Sam Peckinpah

b. David Samuel Peckinpah

b. February 21, 1925, Fresno, California.
d. December 28, 1984, Los Angeles.

articles in Senses
web resources

Peckinpah shot the dream going, gone rotten, machines and money choking the garden, those hard-won gatherings at the river mutating into cold centers of commerce. Chinese boxes of powder and paranoia.

– Kathleen Murphy Kathleen Murphy (1)

On the 29th December 1984, the day after Sam Peckinpah died at the age of 59, a small obituary appeared in The New York Times. It claimed that Peckinpah, “best known for his westerns and graphic use of violence. attained notoriety for such films as The Wild Bunch, a brutal picture that was by several thousand red gallons the most graphically violent Western ever made and one of the most violent movies of all time.” (2) With the release of The Wild Bunch (1969), Peckinpah became known as “Bloody Sam”. In 1971, Straw Dogs hit the screen and the cult of notoriety was cemented: Peckinpah became a marketable, yet controversial director. Much sought after, he gave contentious interviews to a variety of newspapers and magazines including Game, Playboy, Films and Filmmaking and Take One, while also writing letters to newspaper editors justifying his work and slamming his detractors. (3) Under the microscope of feminist film theory his sometimes aberrant treatment of the representation of women and his “excessive” use of violence was noted and condemned. The critical uptake of the notion of Peckinpah as the “master of violence” and the momentum of the debates that ensued affected not only the discussion of his so-called “violent films” but also the reception of his more “gentle” ones. Peckinpah made numerous television serials and three films before The Wild Bunch, none of which was heralded as brutal, or violent. After The Wild Bunch, he made The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and after Straw Dogs he made Junior Bonner (1972). Both The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner are about individuals who are running out of time and space-but they are also full of the affirmation of life.

The Wild Bunch

In working through the criticism that has evolved around Peckinpah’s 14 films, what becomes evident is the concentration on specific moments in this working history. The personal mythology surrounding Peckinpah is inscribed in much of the writing generated by these films. A drunk, a coke addict, a sentimental romantic, possibly schizophrenic, a little man with a big chip on his shoulders-Peckinpah is said to be many things. Yet it is obvious from the large body of critical literature, which includes reviews, articles and numerous books, both critical and biographical, that Peckinpah is not a “neglected” filmmaker; rather, there is an unwillingness to deal with the paradoxical nature of his films. In an allusion to Pauline Kael, the 1995 Peckinpah retrospective held by the Film Society of the Lincoln Centre was entitled: “Blood of a Poet”. (4) In this short phrase Kael captures something elemental about Peckinpah’s films, something that is often ignored-that the intensity, resonance and vitality of these films’ aesthetic expressiveness, be it violent or utopian, takes us into the realm of the poetic.

Charting the path of Peckinpah’s critical and personal reputation is something like taking a roller coaster ride. From the late ’60s through to the ’70s, Peckinpah was both celebrated and condemned as the cinematic poet of violence. After this brief period, although occasionally producing films that express the strength of his artistic vision, he went into an erratic artistic and physical decline. By the end of the ’70s, he disappeared into obscurity; yet after his death, he slowly began to re-emerge as an influential presence who left us with a disparate but rich cinematic oeuvre. In 1993, the BBC produced Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron (Paul Joyce, 1992), a feature-length documentary dealing with his personal life and films. Retrospectives have also been staged at the Cinémathèque Français in Paris, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and at London’s National Film Theatre, while Film Comment and Sight and Sound have published reappraisals of his work. Major publications in the last ten years include David Weddle’s 1994 insightful biography, Paul Seydor’s 1997 “Reconsideration” of his 1980 text Peckinpah: The Western Films (1980) and two collections of essays on The Wild Bunch. (5) Michael Bliss’ Justified Lives: Morality & Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, which was published in 1993, is one of the few texts that deals with all of Peckinpah’s films; while Stephen Prince’s Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies explores Peckinpah’s work in the context of changes within the industry and the social milieu in which this filmmaker was working. Some of the most insightful and thoughtful work on Peckinpah’s films has been produced by theorists and critics such as Bliss, Terence Butler, Jim Kitses, Mark Crispin Miller and Paul Seydor who address Peckinpah’s films within the context of an American literary tradition and the western genre. Bliss and Seydor have picked up where Jim Kitses started, claiming Peckinpah as the son of an American cultural tradition that includes Cooper, Emerson, Hemingway, Faulkner and Mailer. Both these writers address his films in the context of the western, discussing his tarnished approach to the original ideal. These major reappraisals, the re-release of The Wild Bunch and the retrospectives have all helped to re-ignite interest in Peckinpah’s legacy as both a mercurial personality and an important director whose influence is acknowledged by many contemporary filmmakers, including Kathryn Bigelow, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and John Woo.

