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Sam Peckinpah DIRECTOR


David Samuel 'Sam' Peckinpah was an American filmmaker who gained fame from his Old West films. They were thrilling, action packed, violent, and defied moral values. Most of Peckinpah’s pictures involved corruption; a man who wanted to be honorable would cave in and resort to cruelty in order to thrive. His work was so gruesome in fact that he earned the nickname “Bloody Sam”. With his brutal themes came a brutal defiance to the typical Hollywood system. The filmmaker would not give in to the pressures of the film industry, but instead followed his own instincts when it came to the content and values of his features. This disregard got him into trouble constantly with critics and producers alike, not to mention most of Hollywood found little liking to him.

On a deeper level, it seemed the search for meaning Peckinpah encompassed in most of his films worked as a mirror to his own distraught life. He dealt with alcohol and drug abuse, which helped lead to quarrels with studio executives and actors. However, his films far out powered his emotional and behavioral issues, for they left a legacy all their own. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an astonishing body of work – pieces that found commercial success and are now considered landmark films.

Peckinpah was born February 21, 1925 in Fresno, California, before it was a fully developed town. He was raised on a ranch by his father, David, a cowboy turned judge, and his mother, Fern. He spent much of his youth skipping school and instead spending time on his grandfather Denver Church’s ranch, learning how to be a cowboy. Peckinpah attended Fresno High School for three years, but had fighting and discipline problems and was sent to San Rafael Military Academy his senior year. In 1943, he joined the United States Marine Corps and two years later was sent to China to disarm Japanese soldiers. Much to his disappointment, he never saw any combat.

Upon his return to the states he enrolled at Fresno State College. His plan was to study history, but he changed his major to drama after meeting Marie Selland, who introduced him to the theater. He married Selland, got his B.A., and then graduated with his masters at the University of Southern California in 1952. From there, he went from job to job until he got a stint as Don Siegel’s 'dialogue director' for “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954). He worked on a number more of Siegel’s films after, as either an actor or dialogue coach, including “Private Hell 36” (1954), “An Annapolis Story” (1955), “Crime in the Streets” (1956), and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956).

Thanks to the director, Peckinpah was given work in television as a script writer. He helped screen write episodes for “Mr. Adams and Eve” (1957), “Have Gun – Will Travel” (1958), “Gunsmoke” (1955-58), and “Broken Arrow” (1958). With the latter, he began his directorial career. He followed up with many more television shows, often which he also helped write.  In fact, in some of his later movies he also placed himself in the writing chair. With his series “The Westerner” (1960), he dipped his toes into producing. However, Peckinpah would only involve himself in production twice more, for the TV show “The Dick Powell Theatre” (1962-63) and film “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” (1970).

In 1961 he directed his first movie, a westerner called “The Deadly Companions”. His next film, “Ride the High Country” (1962) was two years later, and he was included in the writing crew for it. With his second picture, Peckinpah reached new creative heights. While it was not immediately successful, it slowly worked its way to becoming one of the director’s best.

The director saw his first bit of trouble with his third feature, “Major Dundee” (1965), an Indians vs. cowboys rivalry flick. On set, he was constantly intoxicated by either alcohol or drugs, and it showed in his behavior. He was firing crew members, fighting with producers, and threatening the film’s star, Charlton Heston. Additionally, with Peckinpah’s production going over time, the studio saw to it themselves to edit the film. They cut out more than the director wanted, and the picture ended up flopping. He tried to redeem himself with his next film, a made for TV movie “Noon Wine” (1966), which was based off of Katherine Ann Porter’s short novel. It was successful, and his career was relaunched. Warner Bros. even hired him to direct “The Wild Bunch” (1969).

The Wild Bunch” followed an outlaw gang as they carried out one more crime before fleeing across the Mexican border with bounty hunters at their heels. With slow bullet scenes and even slower bloodshed, sick massacres were performed right in from of the audiences’ eyes. The violence contained in the film was unlike any mainstream Hollywood had ever seen, but nevertheless viewers loved it. Peckinpah’s creative genius was discovered, but unfortunately never reached again.

