The Violence That Made Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch a Masterpiece

Once Kicked Out of Hollywood for Fighting, the Filmmaker Used His Troubled Past to Make the Quintessential American Movie

Sam Peckinpah was many things: brilliant filmmaker, barroom brawler, womanizer, revisionist custodian of Old West mythology. He was also a compulsive reader. Every day he dipped into a battered Bible he carried with him. Books—running the gamut from paperback cowboy novels to the latest weighty studies of existential philosophy—were always stacked beside his bedside.

And so we can be sure that Peckinpah had come across F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote, “There are no second acts in American life,” from his unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald’s warning must have …