SAM PECKINPAH’S THE WILD BUNCH: MARVIN VS. HOLDEN

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is the subject of a new book by W.K. Stratton, aptly titled The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, A Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film.  I have yet to read this intriguing tome but, from individuals who’s opinions I trust, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
Having said that at the outset, I do take exception with something the author has said in promoting his work. What follows is a cut&paste of an interview author Stratton did for the online version of the Dallas Morning News with journalist David Martingale:
Q: Many movie lovers might be surprised to learn that before William Holden signed on, Lee Marvin was expected to star as gang leader Pike Bishop. What difference did this make?

Lee Marvin in The Professionals, as he might have looked as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch.


A: I like Lee Marvin as an actor. Some of his movies are amazing. But I don’t think he could have brought the depth of character to Pike Bishop that Holden did. Holden was a movie star with serious acting chops. And he brought a lot of his own karma with him to that role. He was 50 years old. He had squandered a lot of his career in the previous 10 years. He had let his alcoholism completely take over his life to the point that he had killed a man in Italy while driving drunk. He was carrying a lot of heavy stuff with him that I think came through beautifully in the picture.

William Holden as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch.

Why do I take exception to this? Well, readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank could probably guess. Through many interviews and the files at the Margaret Herrick Library at the Motion Picture Academy, I was able to meticulously piece together the events surrounding Lee Marvin’s involvement in The Wild Bunch (which was plentiful) as well as the events surrounding how he left the project.
Now, having said all that (and again, it’s in my book) I think Stratton’s answer is incorrect. Granted, such a point is entirely subjective but based on the info he provides to back up his point, in my opinion his argument is deeply flawed. Marvin had much more training as an actor (American Theater Wing, summer stock, Off-Broadway and Broadway) than Holden. Marvin saw more graphic, nightmarish violence in the war than a drunk driving fatality and was responsible for the killing of more enemy soldiers during the war, as well. In other words, Lee Marvin would have been much better suited to play Pike Bishop using the same logic that Stratton himself employs.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of William Holden’s work and thought he was great in The Wild Bunch and many other great films. Matter of fact, Holden and Marvin both died at the premature age of 63 and both looked much older due to their alcoholic lifestyles. I just think Stratton’s logic is flawed. Doesn’t change my mind about wanting to read the book. He seemed to have done his homework when it comes to using his sources…..

Bibliography for W.K. Stratton’s new book on The Wild Bunch includes yours truly.

Stratton’s book cover.

  • Dwayne Epstein
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