Peckinpah’s early career path is a focused one. He enlisted in the Marine corps in 1943 and in 1945 he was sent to China where his battalion was assigned to the task of disarming Japanese soldiers and civilians and sending them home. He left China at the end of 1946 without ever seeing combat. On his return home it was assumed that he would study law and enter the family firm but a meeting with a young drama student, Mary Sellard, who later became his wife, helped to re-kindle an adolescent passion for theatre, poetry and drama. Peckinpah completed a B.A. in Drama at the Fresno State College in 1949 and went on to complete a M.A. in 1950 at the University of Southern California. Although his choice of medium changed from theatre to film, he singularly pursued his desire to direct. After a stint as the director and producer in residence at Huntington Park Civic Theatre in California, he worked as a propman and stagehand at KLAC-TV in Los Angeles; then from 1951 to 1953 he worked as an assistant editor at CBS. In 1954 he had the good fortune to work as an assistant and dialogue director to Don Siegel. As Garner Simmons notes in his thorough research on Peckinpah’s television work, it was through Seigel that Peckinpah came in contact with the CBS series Gunsmoke and ended up writing several scripts for the show. (6) Thus began the period of Peckinpah’s television work in which he wrote scripts for numerous series including Broken Arrow, Tales of Wells Fargo and Zane Grey Theatre. The “The Knife Fighter” (1958) episode of Broken Arrow was his first attempt at directing. He went on to direct episodes of The Rifleman and between 1959 and mid-1960 he oversaw the production of ten episodes of The Westerner. It was during his television years that Peckinpah began to assemble actors like Strother Martin, R.G. Armstrong and Warren Oates who would later become part of his “stock company”.

Ride the High Country

On the strength of his television work Peckinpah was hired to direct his first film Deadly Companions (1961). The film is about a dance hall hostess, Kit Tilden (Maureen O’Hara), and her desire to prove her son’s legitimacy. The film received little attention and Peckinpah washed his hands of it claiming he had little freedom during its making. His next feature, Ride the High Country (1962) (7) won the Grand Prix at the Belgium International Film Festival over Fellini’s (1963), the Paris critics’ award, the Silver Leaf award in Sweden and was judged the best foreign film at the Mexican Film Festival. A glorious yet simple take on the dying West, the film evokes great sentimental appeal by bringing together Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott-both ageing, iconic western figures. Critics like Kael and Andrew Sarris reviewed it with high praise; but it died a quick death in America as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer could see little point in marketing a revisionist western.

The production of Peckinpah’s third feature, Major Dundee (1965), marks the beginning of his volatile relations with producers and distributors. Set during the end of the civil war, the film’s protagonist Dundee (Charlton Heston) is an officer in charge of a Federal prison where Confederate soldiers are held. Although Dundee is short of men, he is determined to wipe out a group of marauding “Indians” who have kidnapped three little boys. Major Dundee is a jagged but dynamic foray into potent human extremes but it is difficult to ascertain if its unevenness is due to studio intervention or Peckinpah having lost control of his project. Sensing that the film was too long and convoluted for a commercial audience, Columbia made numerous cuts before it was released. Enraged, Peckinpah claimed that in cutting a large amount of the last third of the film they had rendered his film unintelligible. Subsequently, what occurred was the first of many public outbursts that continued throughout Peckinpah’s working history. He was fired from his next film, The Cincinnati Kid (Norman Jewison, 1965), and blacklisted without work for three years. (8) But during this period he was offered a chance to direct Noon Wine (1966), an ABC television special adapted from Katherine Ann Porter’s novella. Noon Wine earned award nominations and high praise.

