Sam Peckinpah - Director

Nationality: American. Born: David Samuel Peckinpah in Fresno, California, 21 February 1925. Education: Fresno State College, B.A. in Drama 1949; University of Southern California, M.A. 1950. Family: Married 1) Marie Selland, 1947, four children; 2) Begonia Palacios, 1964 (divorced), one child; 3) Joie Gould, 1972 (divorced). Military Service: Enlisted in Marine Corps, 1943. Career: Director/producer-in-residence, Huntington Park Civic Theatre, California, 1950–51; propman and stagehand, KLAC-TV, Los Angeles, then

Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah
assistant editor at CBS, 1951–53; assistant to Don Siegel, from 1954; writer for television, including Gunsmoke and The Rifleman , late 1950s; worked on scripts at Walt Disney Productions, 1963. Died: Of a heart attack, 28 December 1984.

Films as Director:


The Deadly Companions ( Trigger Happy )


Ride the High Country ( Guns in the Afternoon ) (+ co-sc,uncredited)


Major Dundee (+ co-sc)


Noon Wine (+ sc)


The Wild Bunch (+ co-sc)


The Ballad of Cable Hogue


Straw Dogs (+ co-sc)


Junior Bonner; The Getaway


Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (+ co-sc)


The Killer Elite


Cross of Iron




The Osterman Weekend

Other Films:


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel) (role as Charlie the meter reader)


China 9 Liberty 37 (Hellmann) (role)


Il Visitatore (Paradise) (role)


By PECKINPAH: articles—

"A Conversation with Sam Peckinpah," with Ernest Callenbach, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1963/64.

"Peckinpah's Return," an interview with Stephen Farber, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1969.

"Talking with Peckinpah," with Richard Whitehall, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1969.

"Playboy Interview: Sam Peckinpah," with William Murray, in Playboy (Chicago), August 1972.

"Don Siegel and Me," in Don Siegel: Director , by Stuart Kaminsky, New York, 1974.

"Mort Sahl Called Me a 1939 American," in Film Heritage (New York), Summer 1976.

On PECKINPAH: books—

Kitses, Jim, Horizons West , Bloomington, Indiana, 1970.

Evans, Max, Sam Peckinpah: Master of Violence , Vermilion, South Dakota, 1972.

Wurlitzer, Rudolph, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid , New York, 1973.

Caprara, Valerio, Peckinpah , Bologna, 1976.

Butler, T., Crucified Heroes: The Films of Sam Peckinpah , London, 1979.

McKinney, Doug, Sam Peckinpah , Boston, 1979.

Seydor, Paul, Peckinpah: The Western Films , Urbana, Illinois, 1980.

Simmons, Garner, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage , Austin, Texas, 1982.

Arnols, Frank, and Ulrich von Berg, Sam Peckinpah: Eine Outlaw in Hollywood , Frankfurt, 1987.

Buscombe, Ed, editor, The BFI Companion to the Western , London, 1989.

Fine, Marshall, Bloody Sam, New York, 1992.

Bliss, Michael, Justified Lives , Carbondale, 1993

Bliss, Michael, Doing It Right , Carbondale, 1994.

Weddle, David, If They Move, Kill'em: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah , Grove/Atlantic 1994.

Seydor, Paul. Peckinpah: The Western Films a Reconsideration , Urbana, 1996.

Prince, Stephen, Savage Cinema , Austin, 1998.

Prince, Stephen, editor, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch," Cambridge, 1999.

On PECKINPAH: articles—

McArthur, Colin, "Sam Peckinpah's West," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1967.

Sassone, Rich, "The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), March 1969.

Blum, William, "Toward a Cinema of Cruelty," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1970.

Reisner, Joel, and Bruce Kane, "Sam Peckinpah," in Action (Los Angeles), June 1970.

Shaffer, Lawrence, " The Wild Bunch versus Straw Dogs ," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1972.

Andrews, Nigel, "Sam Peckinpah: The Survivor and the Individual," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.

Madsen, A., "Peckinpah in Mexico," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1974.

Macklin, Anthony, editor, special Peckinpah issue of Film Heritage (New York), Winter 1974/75.

Miller, Mark, "In Defense of Sam Peckinpah," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1975.

Pettit, Arthur, "Nightmare and Nostalgia: The Cinema West of Sam Peckinpah," in Western Humanities Review (Salt Lake City), Spring 1975.

