Actor John Wayne had no problem commenting on popular media in his day, including Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. The film hit the silver screen in 1969, interweaving action and drama into a two-time Oscar-nominated film. Wayne called The Wild Bunch “distasteful” for very specific reasons that turned him away from Hollywood’s shift to include more mature content.
Wayne came from a time where the feature film business was considered a family one in many ways. He believed that audiences of all ages should be able to enjoy a movie without fear of embarrassment regarding the type of content they’re about to sit through.
As a result, Wayne went out of his way to avoid roles that he considered “petty.” He thought that films that became overly-violent or sexual were entirely created for shock value, and he wanted no part in it. The movie star turned down big roles in Blazzing Saddles and Steven Spielberg’s 1941 because he considered them inappropriate.
Wayne spoke at length about his opinion of The Wild Bunch in his infamous 1971 interview with Playboy. There, he talked about his disgust toward sexualization in the future of filmmaking. He thought that morbid curiosity drew the public to pay to see these movies, which could destroy the “magic” of the industry. However, he also had negative views toward gore.
“To me, The Wild Bunch was distasteful,” Wayne said. “It would have been a good picture without the gore. Pictures go too far when they use that kind of realism, when they have shots of blood spurting out and teeth flying, and when they throw liver out to make it look like people’s insides.”
Wayne continued: “The Wild Bunch was one of the first to go that far in realism, and the curious went to see it. That may make the bankers and stock promoters think that it is a necessary ingredient for successful motion pictures. They seem to forget the one basic principle of our business – illusion. We’re in the business of magic.”
“I don’t think it hurts a child to see anything that has the illusion of violence in it,” Wayne explained. “All our fairy tales have some kind of violence – the good knight riding to kill the dragon, etc. Why do we have to show the knight spreading the serpent’s guts all over the candy mountain?”
Wayne evolved the industry himself in the way that he instilled fighting “dirty” into his Western heroes, but he didn’t enjoy how movies like The Wild Bunch were changing the cinematic landscape. He believed that movies continued to try and top one another in regards to how far they could push the boundary. The end result is a continuation of “vulgarity.”
This is incredibly evident with the way that Wayne viewed actor Clint Eastwood when he came onto the scene. He made a name for himself with the spaghetti Westerns, such as A Fistful of Dollars. He turned the Western lead into an anti-hero, unafraid to quickly turn to lethal violence as a solution. Wayne was angry regarding this representation, believing that he incorrectly portrayed what the West was all about.