The Wild Bunch

In the context of the times, Peckinpah’s next film The Wild Bunch was seen as being extremely violent. A group of outlaws ride into a dusty, small town called Starbuck. They hold up the bank and in the process annihilate the town. But the job is a set-up: the loot they get away with is worthless steel washers. The law and the railway men send a group of bounty hunters out after the “Bunch”. To escape the law, they cross the border into Mexico, where they agree to do a job for the dictatorial Mexican General, Mapache (Emilio Fernandez). It is to be their last job. It is impossible to determine whether this film is the most violent “ever made”, or if it was the most violent of its time, and the question is probably irrelevant. What we can say is that with the newly gained freedom attained through the development of the Code and Rating Administration and in the midst of a volatile cultural milieu, Peckinpah, with the help of the brilliant editor Louis Lombardo and cinematographer Lucien Ballard, developed a stylistic approach that through the use of slow-motion, multi-camera filming and montage editing, seemed to make the violence more intense and visceral. (9)

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

With all the publicity surrounding The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah found himself a viable director, but the difficulties faced during his next production, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, are reminiscent of those affecting Major Dundee. Suffering constant threats from Warner Brothers to close down the film, the production was besieged by problems. Warner Brothers, expecting another action packed “blood bath”, took one look at this sweet, comic and lyrical film and refused to invest in its publicity, dumping it to second billing, and letting it die a quick death. The film tells the story of a man, Cable Hogue (Jason Robards), who, robbed and left for dead in the desert, miraculously finds water and survives. Max Evans puts his finger on the pulse when he observes: “To follow the most violent picture ever made with one full of warmth, love and humour, as well as magnificent acting, would. create yet another world-wide controversy.” (10)

Straw Dogs

With his reputation as “Bloody Sam” firmly established, the 1970s were a prolific time for Peckinpah in which he made eight films in as many years. In 1971 Straw Dogs was released, followed by Junior Bonner in 1972. Made in England, Straw Dogs is about an American mathematician, David (Dustin Hoffman), who goes on sabbatical to a small village in Cornwall with his wife, who is a native of the area. As an outsider and an intellectual, David is harassed and mocked by the local lads, while his “baby doll” wife (Susan George) disturbs his work and flirts with the locals. The film descends into a siege with David turning from a maligned pacifist into a resourceful and half-crazed killing machine. The violence in Straw Dogs quickly became a “hot” issue, with publications like Cinema, Esquire, Life and Playboy all printing interviews with Peckinpah. On the other hand, apart from the odd review, Junior Bonner was a critical and commercial failure. In Junior Bonner, we find none of the explosive violence of The Wild Bunch or the misogyny of Straw Dogs. Set in small-town Arizona, the film is the story of an ageing rodeo star Junior (Steve McQueen) who returns to his hometown of Prescott determined to win the rodeo. Gentle, mellow, sweet and sad, the most violent episodes in this film are the exhilarating and edgy bull-riding sequences.

Although never again in Peckinpah’s working history do we see such intense critical focus on this filmmaker, between 1972 and 1977 he made The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killer Elite (1975) and Cross of Iron (1977). These years resulted in an uneven body of work yet too little attention has been paid to how these later films evolve from Peckinpah’s earlier work and reflect the continuous development of his concerns. Many critics and theorists argue that after the making of The Getaway Peckinpah went into a steep decline. Although The Getaway is a fairly straightforward action film and The Killer Elite is often confused, with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Cross of Iron we see a continual development in this filmmaker’s work. Although labelled “violent” films, their neglect appears to be partly due to their strange complexity and haunting lyricism, which few writers seem capable of addressing. (11) “All they saw was the violence”-Kael’s statement in relation to the outrage spurred by The Wild Bunch-can just as easily be applied to the responses to these films.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Looked upon as Peckinpah’s most “surreal” and “nihilistic” film, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was almost not released because United Artists wavered over the rating it received due to its violent content, claiming it would not be commercially viable. Made on a low budget in Mexico and lacking a stellar cast, the film traces the tragic and inevitable path of Benny (Warren Oates), a small time gangster and piano player, who takes on the job of finding Alfredo Garcia, the man responsible for the pregnancy of the daughter of a tyrannical Mexican patriarch. This film’s narrative is as hopeless as that of Pat Garrett and the Billy the Kid, but similarly it has a rich aural and visual texture that grants us a poetic and sensual experience.

Cross of Iron establishes its story firmly on the front line of war, depicting its horrors and the psychological damage it inflicts on its participants. Made in Yugoslavia on a low budget, this sombre and claustrophobic film deals with a German platoon involved in the 1943 retreat from the Russian front. The film concentrates on the efforts of Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn) to protect the squad of men under his command. Many reviews called the film “gory” and “hysterical”, (12) even though, after seeing the film, Orson Welles cabled Peckinpah that it was the best anti-war film he had ever seen about the “ordinary enlisted man”. (13) Cross of Iron was a critical and commercial failure in America; however, it was released in Europe in the spring of 1977 to rave reviews. In Germany it was awarded a Bambi and, ironically, it became the biggest grossing film in Germany and Austria since The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965). (14) In this film Peckinpah returns to the intense, ecstatic sequences of violence that we find in The Wild Bunch. He tempers these sequences with tragic and personal emotional responses and insights into the function of war and the reasons why men join armies and fight while surreal, dream-like sequences explore the psychological damage inflicted on these men.

Obviously, we have come a long way since the gentle sweetness of Ride the High Country and the fabulous vitality of The Wild Bunch, for these later films, although involving violent action, are less concerned with its ecstatic function and more meditative about the psychology of their characters who participate in its action and whose fates often seem inevitable. Yet in moments such as when Captain Steiner rescues a Russian soldier “boy” with an angelic face, who instead of pulling a gun, brings out his mouth organ and begins to play, as when Benny and Elita engage in raucous songs and rough and tumble play, and in the luminous beauty of the landscape that Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) traverses, these later films still offer us a profound experience that is charged with intensity, sweetness and hope.

In the late 1970s Peckinpah slipped into obscurity. By the time he made the “trucking” film, Convoy (1978), his health and working reputation were shattered. An attempt to address the populist myth in a contemporary setting, Convoy opens on a grand western vista which is now inhabited by huge, shiny Mac trucks. Similarly, his next and final film The Osterman Weekend (1983) suffers from poor plot and character motivation and development. Like The Killer Elite, The Osterman Weekend is a spy thriller dealing with high-levelled C.I.A. corruption. Scripted from a Robert Ludlum thriller, the plot lacks subtlety, but we still find in Peckinpah’s direction a dazzling inventiveness as he turns this film into an exploration of facets of reality, commenting on the unreliability of technological communication while turning the screen into a multi-purpose surveillance device.

Peckinpah’s films have been mutilated by studio intervention and much of the critical literature has been coloured by the Peckinpah mythology. Further damage has been inflicted on these films by the linkage of social and cultural debates about “real” violence and arguments about “screen violence”, a linkage often leading to simplistic and reductive “moral” judgements and the neglect of his more gentle films. If we are to do justice to Peckinpah’s films, we need to disengage the actual film texts from the mythology and allow them to be what they are-an uneven collection of films that at their best deal with two of humanity’s most fervent concerns, our fear of violence and death and our dreams of a better life.

Sam Peckinpah


Feature films directed by Peckinpah:

The Deadly Companions (Pathe-American, 1961)

Ride the High Country (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1962) (released in Europe in 1963 as Guns in the Afternoon)

Major Dundee (Columbia Pictures, 1965)

The Wild Bunch (Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, 1969)

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Warner Brothers, 1970)

Straw Dogs (ABC Pictures, 1971)

Junior Bonner (ABC Pictures, 1972)

The Getaway (First Artists, 1972)

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (United Artists, 1974)

The Killer Elite (United Artists, 1975)

Cross of Iron (E.M.I., 1977)

Convoy (United Artists/E.M.I., 1978)

The Osterman Weekend (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1983)

Television work:

Gunsmoke (Wrote 10 adaptations from radio scripts of the show and 2 original scripts. The original scripts were never produced but one became a pilot for Four Star Productions’ The Rifleman. 1955-56)

“The Assassin” (episode of Broken Arrow, 1956) (Scriptwriter)

“Apache Gold” (episode of Tales of Wells Fargo, 1957) (Scriptwriter)

“The Teacher” (episode of Blood Brother, 1957) (Scriptwriter)

“The Singer” (episode of Have Gun-Will Travel, 1957) (Co-scriptwriter)

“The Town” (episode of Trackdown, 1958) (Scriptwriter)

“The Transfer” (episode of Blood Brother, 1958) (Scriptwriter)

“The Johnny Ringo Story” (episode of Tombstone Territory, 1958) (Scriptwriter)

“The Kidder” (episode of Man Without a Gun, 1958) (Scriptwriter)

The Knife Fighter” (episode of Broken Arrow, 1958) (Director)

“Trouble at Tres Cruces” (episode of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre, 1958) (Director and Scriptwriter)

“The Sharpshooter”, (Scriptwriter) “The Marshall” (Director and Scriptwriter), “Home Ranch” (Scriptwriter), “The Boarding House” (Director) and “The Baby Sitter” (Director) (episodes of The Rifleman, 1958-59)

“Miss Jenny” (Co-scriptwriter and Director) “Lonesome Road” (Co-scriptwriter and Director) (episodes of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre, 1959)

“Klondike Pilot” (Co-scriptwriter and Director) “Swoger’s Mules” (Co-scriptwriter and Director) (episodes of Klondike, 1960)

“Jeff” (Co-scriptwriter and Director) “Brown” (Director), “The Courting of Libby” (Director), “The Hand on the Gun” (Director), “The Painting” (Director), “The Old Man” (Scriptwriter), “School Day” (Co-scriptwriter) and “”Mrs Kennedy” (Co-scriptwriter) (episodes of The Westerner, 1960. Peckinpah was also made the producer of this series which starred Brian Keith)

“The Story of Julesburg” (episode of Pony Express, 1961) (Scriptwriter)

“Mon Petit Chow” (episode of Route 66, 1961) (Director)

“Pericles on 31st Street (Co-scriptwriter, Producer and Director) and “The Losers” (Co-scriptwriter, Co-producer and Director) (episodes of Dick Powell Theatre, 1962)

Noon Wine (television special for the ABC, 1967) (Director and Scriptwriter)

“That Lady is My Wife” (episode for Bob Hope’s Chrysler Theatre, 1967) (Director)

Films about Peckinpah:

Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron (BBC documentary, 1992) Dir: Paul Joyce

The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (Short Documentary, 1977) Dir: Paul Seydor

Select Bibliography

Andrew, Nigel.,”Sam Peckinpah: The Survivor and the Individual”, Sight and Sound. 42:2, Spring 1973, pp. 69-74.

Barr, Charles, “Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and the Critics”, Screen. 13:2, Summer 1972, pp.17-31.

Blevins, Winfred, “The Artistic Vision of Director Sam Peckinpah”, Show. 2:1, March 1972, pp. 37-40.

Bliss, Michael. ed., Doing It Right: The Best Criticism on Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1994.

Bliss, Michael. Justified Lives: Morality & Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1993.

Butler, Terence, Crucified Heroes: The Films of Sam Peckinpah. Gordon Fraser, London, 1979.

Cutts, John,”Shoot! Sam Peckinpah talks to John Cutts”, Films and Filmmaking. 16:1, October 1969, pp. 4-9

Engel, Leonard W., “Sam Peckinpah’s Heroes: Natty Bumppo and The Myth of the Rugged Individual Still Reign”, Literature/Film Quarterly. 16:1, 1988, pp. 22-30.

Engel, Leonard W., “Space and Enclosure in Cooper and Peckinpah: Regeneration in the Open Space”, Journal of American Culture. 14:2, 1991, pp. 86-93.

Evans, Max. Sam Peckinpah, Master of Violence: Being the Account of the Making of a Movie and Other Sundry Things. Dakota Press, South Dakota, 1972.

Fine, Marshall, Bloody Sam: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. Donald Fine, New York, 1991.

Garcia Tsao, L. and Kraniauskas, John, “New Mexico Tales: Stepping Over the Border”, Sight and Sound. 3:6, June 1993, pp. 45-7.

Gourlie, John M., “Peckinpah’s Song of Songs: The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), Journal of American Culture. 14:2, Summer 1991, 95-7.

Jameson, Richard T., “Introduction: Sam Peckinpah”, pp. 33-4, “Strother Martin”, p. 37 and “The Ballad of Cable Hogue“, pp. 38-40; Jameson, Richard T and Murphy, Kathleen. “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia“, pp. 44-8; “Strother Martin – Interview”, transcribed by Tom Keogh, pp. 37-8; “Warren Oates Interview with F. Albert Bomar and Alan J. Warren”, pp. 41-3; Thomson, David. “Warren Oates”, p. 41, all in the “Midsection”, Film Comment. 17:1, January/February 1981.

Jameson, Richard T., “Lost Weekend”, Film Comment. 20:2, March/April 1984, pp. 32-5.

Kael, Pauline. “Notes on the Nihilist-Poetry of Sam Peckinpah”, The New Yorker. 12 January 1976, 70-5.

Kael, Pauline, “Peckinpah’s Obsession”, Deeper into Movies. Little, Brown & Co., London, 1974. pp. 494-501. Originally published in The New Yorker. 29 January 1972.

Kitses, Jim, Horizons West: Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah: Authorship within the Western. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1969.

McKinney, Doug, Sam Peckinpah. Twayne, Boston, 1969.

Miller, Mark Crispin, “In Defense of Sam Peckinpah”, Film Quarterly. 28:3, Spring 1975, pp. 2-17.

Murphy, Kathleen, “Orbits-Sam Peckinpah: No Bleeding Heart”, Film Comment. 21:2, March/April 1985, pp. 74-75.

Murphy, Kathleen, “Blood of a Poet: The Cinema According to Sam Peckinpah”, The Walter Reade Theater Program March 1995, The Film Society of the Lincoln Center, New York, 14-15.

Murray, William, “Playboy Interview: Sam Peckinpah”, Playboy. August 1972, pp. 65-74 & 192.

Prince, Stephen. ed., Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1999.

Prince, Stephen,Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998.

Seydor, Paul, Peckinpah: The Western Films, A Reconsideration. (revised edition, 1980) University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1997.

Seydor, Paul, “Peckinpah”, Sight and Sound. 5:10, October 1995, pp. 18-31.

Simmons, Garner, “Sam Peckinpah’s Television Work”, Film Heritage. 10:2, Winter 1974/1975, pp. 1-16.

Simmons, Garner, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1976.

Weddle, David, “If They Move…Kill’ Em!”: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. Grove Press, New York, 1994.

Whitehall, Richard, “Talking with Peckinpah”, Sight and Sound. 38:4, Autumn 1973, pp. 173-5.

Willliams, Linda Ruth,”Women Can Only Misbehave” Sight and Sound 5:2, February 1995, pp. 26-7.

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Cross of Iron by Gabrielle Murray

Drifting out of the Territory: Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid by Maximilian Le Cain

The Getaway by Rick Thompson

Web Resources

Compiled by Michelle Carey

The Films of Sam Peckinpah
Useful site with pages dedicated to each film as well as news and updates, image gallery, links, exclusive interviews, further resources and discussion board.

