Sam Peckinpah on DVD: A Guide to Resources

You’ve read the essays, now see the films. My post-script to the Sam Peckinpah series is a survey of Peckinpah on DVD and Blu-ray, with notes on print and mastering quality and details on supplements (where applicable). And with so many of Peckinpah’s films released in compromised versions and later reconstructed or amended with restored footage, I’ve also provided a guide through the incarnations available.

Consider this your guide to the Sam Peckinpah canon on home video (U.S. DVD releases only).

Small Screen:

Sam Peckinpah began his career on television, writing scripts for numerous western shows (including numerous episodes of Gunsmoke) and creating a couple of landmark shows, and moved into the director’s chair with an episode of Broken Arrow in 1958. That show is not on DVD, nor are any of his most significant original TV plays—”Pericles on 31st Street” (1962) and “The Losers” (1963), both made for The Dick Powell Show, and “Noon Wine” (1966), shot on videotape for ABC Stage 67—or any episodes of The Westerner, arguably his greatest TV creation. Here’s what is available:

The Rifleman (1960) (MPI)

“The Marshal” (Season One, Ep. 4), “The Boarding House” (Season One, Ep. 22), “The Money Gun” (Season One, Ep. 33), “The Baby Sitter” (Season Two, Ep. 12)

Chuck Connors
Chuck Connors

Sam Peckinpah wrote “The Sharpshooter” for Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, which became the pilot for The Rifleman (and rebroadcast as the first episode of the new series). MPI released 120 episodes of the half-hour western series over the six collections, not necessarily in order and certainly not comprehensive, but all of Peckinpah’s episodes are included. The single-disc “The Rifleman: Volume 1” (which was subsequently collected in the four-disc “The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 1”) features the Peckinpah-scripted pilot “Sharpshooter” and second episode “Home Ranch” along with “The Marshal,” the first episode of the show that he directed. “The Money Gun” (Season One, Ep. 33) is on “The Rifleman: Volume 2” (also collected in “The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 1”). “The Boarding House” is included in “The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 2” and “The Baby Sitter” is in “The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 3.” The MPI collections are no longer in print but feature good quality editions of the episodes and they may found for purchase used or for rent at your more auteur-oriented video stores, and these episodes are also available in the 16-disc/80-episode “The Rifleman Mega Pack,” the quality of which I cannot comment upon.
The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 1
The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 2
The Rifleman: Boxed Set Collection 3
The Rifleman Mega Pack

Route 66 (1961) (Infinity)

“Mon Petit Chou” (Season Two, Ep. 9)
This early sixties series was kind of a “Playhouse 90” on the road, with college boy Tod (Martin Milner) and his buddy/co-pilot, street wise ladykiller Buz (George Maharis), as hosts and eternal guest stars in the stories they discover driving across the country looking for work, and every episode opens against the landscape of their new location with Nelson Riddle’s jazzy theme song providing the continuity. Peckinpah directed a second season episode of the wanderlust road series, with guest star Lee Marvin as the protective manager of a beautiful young French pianist. The girl, by the way, is French model turned actress Macha Meril, who starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s Une femme mariee a couple of years later. Available in the “Route 66: The Complete Second Season” set from Roxbury/Infinity. It was the ninth episode of the season. As an added bonus, Robert Altman’s sole contribution to the show is the tenth episode: “Some of the People, Some of the Time.”
Route 66: The Complete Second Season

Big Screen:

The Deadly Companions (1961) (various labels)

Sam Peckinpah had little creative freedom in his first feature film, a low budget western featuring his The Westerner star Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara, and the film itself fell through the cracks, relegated to public domain releases on VHS and DVD. Needless to say, there is nothing approaching a “definitive” release of the film. The version I was able to get, from Extreme Digital Media, is a sorry-looking 1.33 version with fuzzy resolution, poor color and bad sound, and I haven’t any reason to believe any of the other releases are any better.
The Deadly Companions (Echo Bridge)
The Deadly Companions (Westlake)

Ride the High Country (1962) (Warner)

Peckinpah directed Randolph Scott (in his final screen role) and Joel McCrea in this beautiful sunset western. It’s Peckinpah’s second film, but really it’s the first “Peckinpah Western,” and the first time he worked on the big screen with the actors who would form the foundation of his stock company: R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates and John Davis Chandler. Warner released its widescreen DVD in 2006, giving it a fine transfer and supplementing the film with commentary by Peckinpah biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle an a bonus featurette.
Ride the High Country
Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns Collection (The Wild Bunch / Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid / Ride the High Country / The Ballad of Cable Hogue)

Major Dundee (1965) (Sony)

“Moby Dick on horseback,” is how actor R.G. Armstrong described the film that Peckinpah cited as his “lost masterpiece,” a grand epic destroyed by studio re-editing. This reconstruction, released in 2005, restores 12 minutes that have not been seen in 40 years and replaces the original score (which Peckinpah hated) with a more fitting (of not exactly memorable) score by Christopher Caliendo. Charlton Heston is the disgraced Union soldier Major Dundee, sent to lord over a garrison prison in the middle of the desolate American West. Instead he sets out to capture or kill a renegade Apache band an unapproved mission into Mexico (in other words, an invasion) with a rag-tag collection of Army regulars and irregulars, horse thieves and drunks, a band of “negro” soldiers dissatisfied with sentry duty, and Confederate POWs led by the cultured Irish gentleman Captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris), once Dundee’s friend and fellow West Point cadet, now his avowed nemesis.

