Peckinpah’s Tragic Westerns

A Critical Study


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About the Book

The work of Sam Peckinpah represents a high point in American cinema. This text is the first theoretical and critical attempt to place Peckinpah within the 2,000-year-old tradition of western tragedy. The tradition, enfolding the Greeks, Shakespeare and modern tragedians, is represented in Peckinpah’s art in numerous ways, and the fact that he worked in the mode throughout his career distinguishes him from most American film directors. Films covered include Ride the High Country, Noon Wine, The Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

About the Author(s)

John L. Simons is a professor of modern American literature and film at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He is the author of numerous essays.
Robert Merrill is an emeritus professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he taught for thirty years and chaired for eleven. He is the author or editor of several books and has published more than fifty articles and reviews in such major journals as American Literature, Modern Philology, Modern Fiction Studies, Studies in American Fiction, Narrative, and Texas Studies in Literature and Language.

Bibliographic Details

John L. Simons and Robert Merrill
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 10 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2011
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6133-2
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8474-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      ix

Preface      1

One. Peckinpah’s Tragic Vision      3

Two. The Double Vision of Tragedy in Ride the High Country      33

Three. Noon Wine: A Tragic Pastoral      54

Four. The Tragedy of Love in The Wild Bunch      79

Five. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: The Tragedy of Pat Garrett      105

Six. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: The Revenger’s Tragedy      154

Conclusion      188

Notes      197

Bibliography      211

Index      217

Book Reviews & Awards

“a masterly piece of research, rendered in highly readable prose”—Western American Literature; “Sam Peckinpah is one of the rare directors of Western films in whose work the effect of tragedy is both an authentic formal cause and an often devastatingly realized final effect. In this stimulating, well-researched new critical study, John L. Simons and Robert Merrill use conceptions of tragedy from Aristotle’s Poetics—a work that greatly influenced Peckinpah in graduate school—through Shakespeare to contemporary critical theorists as a way of analyzing the director’s tragic vision in five of his best films (Ride the High Country, Noon Wine, The Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia). Not least of their achievements is the detailed chapter on that great, problematic masterpiece Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. As someone who prepared one of the several versions of this never-quite-completed film and has written extensively on all of them, I have no hesitation in pronouncing Simons and Merrill’s the most fair-minded, balanced, and thorough examination of their contents and their relative strengths. This book is a valuable and enlightening contribution to the criticism and scholarship of this great American original.”—Paul Seydor, author of Peckinpah: The Western Films: A Reconsideration; “in much film criticism today, ‘tragedy’ as a concept is both overused and frequently misunderstood. Beginning with the classic Aristotelian definition, Simons and Merrill examine its evolution as a useful critical tool, then rigorously apply it to Sam Peckinpah’s Westerns. The result provides fresh and, at times, profound insights into how and why Peckinpah’s work touches us in such a deep and visceral way.”—Garner Simmons, author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage.