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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Beautiful And the Damned. Article by Richard T Jameson

The Beautiful and the Damned: Major Dundee

28 April, 2010 (06:00) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Sam Peckinpah | By: Richard T. Jameson
[Originally published in the Queen Anne News, April 11, 2005]
Sam Peckinpah was one of our great modern filmmakers, but for many his name summons up such a fearsome Hollywood legend, of blighted career, outrageous excess and epic self-destructiveness, that remembering the great films becomes secondary.
The legend began to lock into place with his third feature film, the 1965 Major Dundee though it’s worth noting that even his universally admired second film, the elegiac Ride the High Country (1962), was nearly thrown away by its parent studio, only to be hailed as “the best American film of the year” by Newsweek magazine. Ride the High Country was a small a program picture, really featuring two over-the-hill cowboy stars (Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott). Major Dundee would be, by mid-’60s terms, an epic, with a $4.5-million budget, two recently Oscared or Oscar-nominated stars Charlton Heston and Richard Harris and an international cast with more color and flair than, perhaps, any one motion picture could accommodate. It was also to be a film of vast and complex thematic ambitions, a dual character study that sought to refract not only the historical tensions of the Civil War era frontier but also the fractious America of a century later, astir with the civil-rights movement and the beginnings of what we would come to know as the Vietnam era.
The production was, as they say, difficult. Working far from Hollywood, on locations in Durango, Mexico a nation that more and more would become Peckinpah’s spiritual home the director pushed himself, his cast and his crew hard. He also found himself making a $4.5-million picture that eventually turned into a $3-million picture, with no money to shoot several sequences key to the meaning and rhythm of the film. The last footage Peckinpah did get to shoot was paid for out of Heston’s salary, which the actor sacrificed to the cause despite growing apprehensiveness about his director’s stability. In the end, Peckinpah turned in a two-hour-and-40-minute cut that would be reduced several times during a contentious preview process, with the film finally going into release at just over two hours running time.
I saw Major Dundee in 1965. There was no question it was a mutilated film. Voiceover narration, ostensibly read from a soldier’s journal, filled in a lot of exposition and attempted to supply a sense of dramatic development (“We were becoming a command again…”) to which the ragged progression of scenes was not equal. Several scenes began so abruptly that it was clear we were missing transitional material. One hilltop view of an Apache chieftain Sierra Charriba (Australian actor Michael Pate), whose murderous raids would lead Dundee to pursue him into Mexico was cut into the narrative twice: two moments months and miles apart, same shot.
Yet there was, of course, much that was magnificent, deeply personal and flamboyantly original. The thrilling sense of bleakly beautiful landscape and how men, on or off horseback, moved through it. The weird visual music made by asymmetrical widescreen compositions and some almost hallucinatory editing (a new kind of continuity, as opposed to cutting desperately around narrative lacunae). Harris giving one of his few disciplined, effectively florid performances. The quiet equanimity of James Coburn’s one-armed scout, and the way Dundee turned a scene around just by pronouncing his name (“Sam Potts!”). The rich, colorful human tapestry, teeming with such Peckinpah regulars as Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones and John Davis Chandler (three of the Hammond brothers from Ride the High Country), Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens. And sudden, shocking explosions of blood something rarely if ever seen in American films before to testify to the horror and the hideous ecstasy of combat. Peckinpah was trying to get to somewhere new in action filmmaking; the film ached with aspiration, yet in the circumstances couldn’t help falling short of achievement.
Well, you know the rest of the story, in shorthand anyway. Major Dundee bombed and Sam Peckinpah became more or less unemployable. He worked his way back via TV (notably a masterly adaptation of Noon Wine with Jason Robards and Per Oscarsson) and returned, four years later, with The Wild Bunch. The Wild Bunch, too, was soon mutilated, a week or so after its initial release; but it was a masterpiece, and people had seen it, and eventually the stuff they cut was put back. And now we knew where Peckinpah had been trying to get to. It was awesome, in every sense of the word, and Major Dundee, as a groping endeavor and as a horrific professional experience, was essential to his getting-there.
Now Columbia Pictures is releasing “an extended version” of Major Dundee, 12 minutes longer than what we saw in 1965. Essentially, it’s the preview cut that preceded the last of the mutilations. Some of the gaps have been filled (most tellingly, in Dundee’s dark-night-of-the-soul recuperation from wounds in Durango), a few details restored that lend greater depth to the characterizations. It’s good that no one is trying to call this “the director’s cut.” The movie is, in some ways, more obviously a mess than ever (and that crude, phony-looking hilltop shot of Sierra Charriba is still in there, twice). Peckinpah loyalists will want to see it, of course, and anyone capable of appreciating flawed but distinctive work should. But there’s no getting back that other 20 minutes or so of footage, or the scenes that were never shot at all.
One more thing: The Major Dundee we knew for 40 years had a music score by Daniele Amfitheatrof and a recurring title song performed by (yes) Mitch Miller and the Sing-Along Gang. It’s gone, replaced by a new, hastily composed and quite nerveless score. I don’t doubt that Sam Peckinpah loathed the music imposed on him as an effort to pep up his hard-bitten movie and make it more salable (it’s nothing like the scores he later commissioned from the gifted Jerry Fielding). But for better or worse, that music was part of Major Dundee, and trying to wish it away is wrong.
© 2005 Richard T. Jameson