You can see the seeds of The Wild Bunch in the reprieve in the Mexican village, the doomed romanticism of impossible battles, and the bonding under fire. Gaps in the story remain—Peckinpah started shooting with an unfinished script, driving the film $1.5 million over budget and alienating the producers and the studio. You can see him looking for the story on the fly in the brilliant scenes and intense performances studded through the picture, and you can hear the studio try to cover over the gaps with bland narration. The sweep is impressive, as is the strong use of landscape, and if this attempted reconstruction doesn’t reveal a masterpiece (this 136-minute cut is still short of Peckinpah’s rough cut of over 2 ½ hours), it does show an artist bristling against the studio style and looking for his own voice in a messy, testosterone and machismo driven take on the western epic. Jim Hutton, Michael Anderson Jr., Senta Berger, and Brock Peters co-star along with Peckinpah’s rogues gallery of familiar faces: R.G. Armstrong, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, Ben Johnson, and friends. James Coburn peeks out from a terrible fake beard as a grizzled one-armed scout who prefers the company of the renegade Apache that no one trusts to the so-called civilized crew.

Sony released the reconstructed version (with the new soundtrack) on DVD in 2005, along with commentary by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and Dave Weddle, deleted and extended scenes and extended outtakes (the latter are silent), a 20-minute excerpt from the documentary Passion and Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah by Mike Seigel, the vintage stunt featurette Riding For a Fall, galleries of stills and art, an excerpt from the exhibitor promo reel, the original trailer and the 2005 re-release trailer.
Major Dundee (Extended Version)

The Wild Bunch (1969) (Warner)

Sam Peckinpah’s influential end-of-the-western pushed the envelope of onscreen violence while turning it into a veritable ballet of brutality and blood and it earned him the nickname “Bloody Sam,” but the film is really about friendship and duty, a romantic spin on the myth of “honor among thieves” as an apocalyptic epic. William Holden leads a ruthless gang (made up of Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Jaime Sanchez) both preying upon and running from the corporate incursion into the once wide open west and Robert Ryan is his former partner sent to hunt him and his gang down with his own bunch of scraggly, squabbling mercenaries (among them Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones). Peckinpah immortalized himself with the greatest screen credit in history: a freeze frame after William Holden’s line: “If anyone moves, kill ’em.”

A lot of Peckinpah’s films arrived in theaters in compromised form, re-edited and cut down by interfering producers and nervous studio executives. The history of the unmaking of The Wild Bunch is a little more unusual. It was Peckinpah’s final cut that was originally released to theaters but nervous studio executives pressured producer Phil Feldman to cut the film by ten minutes (while it was already in release) and he acquiesced, taking out the flashbacks (which defined the backstory of its main characters and revealed past betrayals of the code that Holden’s character repeated like a mantra) and a few other major scenes—ten minutes of footage in all—without consulting (or even informing) Peckinpah. The scenes were physically cut out of release prints (not always accurately), leaving the film literally butchered. It wasn’t until long after Peckinpah’s death that his original cut was restored and rereleased, and even that proved to be a battle of sorts. When Warner re-submitted the cut to the MPAA—which had already been given a R rating back in 1969—it was awarded an X rating. The re-release was held up as the studio negotiated to gets its original rating back.

This is the edition now available on DVD, released in a two-disc special edition in 2006, and Blu-ray (to date one of only two Peckinpah film available in the high-definition format), released in 2007. Both feature the same supplements: commentary by the familiar Peckinpah bunch (biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle), the Oscar-nominated documentary short The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (1996) directed by Paul Seydor, the original feature length documentary Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade (narrated by Kris Kristofferson), an excerpt from Nick Redman’s documentary A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and the Wild Bunch and deleted scenes and outtakes, plus a Peckinpah trailer gallery.
The Wild Bunch – The Original Director’s Cut (Two-Disc Special Edition)
The Wild Bunch – The Original Director’s Cut (single disc)
Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns Collection (The Wild Bunch / Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid / Ride the High Country / The Ballad of Cable Hogue)
The Wild Bunch [Blu-ray]

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970, Warner)

