On Sam Pekinpah and his Contributions to the Western

Credited with turning the genre from moral simplicity to moral complexity, Peckinpah’s elegiac tones and lyrical execution make it almost impossible to watch typical action westerns with the childlike excitement they once invoked.

Sam Peckinpah spent his formative years as an assistant to Don Siegel, the director who would later make the Dirty Harry films starring Clint Eastwood. Both Eastwood and Peckinpah would become forever connected to screen violence in the western, but while Eastwood simply refined the style of the genre, Peckinpah explored its soul.

Peckinpah was first placed in the saddle writing and directing episodes of western series, including Gunsmoke and The Rifleman, in the early days of television. A 1957 rough outline of a script for One-Eyed Jacks (1961) led to a bizarre portrayal of Billy the Kid by method actor Marlon Brando, and a directing exercise titled The Losers, on TV’s Dick Powell Theater in 1963, employed startling slow-motion gun battles, a celebrated effect that Peckinpah would use to excess in later films.

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