Sam Peckinpah
Good page with lots of pictures, information and resources on individual films, biography and some articles.

Sam Peckinpah’s Alcoholic Rites of Passage
A page from the Sky-High Picture Show site looking at the depiction of alcoholism in Peckinpah’s films.

Shoot To Immortalise
A piece by Craig Winter outlining Peckinpah’s career and the common themes in his films.

Film Four.com: Masterclass – Sam Peckinpah
Good place to start investigating the man’s oeuvre.

Grupo Salvaje (The Wild Bunch) de Sam Peckinpah
Fan site in Spanish. Includes some essays on the film (by Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli, Baseline and Michael Sragow) in English.

Anthony’s The Wild Bunch Page
Page featuring a review, stills and production credits.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue: The Press Book
A decent though unessential page featuring a breakdown of the film’s various characters (and the actors playing them) and some poorly-scanned stills.

Click here to search for Sam Peckinpah DVDs, videos and books at


  1. Kathleen Murphy, “Orbits-Sam Peckinpah: No Bleeding Heart”, Film Comment 21:2, March/April 1985, p. 74
  2. Leslie Bennetts, “Sam Peckinpah: Movie Director Dies”, The New York Times 29 December 1984, p. 26
  3. See Tony Crawley, “Blood Bath Ballet”, Game February 1985, pp. 87-93; John Cutts, “Shoot! Sam Peckinpah talks to John Cutts”, Films and Filmmaking 16:1, October 1969, pp. 4-9; William Murray, “Playboy Interview: Sam Peckinpah”, Playboy August 1972, pp. 65-74 & 192; and Sam Peckinpah, “Sam Peckinpah: Lets it all Hang Out”, Take One 2:3, January/February 1969, pp. 18-20
  4. Pauline Kael, “Notes on the Nihilistic-Poetry of Sam Peckinpah”, The New Yorker 12 January 1976. Here Kael says that The Killer Elite: “isn’t about CIA sponsored assassinations-it’s about the blood of a poet.” p. 72. Also see Kael, “Peckinpah’s Obsession” Deeper into Movies, Little, Brown & Co., London, 1974, pp. 494-495
  5. See Michael Bliss, ed. Doing It Right: The Best Criticism on Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1994, and Stephen Prince, ed. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 1999.
  6. Garner Simmons, “Sam Peckinpah’s Television Work”, Film Heritage 10:2, Winter 1974/1975, pp. 1-16
  7. Ride the High Country was released in Europe in 1963 as Guns in the Afternoon.
  8. For further discussion, see David Weddle, “If They Move.Kill’ Em!” The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, Grove Press, New York, 1994, pp. 261-3 & 265-307
  9. Here, we should note the influences of not only Penn but John Ford, Howard Hawks, Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann and, of course, Akira Kurosawa.
  10. Max Evans, Sam Peckinpah, Master of Violence: Being the Account of the Making of a Movie and Other Sundry Things, Dakota Press, South Dakota, 1972, p. 72
  11. There are two noteworthy exceptions here: Mark Crispin Miller, “In Defense of Sam Peckinpah”, Film Quarterly 28:3, Spring 1975, pp. 2-17, and Stephen Prince, Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998.
  12. For example, see Vincent Canby’s review, “Peckinpah’s Gory Cross of Iron“, The New York Times 12 May 1977, p. 12
  13. See Paul Seydor, “Peckinpah”, Sight and Sound 5:10, October 1995, p.20.
  14. David Weddle, “If They Move…Kill’ Em!”: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, Grove Press, New York, 1994, p. 512

About The Author

Gabrielle Murray is a Senior Lecturer in the Cinema & Media Studies program at La Trobe University in Australia. Her research areas include screen violence, phenomenology, film and philosophy, and æsthetics. She is the author of This Wounded Cinema, This Wounded Life: Violence and Utopia in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, and has contributed chapters to the anthologies The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand and Super/Heroes.

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