiders of the 1970s Had a tremendous cast. Let’s start with the guys in that graphic.
Otis Sistrunk personified the “tough outlaw” feel of the Raiders. A one-man wrecking crew as a defensive tackle, Sistrunk was one the very few players in the history of the NFL who did not play college football. Instead, after graduating from high school, the 6’4″, 265-pound Sistrunk enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he finished his enlistment, Sistrunk found work in a meat-packing plant and was playing semi-pro football when the Raiders discovered him.
Sistrunk became a cult phenomena during a cold Monday Night Football game when a shot of steam rising from his big, bald head prompted commentator Alex Karras to quip on Sistrunk’s having not played collegiately “That guy is from the University of Mars.”
Many defensive lines throughout the history of the NFL became the stuff of legend. The Los Angeles Rams had the “Fearsome Foursome.” The Minnesota Vikings brought us the “Purple People Eaters.” The Raiders defensive front got no such acclaim, but combining Sistrunk with 6’7″, 280-pound Dave Rowe and 6’8″, 280-pound John Matuszak made Oakland’s defensive front an impenetrable wall which laid waste to opposing offenses with the same aplomb of those who earned a name.
By the way, film and television fans may recognize Matusak…he has an impressive IMDB page.
Ted “The Mad Stork” Hendricks earned his nicknamed because of his quirky sense of humor coupled with his giant bird-like wingspan; a result of his towering 6’7″ height. A dominating outside linebacker, Hendricks was equally adept at destroying quarterbacks and punishing pass catcher.
Hendricks was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 after being named a First Team All-Pro four times, matching the number of Super Bowl rings he has. He won the first of those championships as a member of the Baltimore Colts, but it was his time in silver and black which made him a star, where he was a member of the Raiders’ team which won three Super Bowls between 1976 and 1983.
As for Madden’s “field general,” I can’t really encapsulate the Kenny “The Snake” Stabler experience better than these two Tweets.
Number One…because some guys get called “Riverboat Gamblers,” but Stabler played football like a “Speedboat Gambler.”
Number Two…because Stabler lived life the same way he played.
But there’s another Tweet about Kenny Stabler which drives home my point about the difference between the world of professional football in it’s “Wild West” era versus today.
Stabler eventually joined Hendricks in the Hall of Fame, along with Owner/ Managing General Partner Al Davis and talent scout Ron Wolf, who drafted/acquired the bulk of the Raiders, and later would build a Super Bowl winning with the Green Bay Packers.
That’s not all. One could almost make a separate section in Canton for Madden. In addition to the four Hall of Famers I’ve already mentioned, there’s left tackle Art Shell, left guard Gene Upshaw, tight end Dave Casper, wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, cornerback Willie Brown, and punter Ray Guy. Wide Cliff Branch will be inducted later this year.
If that weren’t enough, there’s several other members of Madden’s “Wild Bunch” who if they aren’t included in the Hall of Fame are certainly worthy of a Hall of Pretty Damn Good.
I’ve already mentioned the Raiders’ defensive front; now it’s time to give some love to the big guys that led Oakland’s offense to their crowning moment; a complete dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. The Raiders’ offensive front seven from the 1976 season is widely considered to be one of the best ever. Not only did that group feature three Hall of Famers, center Dave Dalby, right guard George Buehler, and right tackle John Vella don’t get the credit they deserve being somewhat overshadowed by the three guys in Canton.
Al Davis had a legendary love of the “deep-strike” passing game, which explains why Stabler, Branch, Biletnikoff, and tight end Dave Casper are all Hall-of-Famers. But behind that great offensive line, the Raiders could pound the ball down your throat with running backs like Mark van Eeghen, Clarence Davis, and Pete Banaszak.
Complementing Hall-of-Famers Ted Hendricks and Willie Brown on the defensive side of the ball were guys like linebackers Phil Villapiano, Monte Johnson, and Willie Hall. Behind the Raiders’ front seven on defense lurked a genuinely frightening backfield known collectively as “The Soul Patrol.” Individually, all you had to do was look at their nicknames to understand the reputation they had across the NFL; Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas, George “The Hit Man” Atkinson, and .Jack “The Assassin” Tatum.
Together, the Oakland Raiders under John Madden form the thread sewing together so much of the history of the NFL in the 1970s. While the Raiders didn’t earn a name like the “Monsters of the Midway,” they played in more than their share of games which earned such distinction; “The Immaculate Reception,” “The Sea of Hands,” or “The Ghost to the Post.”
Some consider The Wild Bunch to be one of the greatest westerns ever made. Some consider the 1976 Oakland Raiders to be one of the greatest football teams. That can be debate until the end of time, nut neither bunch would have been quite as wild without Pike Bishop…or John Madden.
The Moral of the Story:
RIP, John Madden. The loss of the truly great always leaves a sting, but that’s because they created so much which bettered us all.
P.S. John Madden isn’t the first member of the NFL’s “Wild Bunch” to get a Dubsism eulogy.
P.P.S. We would be remiss if we didn’t point out our tribute to the man who assembled the NFL’s “Wild Bunch“…a legend in his own right, Al Davis.
P.P.P.S. Sadly, this isn’t the only RIP which needs to be addressed. While this piece was in production, the film blog world lost a great of it’s own. Patricia Nolan-Hall (a.k.a. Paddy Lee) recently passed away. Her blog Caftan Woman set the standard in terms of a blog which exemplified the passions of it’s author. It only took one click…and no scrolling…to truly understand her zeal for film and television.
Many bloggers have offered their own tributes, but I have one as unique as Paddy Lee herself.
Being an odd hybrid of sports and cinema, my blog lives in a bit of “no-man’s” land; it’s not fully embraced by one side for not being “sporty” enough, nor by the other because it’s not “filmy” enough.
Sports Analogies Hidden in Classic Movies is the signature series representing that hybrid. While it existed before I ever discovered the film blog community or the phenomenon known as the blog-a-thon, it certainly served as the route of entry into both. From the jump, Paddy Lee was a regular commenter. With precious few exceptions, there was theme to her quips; they usually were along the lines of “I was never a sports fan but somehow you make them interesting, and I loved your moral of the story.”
Well, Paddy Lee…the moral of today’s tale applies to you as much as Coach Madden. You will be missed.
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