Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a brilliantly effective thriller, opened stateside exactly 50 years ago today (12.22.71). Out of respect for the work alone, there should be, I feel, some way of praising this ultra-violent Dustin Hoffman-Susan George drama without necessarily trashing Peckinpah the man.
Peckinpah certainly earned his awful reputation, yes, and today’s #MeToo culture has nothing but contempt for him, but he also made three great films — Dogs, The Wild Bunch and Ride The High Country. You have to give him that.
I always argue that John Coquillon’s lensing of Straw Dogs is fast and centered and perfectly lighted, and that the editing (by Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spotttiswoode) is master-class level.
I was going to title this article “Cancel Sam Peckinpah,” but that might sound too extreme. Then again why not? The idea (one that I’m sure wokesters would agree with) is that by posthumously cancelling the late, impassioned, gifted-in-the-’60s, booze-addled, cocaine-snorting, notoriously abusive director and keeping him jailed in perpetuity, it would send a message to current industry abusers that they’d better clean up their act or else.
You can’t just cancel the residue of this horrible man — you have to erode and possibly even destroy the lives of those who’ve sought to keep his memory alive. Have you ever gotten down on your knees and tried to remove crab grass from your front lawn? You can’t fuck around. You have to be merciless.
And let’s not stop at Peckinpah‘s memory alone — let’s also cast suspicious eyes upon his film critic admirers, his biographers, his fans, the Criterion Collection execs who approved the Bluray of Straw Dogs, director Rod Lurie for his Straw Dogs remake, anyone who owns Blurays of Ride The High Country, Major Dundee, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Wild Bunch…you get the idea. Round ’em all up.
It goes without saying that if Peckinpah was somehow time-throttled out of the ’60s and ’70s and into the present environment that he wouldn’t last five minutes. So why not pretend that he’s still here and act accordingly? Why not send a clear and thundering message that Peckinpah-like behavior will never, ever be tolerated in this industry again? What does the fact that Peckinpah died 36 and 1/2 years ago have to do with anything? In a way he’s still “here”, still among us.
Okay, I’m partly kidding. Peckinpah was definitely a drunken, sexist, coked-up beast (particularly in the ’70s and early ’80s), but he did make a few brilliant films. If you know anything about the movie-making craft you know it’s damn hard to make even a decently mediocre one. Plus the annoying fact that life has never been especially tidy in the corresponding or delineation of great art vs. gentle people and vice versa.
Huisache: “With the exception of Straw Dogs all of Sam Peckinpah’s films are messes of one magnitude or another, with Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia the biggest mess of all.
“The Getaway is enjoyable but the Slim Pickens ending is emblematic of Peckinpah’s resort to just saying ‘screw it, how do I get out of this mess? It was just nailed on. Sam had a mess and he called Pickens for help and the old feller bailed him out with a glorious good-ole-boy bit.
“I saw the film when it came out and was living in the area where it was filmed in central Texas. I thought it a very enjoyable mess and the Pickens ending a hoot. But that’s all the film is — an enjoyable hoot. Acting like it’s some kind of worthy project is a bridge too far.
“I suppose Sam’s problem was his alcoholism and his anti-social personality disorder. Either way the guy had a hard time making the pieces fit into the holes.”
HE reply: “Thank you — 100% correct about the nagging ‘mess’ factor. Totally dead-on. That said, Ride The High Country, The Wild Bunch and, as you noted, Straw Dogs are not messes. And there are many reasons to respect Junior Bonner. And I’ve never even seen Noon Wine.”
By the way: At the end of The Getaway Slim Pickens’ character tells Steve McQueen‘s Doc McCoy that he makes around $5K annually, or roughly $31,683 in 2021 dollars. That works out to roughly $2640 a month — an impoverished lifestyle. McQueen offers Pickens $10K or over $60K in 2021 dollars for his beat-up, piece-of-shit pickup truck. Pickens figures they’ll pay more so he says “how about $20K?” or the 2021 equivalent of a bit more than $120K…for a shitty pickup truck! And then Ali McGraw counters with “how about $30K?” or the 2021 equivalent of a bit more than $180K…for a piece-of-shit pickup truck! That, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as a messy ending.