At the beginning of The Wild Bunch, William Holden says, “If they move, kill them.” That line became so associated with director Sam Peckinpah and his films that it was even used as the title of his biography. Sam Peckinpah was known for both the violence of his films and the turmoil of his private life. He fought studios and film critics and directed six classic films before destroying himself and his talent with drugs and hard living. When he died in 1984, he was could not get a job in Hollywood but his legacy as a filmmaker has lived on.
In his memoir, Goin’ Crazy With Sam Peckinpah And All Our Friends, novelist Max Evans takes a look back at his long and often contentious friendship with Peckinpah. When Sam Peckinpah first met Max Evans, it was to buy the rights to Max’s western novel, The Hi-Lo Country. Though Peckinpah never made the movie, he and Evans remained friends for the rest of Peckinpah’s life. As Evans puts it, he and actor James Coburn were the only two to stay with Peckinpah until the very end.
When talking about Peckinpah, Evans does not pull any punches. Much of the book details Peckinpah’s casual cruelty. When Peckinpah’s son David wrote a script, Sam dismissed it as a “piece of shit.” Evans interviewed Peckinpah’s girlfriend, Katy Haber, about the time that Peckinpah hit her and how actor Steve McQueen reacted when he found out. Towards the end of his life, Peckinpah was told that he would die if he did not stop drinking. Sam gave up liquor and turned to cocaine instead. At one point, a paranoid Peckinpah even asked Evans for help in hiring a hitman to “take care of” a film producer that Peckinpah disliked.
Evans also talks about the other side of Sam Peckinpah. According to Evans, the Peckinpah that visited him in New Mexico was a different human being from the Sam who threatened producers and shot guns at actors. In Hollywood, Peckinpah felt had to prove he was a madman. With Max, he could just be “Ol’ Sam.” Max even suggests that Sam may have been a mystic and includes several stories about Sam’s “supernatural” abilities.
Along with writing about Sam Peckinpah, Evans also talks about his colorful encounters with actors like Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, L.Q. Jones, Woody Harrelson, and Sean Penn. Evans is a natural storyteller and Goin’ Crazy With Sam Peckinpah is an engaging and breezy trip through the Hollywood of the 60s and 70s.