He followed up with a different type of western, “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” (1970). It was an uncharacteristically non-violent comedy about a man left to die in the desert that found a pool of water and opened a shop up around it to sell supplies to passing by travelers. The director returned to his bloody ways next, for his most disturbing and dark film, “Straw Dogs” (1971). Starring Dustin Hoffman, the picture confronted human savagery and even depicted a lengthy rape scene. 1972 saw “Junior Bonner” and “The Getaway”, two films starring Stevie McQueen. The first was a poorly done financial disaster, but the second, which was notorious for housing McQueen and Ali MacGraw’s affair, became the director’s most profitable feature.  While filming it, he snuck across the Mexican border and found himself a new wife, Joey Gould. After multiple rage episodes and mood swings due to his chronic drinking, Gould left the country and filed for divorce. This only fueled the director’s drinking habits even more.

Following “The Getaway”, Peckinpah entered the most challenging part of his life and career. He was afflicted with substance abuse, and his health was beginning to deteriorate. His Old West lyrical, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), eventually won approval from critics, and the dark humored “Bring Me the Head of Alfred Garcia” (1974) also took awhile for critics to warm up to. Following, his films stopped becoming eventual successes, and purely disappointed.

“The Killer Elite” (1975), a 'B' CIA thriller lacked profundity and insight, and “Cross of Iron” (1976), while exciting, lacked focus.  “Convoy” (1978) was an attempt at Peckinpah’s comeback, and it became one of his highest grossing pictures. However, his extreme substance abuse had already done too much damage to his reputation, and he was out of work for the next five years. In 1983 he directed his final piece, a Cold War thriller titled “The Osterman Weekend”. It fared decently at the box office despite horrible critic reviews.

Peckinpah had a few more ideas for films, but they were never realized as his health was dramatically taking a turn for the worst. On December 28, 1984, his heart finally gave way to his destructive lifestyle and he died. The fifty nine year old left behind a legacy that is not to be forgotten. While his choice of living is not one to be admired, his creative image is. He remains an inspiration to many filmmakers now that desire to have the same dedication to their vision as he did. For his work in the film industry, he has won four awards, including a Golden Boot, and been nominated four seven more, including an Oscar. As well, Entertainment Weekly has named him the 32nd Greatest Director of all time.

2011       Straw Dogs     

2004       Essential Music Videos: Classic '80s 

1983       The Osterman Weekend 

1982       Un pasota con corbata 

1979       The Visitor 

1978       China 9, Liberty 37  

1978       Convoy

1977       Cross of Iron 

1975       The Killer Elite

1974       Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

1973       Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

1972       Morbidness 

1972       Junior Bonner 

1972       The Getaway 

1971       Straw Dogs

1970       The Ballad of Cable Hogue 

1969       The Wild Bunch

1968       Villa Rides 

1967       Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre

1966       Noon Wine 

1966       ABC Stage 67 

1965       The Glory Guys 

1965       Major Dundee 

1962       The Dick Powell Theatre

1962       Ride the High Country

1961       Route 66 

1961       The Deadly Companions  

1960       The Westerner  

1960       Pony Express

1960       Klondike    

1958       The Rifleman 

1958       Broken Arrow

1958       Zane Grey Theater 

1958       Man Without a Gun   

1958       Tombstone Territory  

1958       Have Gun - Will Travel 

1957       Trackdown 

1957       Tales of Wells Fargo

1957       The 20th Century-Fox Hour  

1957       Mr. Adams and Eve 

1957       Chain of Evidence

1956       Crime in the Streets 

1956       World Without End  

1956       Invasion of the Body Snatchers 

1955       Wichita 

1955       An Annapolis Story

1955       Dial Red O 

1955       Gunsmoke

1954       Private Hell 36 

1954       Riot in Cell Block 11  

1952       The Liberace Show 

Matinee Classics - Ride the High Country starring Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr, Edgar Buchanan, R.G. Armstrong, Jenie Jackson, James Drury, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler and Warren Oates
Matinee Classics - The Deadly Companions starring Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, Strother Martin, Will Wright, Jim O'Hara, Peter O'Crotty and Billy Vaughan

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