Another sunset of the frontier western, laced with the more elegiac side of Peckinpah’s sensibility as well as his offbeat sense of humor. Jason Robards is Cable, a frontiersman in the desert waiting for the bushwhackers who left him there to die, and Stella Stevens the hooker with a heart of gold he falls in love with. David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong co-star. The 2004 DVD release features commentary by the familiar Peckinpah bunch (biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle), the interview featurette The Ladiest Damn’d Lady with Stella Stevens and the vintage featurette Sam Peckinpah’s West: A Study of the Filmmaker, plus a trailer gallery.
The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns Collection (The Wild Bunch / Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid / Ride the High Country / The Ballad of Cable Hogue)

Straw Dogs (1971) (Criterion/MGM)

Even more controversial upon release than The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs displays the troubling ambivalence towards violence that makes Peckinpah so truly fascinating. Dustin Hoffman is a meek American mathematician, in rural England with wife Susan George (a former local back in with the rough boys she grew up with), who explodes in a mixture of territorialism, principle, and pent-up rage when a drunken gang storms his house as he shelters a retarded man wanted for a crime. Hardly a simple hero defending his home from invaders, his perverse, bloodthirsty glee as he racks up a body count verges on savagery and Peckinpah’s double edged attitude manages to find the hero and horror tied up in one troubling package.

There have been multiple DVD releases. Anchor Bay released a non-anamorphic version to DVD in 1999, which was completely supplanted by the superior supplement-laden two-disc Criterion release in 2003 (now out of print) and movie-only MGM disc in 2004. All of them feature the complete, uncut version of the film (which had been edited for other territories). The Criterion edition features solo commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince and an isolated music and effects audio track, the excellent the feature length documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron (directed for British TV by Paul Joyce and featuring interviews with many of Peckinpah’s past associates as well as family and friends, but missing some of the film clips due to copyright issues), the made-for-British-TV featurette On Location: Dustin Hoffman, additional behind the scenes footage, video interviews with actress Susan George and producer Daniel Melnick, select correspondence from Peckinpah to critics and viewers, TV spots and the trailer, and a 20-page booklet featuring an interview with Peckinpah from 1974. After Criterion’s license for the film was up, it reverted to MGM, which released a stripped-down edition with no supplements, though according to DVD Beaver the print and transfer is almost identical to the Criterion release.
Straw Dogs (MGM)
Straw Dogs (Criterion Collection, OOP)

Junior Bonner (1972) (MGM)

Sam Peckinpah’s most gentle film uses his razor sharp editing, telephoto and zoom photography, and slow motion shooting to tell the story of a rodeo riding drifter who returns home only to find his house abandoned, his hard-drinking father (Robert Preston) in the hospital, his mother (Ida Lupino) sick of her husband’s irresponsible ways, and his brother (Joe Don Baker) getting rich selling off the family land. Steve McQueen’s taciturn presence and guarded smile set him off as the last of the cowboy loners in the modern world of housing developments and high finance: the old frontier pushed out by progress, which sweeps the dreamers out with it. As such this quiet, elegiac tale fits right in with his other tales of outmoded heroes in the changing landscape. Ben Johnson, Dub Taylor, and Don ‘Red’ Barry co-star. MGM’s 2004 release (which supplants Anchor Bay’s non-anamorphic 1999 edition, now long out of print) features commentary by (you guessed it) the Peckinpah biographers circle: Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle.
Junior Bonner

The Getaway (1972) (Warner)

Steve McQueen stars as Doc McCoy, a master thief sprung from prison for a big job, and Ali McGraw is the young wife who will do anything to get him out, which is what causes the friction when they double-cross their backer and escape with the payday. Walter Hill adapts Jim Thompson’s bizarre crime novel, leaving out most of Thompson’s more extreme details, and Sam Peckinpah directs with stripped down style and hard-bitten attitude. Ben Johnson, Al Lettieri, and Sally Struthers co-star. Warner brought the film out on DVD in 2005 and Blu-ray in 2007. Both feature two commentary tracks: one by the familiar quartet (Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle), the other a “virtual” commentary edited together from archival interviews with Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, and Sam Peckinpah.
The Getaway
The Getaway [Blu-ray]

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) (Warner)

Sam Peckinpah’s take on the story of one-time friends turned foes Pat Garrett (James Coburn), the outlaw turned lawman charged with hunting down his friend Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson), is another of the director’s compromised films. 15 minutes of footage was cut out of Peckinpah’s original vision under studio pressure and the film was released at 106 minutes. There are two versions of the film on the two-disc special edition that that Warner in 2004 and neither of them are the theatrical cut. A 122-minute preview version of the film was found among Peckinpah’s effects and released as a “Director’s Cut” in 1988. While it is offered on the second disc of the set (identified as the “1988 Turner Preview Version”), what is presented as the “definitive” version is a new cut, guided by Peckinpah’s notes, combining the dense razor editing of key scenes in the theatrical release with the structure and deleted scenes found in the rough cut. Both feature some the most beautiful and expressive in Peckinpah’s entire career (and not merely the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” death scene with Slim Pickens and Katy Jurardo).

The release also features commentary by Peckinpah biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle on both versions of the film, the production featurette Deconstructing Pat and Billy and the interview featurette One Foot in the Groove: Remembering Sam Peckinpah and Other Things with Kris Kristofferson), plus Kristofferson performing two original songs and a Peckinpah trailer gallery.

Parallax View contributing editor Richard Jameson also reviews the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid DVD for Amazon .
Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Westerns Collection (The Wild Bunch / Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid / Ride the High Country / The Ballad of Cable Hogue)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) (MGM)

Warren Oates is a grubby lounge singer turned vengeance-fueled killer in Sam Peckinpah’s mind-blowing, tequila-fueled revenge drama. I can’t write anything about this film that hasn’t already been covered (better than I could) by Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and David Coursen. The usual suspects reunite for the commentary track (Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle, moderated by Nick Redman), which is the sole supplement on MGM’s 2005 DVD release.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

The Killer Elite (1975) (MGM)

While this is hardly considered one of Peckinpah’s finer films, it’s a crying shame that the sole stateside edition of these revenge thriller is a non-anamorphic release from 1999.
The Killer Elite (non-anamorphic only)

Cross of Iron (1977) (Hen’s Tooth)

Sam Peckinpah’s edgy study of German soldiers, led by the war-weary combat veteran James Coburn, trying to survive the icy winter of the 1943 Russian Front while threatened by superior forces ahead and a glory hound Prussian aristocrat (Maximilian Schell) giving orders aimed at earning him the titular medal. If the dark, claustrophobic film lacks the usual Peckinpah bravura, it also eschews the splashy spasms of gloriously photographed violence ballets for a more austere, elemental execution. Death is dirty, lonely, and final and the glory of combat descends into madness, with James Coburn’s huge grin opening into a deranged laugh over the closing credits. James Mason, David Warner and Senta Berger co-star.

There is no satisfactory DVD release yet, but we’re getting there. Hen’s Tooth replaced their original full-frame release with an anamorphic letterboxed edition in 2006 and improved the image quality along the way, but it’s still a long way removed from the sharpness and strong, accurate colors of a real digital remaster. Also features commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince, a still gallery of German lobby cards and the trailer.
Cross of Iron (Widescreen)

Convoy (1978) (various)

Another of Peckinpah’s films that have slipped out of studio catalogues and arrived on home video via a series of obscure labels with an indifferent attitude toward quality control. I rented the edition released by Pacific Family Entertainment (thanks Scarecrow) which was indeed anamorphic (with a little toggling), but a poor transfer overall, faded and soft with adequate sound. There is another version released by a company called Cheezy Flicks which I’ve never seen (the company name doesn’t inspire confidence) but the customer comments of the Amazon page are quite critical of the quality. Neither of them appear to be reliable options.
Convoy (Cheezy Flicks)

The Osterman Weekend (1983) (Anchor Bay)

The final film of Sam Peckinpah’s career was, yes, once again recut against his wishes and released to generally indifferent reviews. Based on a Robert Ludlum novel, it’s a convoluted, cynical, and somewhat implausible thriller about an investigative TV journalist (Rutger Hauer) who is told that his best friends (Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, and Chris Sarandon) are enemy agents spying on America. John Hurt is the CIA agent who wires up his home for surveillance and proceeds to play mind games with the group over a weekend get-together. Peckinpah can’t overcome the somewhat ludicrous plot (which is made incomprehensible by studio recutting) but he masterfully executes the action scenes and orchestrates the building suspicions and tensions like a master conductor.

Anchor Bay released the film on DVD in 2004 in a two-disc set that includes a workprint of Sam Peckinpah’s original cut, which runs 15 minutes longer. Mastered from what appears to be a second or third generation full screen video copy, there are missing shots, horrendous scratches in the film, and moments of video interference that mar the presentation. It’s more of a historical document, the hint of Peckinpah’s intentions, but for that it’s an invaluable document. Also includes commentary on the release feature by the Peckinpah Musketeers (Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman: all for one and Peckinpah for all!), the original, feature-length documentary Alpha to Omega (which charts the production in more detail than most people will ever need) a still gallery and the trailer.
The Osterman Weekend

Miscellany

“Too Late For Goodbyes” (music video, 1984)

Sam Peckinpah got behind the cameras for the last time to make a pair of music videos of Julian Lennon. One of those videos, “Too Late for Goodbyes,” is available on the “Essential Music Videos: Classic Eighties” collection.
Essential Music Videos – Classic ’80s


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