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The Scene That Went Too Far In The Iconic Western The Wild Bunch

Westerns might be few and far between these days, but once upon a time, the genre was Hollywood's most notable export. The golden age of horse operas saw countless movies produced that centered around plots involving the conflict between Native Americans and cowboys, the construction of railroads, ranchers protecting their property from bandits, and/or cowboys seeking revenge on some dastardly gang of outlaws. In 1969, however, Sam Peckinpah set out to shake things up with "The Wild Bunch," a violent tale of bank robbers that reflected the cultural mood in America during the Vietnam conflict.

"The Wild Bunch" seems like a conventional Western on paper. The story follows a gang of aging outlaws as they plan one final heist before they retire from the criminal lifestyle for good. Unlike many Westerns of the era, however, Peckinpah's film gives the lead characters few redeeming qualities and loads the scenes with gruesome, disturbing violence that's rather unpleasant to watch. However, these factors have ensured that "The Wild Bunch" has stood the test of time and solidified its status as a truly perfect movie in the eyes of many critics and genre connoisseurs.

Of course, any movie that deals with violent themes will draw some criticism from those who don't appreciate the questionable subject matter. "The Wild Bunch" has been no stranger to controversy throughout the years, but which scene went too far in the eyes of some?

The opening shootout shocked viewers

"The Wild Bunch" wastes no time in letting the audience know that this isn't a movie about characters they are supposed to root for. The film opens with a bloody shootout at a railroad office as the aforementioned bank robbers get into a spot of bother with the hired guns who are out to stop their crime spree. However, the civilians who populate the town get caught in the crossfire, while some of them — including old ladies — are tormented and used as human shields by the gang members.

Needless to say, it's a bleak opening that still disturbs viewers in the 21st century. According to Redditor u/AlanMorlock, the "violence of the opening shootout" remains disturbing to this day. They also noted that they understood why some viewers are "shocked or put off by it."

One of the more uncomfortable moments during the sequence sees Crazy Lee (Bo Hopkins) take an elderly woman captive and lick her neck while chaos unfolds all around them. As Rotten Tomatoes user Matthew D writes, "Peckinpah's treatment of women in his film is just gross." On the flip side, the scene also reinforces how disgusting and rotten the main characters are.

However, there is no denying that the disturbing railroad office sequence left a long-lasting impression on viewers. Reddit user u/ArkyBeagle stated that the scenes will "always be with [them]" and praised the scene for its effectiveness, despite boasting plenty of shocking content.