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Sam Peckinpah had something to prove. After being fired, he had gone without work for two years. The Wild Bunch was his chance to show himself to be a dynamic storyteller and to tell his Western tale.
1. Lee Marvin was the original lead.
Marvin, who had been around the project even before a script was drafted, backed out because he feared that the part of Pike was too similar to the one he played in The Professionals. Instead, he chose to do Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood. As a replacement, Robert Mitchum, Sterling Hayden, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, and Richard Boone were considered, but the role ultimately went to William Holden.
2. Peckinpah had doubts about Borgnine.
For the part of Dutch, they considered Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, George Peppard, Robert Culp. Culp also suggested his friend Sammy Davis Jr. Due to the success of The Dirty Dozen, Ernest Borgnine was the studio’s choice for the part. But Peckinpah worried that the actor might over play the role at first.
3. Holden was influenced by Peckinpah.
By all accounts, Peckinpah was an intense, demanding director, who expected the best performance from everyone, including supporting actors. As a result, William Holden and the cast made sure to study their part hard. But when developing the character of Pike, Holden integrated qualities of his director, even copying his gestures and inflections. Peckinpah’s daughter later commented that she saw her dad in his performance as well. Interestingly, Holden also wore a mustache similar to the directors (though this wasn’t his idea, and in fact, he even fought against it at first).
4. Peckinpah improvised.
The screenplay didn’t have an elaborate entrance for the Wild Bunch before the big finale. In fact, it was simply three lines in the script. But Peckinpah envisioned something larger, and on the day of shooting, improvised the final walk, the group of singing Mexicans, and the town’s life.
5. An actor inspired part of the opening.
When Sam Peckinpah was still writing the script, actor Emilio Fernández commented that the beginning reminded him of a game that he played when he was a child where they would drop a scorpion down a hill into a pile of ants. Peckinpah was so inspired by this that he immediately called for ants and scorpions so they could film it.
6. Holden had the best gift for the cast.
Everyone hated the food when working on the picture, and the meat was limited during the production. William Holden had to travel back home for a funeral, and when he came back, he brought with him suitcases filled with steaks. The cast celebrated the surprise meal, and Peckinpah grilled them up.