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R You Ready for the Reborn ‘Wild Bunch’?

Rustling up the 25th--make that the 26th anniversary--of Sam Peckinpah’s bloody Western classic “The Wild Bunch” has been a wild ride for Warner Bros.

A 26th-anniversary re-release (March 3, followed by a new, stereo videotape and laser-disc version later this year) is not the usual milestone marked by a studio, but, in this case, Warner Bros.--which had planned to release the film last year to mark its 25th anniversary--was caught in a yearlong feud with the MPAA over an NC-17 rating on the director’s cut. (Warners doesn’t release NC-17 movies.)

The director’s cut includes 10 minutes that had been in the movie in 1969, when the MPAA awarded it an R rating but were later trimmed. A minute and a half was cut by the studio, with Peckinpah’s blessing, before the film’s release; after its release, the studio cut another 8 1/2 minutes, without Peckinpah’s prior knowledge.

When Warners wanted to reinstate those scenes in the new re-release, it expected to receive the same R rating that the original version--which has long been available on video--had received back in 1969. But the MPAA decided that the violence deserved an NC-17 this time around.

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Warners then threatened to release the film in U.S. theaters without an MPAA rating.

“We went back and pulled out all of Peckinpah’s files, (producer Phil) Feldman’s files and Warners’ files. And then we took it over there and proved to them, chronologically, what we had been telling them all along. We got our R,” says Barry Reardon, Warners’ president of distribution.

Those files showed how Warners executives and producer Feldman had clipped some critical scenes after the film’s R rating had been awarded.

“The scenes that were added back in were the flashbacks, the character-building scenes that explain the relationships between William Holden’s character and Holden’s nemesis, Robert Ryan, as well as a battle scene with Pancho Villa,” says Peckinpah biographer David Weddle, who wrote the recently published “If They Move, Kill ‘Em: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah.”

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The MPAA does not explain why ratings are changed, if they are; MPAA spokeswoman Barbara Dixon would only say that the film now has an R rating.

The film will open March 3 at the Cinerama Dome, at the Sony Theater near Lincoln Center in New York and at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.

“It only took a year and a half, really, to get the rating the film always had,” Reardon says. “I was gonna give in though and buckle to an NC-17. Oh, well, we’re still in the year of the 25th anniversary . . . sort of.”


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