The self-loathing underworld god-king of masculine genre angst and the world’s first genuine action craftsman, Sam Peckinpah made movies that bark at the desert sun, and for all of the ink spilled about him, he is still underestimated and misunderstood. Today, buried beneath 20 years of violent
film-action-as-car-commercial, he is a forgotten giant whose tortured achievement dwarfs the many critical attempts to typify it. As much as he might legitimately seem the moviemaking personification of testicular havoc himself, his films are stained and bloodied with desperate self-knowl
edge and bludgeoning woe. His revolutionary overhaul of the western—fulfilling the chastened postwar promise of realism and converting the genre into a mournful, menopausal dogfight—is tied up with a bow in this DVD box, beginning with his gunslinger elegy Ride the High Country (1962), as much a plaintive homage to the hardcore sensibility of Budd Boetticher as a tribute to aging stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. But of course things start boiling with The Wild Bunch (1969), a protean chop shop of vanishing Westernness where the frontier is already gone and even men with long lives will soon enough translate to meat. The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) is a comparative freak—an oddly conceived fable-farce centering around Jason Robard’s desert rat and his fortuitous discovery of a valuable watering hole—but Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) might be Peckinpah’s masterpiece, depending on how you respond to its meta-Leone pathos, lyricism, and historical irony. The extras start with multiple commentaries (by scholars and old crew), piles of memorial and making-of docs (including no less than two that recount the travails on the set of The Wild Bunch), outtakes and cut scenes, trailers, etc.