Kael, Pauline, "Notes on the Nihilist Poetry of Sam Peckinpah," in the New Yorker , 12 January 1976.

Humphries, R., "The Function of Mexico in Peckinpah's Films," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), August 1978.

Fuller, Sam, "A Privilege to Work in Films: Sam Peckinpah among Friends," in Movietone News (Seattle), February 1979.

Jameson, R.T., and others, "Midsection: Sam Peckinpah," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1981.

McCarthy, T., obituary, in Variety (New York), 2 January 1985.

Murphy, K., "No Bleeding Heart," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1985.

Bryson, J., "Sam Peckinpah," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1985.

Engel, L.W., "Sam Peckinpah's Heroes: Natty Bumppo and the Myth of the Rugged Individual Still Reign," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1988.

Roth, Paul A., "Virtue and Violence in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch ," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), vol. 7, no. 2, 1988.

Sharrett, Christopher, "Peckinpah the Radical: The Wild Bunch Reconsidered," in CineAction! (Toronto), no. 13–14, 1988.

Rouyer, P., in Positif (Paris), Hors-série, January 1991.

Jopkiewicz, T., "Na Krawedzi koszmaru o filmach Sama Peckinpaha," in Iluzjon , January-March 1993.

Garcia Tsao, L., and J. Kraniauskas, "New Mexican Tales: Stepping over the Border," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 3, June 1993.

Kullberg, U., "Samhället som hot mot individen. Männens utanförskap," in Filmrutan (Sundsvall, Sweden), vol. 37, 1994.

Remy, V., "Avec moi le chaos," in Télérama (Paris), 3 November 1993.

* * *

It is as a director of westerns that Sam Peckinpah remains best known. This is not without justice. His non-western movies often lack the sense of complexity and resonance that he brings to western settings. He was adept at exploiting this richest of genres for his own purposes, explaining its ambiguities, pushing its values to uncomfortable limits. Ride the High Country, Major Dundee , and The Wild Bunch are the work of a filmmaker of high ambitions and rare talents. They convey a sense of important questions posed, yet finally left open and unanswered. At their best they have a visionary edge unparalleled in American cinema.

His non-westerns lose the additional dimensions that the genre brings, as in, for example, Straw Dogs. A polished and didactic parable about a besieged liberal academic who is forced by the relentless logic of events into extremes of violence, it is somehow too complete, its answers too pat, to reach beyond its own claustrophobic world. Though its drama is entirely compelling, it lacks the referential framework that carries Peckinpah's westerns far beyond the realm of tautly-directed action. Compared to The Wild Bunch , it is a onedimensional film.

Nevertheless, Straw Dogs is immediately recognizable as a Peckinpah movie. If a distinctive style and common themes are the marks of an auteur , then Peckinpah's right to that label is indisputable. His concern with the horrors and the virtues of the male group was constant, as was his refusal to accept conventional movie morality. "My father says there's only Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, with nothing in between. But it's not that simple, is it?" asks Elsa in Ride the High Country. Judd's reply could almost be Peckinpah's: "No. It should be, but it isn't."

In traditional westerns, of course, right and wrong are clearly distinguishable. The westerner, as Robert Warshow has characterised him, is the man with a code. In Peckinpah's westerns, as in some of his other movies such as Cross of Iron , it is the code itself that is rendered problematic. Peckinpah explores the ethic rather than taking it for granted, plays off its elements one against the other, and uses his characters as emblems of those internal conflicts. He presents a world wherein moral certainty is collapsing, leaving behind doomed variations on assertive individualism. In some modern westerns that theme has been treated as elegy; in Peckinpah it veers nearer to tragedy. His is a harsh world, softened only rarely in movies like The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner. Peckinpah's richest achievements remain the two monumental epics of the 1960s, Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch. In both, though Major Dundee was butchered by its producers both before and after shooting, there is ample evidence of Peckinpah's ability to marshall original cinematic means in the service of a morally and aesthetically complex vision. It has become commonplace to associate Peckinpah with the rise of explicit violence in modern cinema, and it is true that few directors have rendered violence with such horrific immediacy. But his cinema is far more than that: his reflections upon familiar western themes are technically sophisticated, elaborately constructed, and, at their best, genuinely profound.

—Andrew Tudor

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