The filming of “The Wild Horde” was not easy. Between real bar shots, fights, and hemorrhoids, the production of Sam Peckinpah’s cult western has seen many twists and turns.
The Wild Horde: scorpions on an anthill
Sam Peckinpah has achieved several disenchanted wonders during his career, among them Shots in the Sierra, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me Alfredo Garcia’s head and of course The Wild Horde. Released in 1969, while the Vietnam War is raging, the filmmaker shows how many men can descend into violence with this western where bodies collapse into slow motion on a jerky and percussive editing.
The film tells the story of a gang of outlaws led by Pike Bishop (William Holden). On the run following a robbery that went wrong, the bandits across the Rio Grande take refuge in Mexico. After a short lull, things escalate again when the horde encounters General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a ruthless raider in command of an army of Federals. She agrees to set up a coup for Mapache, but the situation gradually changes and has a good chance of ending in a bloodbath. At the same time, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), Bishop’s former comrade in arms, is leading a team of bounty hunters to flush him out.
Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Edmond O’Brien, and Jaime Sánchez complete the cast of The Wild Horde. A masterpiece that Sam Peckinpah gives birth to in pain during a production marked by danger and punctuated by many bursts and other fights.
Filming in sound and fury
The feature film was born in Mexico. From the start of shooting, the team is on the razor’s edge as Ernest Borgnine tells in the documentary Passion & Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpahhighlighted by Telerama:
On the very first day of shooting, I hear: ‘It’s spinning! Action!’ I said, ‘What the fuck?’ The Mexicans also didn’t know they were shooting at us with live ammunition.
While the manager foresees 4,000 blank cartridges, more than 90,000 bullets are ultimately necessary. In the book The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood and the Making of a Legendary Film quoted by journalist François Forestier author WK Stratton also recounts the countless nocturnal fights between the stuntmen. It also recounts the incessant clashes between Sam Peckinpah and the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts studio, the abundant use of blood bags, or the resumption of red-stained costumes in order to redo the filming of the final massacre for nearly a week. using six cameras simultaneously.
A suffering filmmaker
Bossy and angry, in constant improvisation, Sam Peckinpah is also a source of inspiration for his team, and in particular for his actors. William Holden is modeled in part on the personality of the director to embody the bandit Pike Bishop. In the biography If They Move…Kill ‘Em! : The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah of David Weddle, comedian Jaime Sánchez remembers about the filmmaker:
Sam inspired the actors without speaking harshly; he urged them to lay down their lives for him. (…) There is an intensity that you feel in people like him, like Elia Kazan. They have a fire that you can see in their face when they talk to you, they are almost scary people. Sam was an inspiration to all of us; we all worked like it was the movie of all time.
The director nevertheless suffers martyrdom during the production of The Wild Horde, because of huge hemorrhoid according to the book Sam Peckinpah edited by Capricci in 2015. When producer Phil Feldman sent him a specialist who advised him to take two days off in order to have surgery at the hospital, he replied:
If you can get it off me right here in the kitchen with a kerosene lamp, like we did with my grandfather’s hemorrhoid, and I’m back at work Monday morning, I’ll do it, if not, it’s is out of the question.
The filmmaker, therefore, remains in this state during all of the shots. When filming wraps after more than 80 days, Sam Peckinpah sits down and bursts into tears.