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Restoration of Major Dundee: Robert A Harris talks to Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures

RAH: I know you've had a number of projects in the works, to which you return when something positive occurs, such as finding a new bit of film or audio. Is there anything that you're comfortable discussing for public consumption?
GC: You and I discussed the missing elements and various ideas surrounding Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) years ago when Sony / Columbia had done a thorough search of our elements in known inventories. The problem was that we couldn't find much. The studio did not keep most of the trims and outtakes or sound mix elements (no 1/4" dailies, for instance), and definitely did not keep any lifts or deleted scenes in either positive or negative form. A few trims existed, but most of that is just for what is already in the film. Some minor outs exist in negative form, but no audio pre-mixes, or anything like that, existed. I knew we had a slightly longer version in the separation masters, but they were incomplete. We continued our search and consolidating worldwide inventories and, frankly, struck gold this past year, when we found a complete soundtrack for a longer version. Complete and finished in every way. This led me back to looking for picture to match and, sure enough, the track matched the version in the seps.
RAH: To cinephiles, this is exciting and important - especially to the many Peckinpah fans out there. This material had been thought lost for nearly forty years. When did it all start to come together?
GC: I started looking into this film seriously around 1995, and I believe inspecting the minimal amount of trims that existed was one of the first things Mike Pogorzelski did at the Academy when he started there as an archivist. Michael Friend [founding director of the AMPAS archive] and I decided to bring AMPAS in on the project, the project being to determine just what we had here in terms of picture trims, to see if anything was really of use. It was a useful exercise and Mike inspected other elements, of course, but it led nowhere, looked hopeless, and I did not have time to put into it then. Plus, we were missing some key reels, two records from different reels of the seps and one reel of original negative, all of which had some of the longer scenes. So, in the intervening years, storage facilities closed, we move things around, and we looked for new or misidentified material all the time, but especially in the period of '97 to 2002.
RAH: When did you decide to take on the project in earnest?
GC: I finally decided to tackle this film about two years ago, knowing at the time we had incomplete elements, and decided to work with Tom Heitman at Cineric laboratory in New York. He and Balazs Nyari, who owns Cineric, are some of the key people in the restoration lab business in this country, always willing to push the envelope and try new things. I had worked with Cineric on Funny Girl, the fade process titles like The Man from Laramie, Bell, Book and Candle, My Sister Eileen, etc. Plus, I knew we would have to recombine the seps for about half the film to get the new scenes and Cineric is very good at handling recombination of masters, Tech 3-strip shows, odd formats, and so forth.
RAH: How about the audio?
GC: Initially, I thought we would need to go back to square one with the audio and re-record a lot, which was one of the reasons I was postponing getting into it to begin with, but in the course of going through all the audio tracks - which had been done once years before - the longer version magnetic track, a complete mono DME [A DME is a three stripe containing Dialogue, Music and Effects] was identified. It was never identified prior to that as differing from the other tracks. All audio elements, whether magnetic, optical, English, Music and Effects, all foreign language tracks, including French - every bit of it matches the short version as originally released. So, it was only in deciding to go through all of it again that we discovered this one lone magnetic element that was longer. Same number of reels. Both versions are eight double reels, with four common to both versions, four different. Not much in the way of editing or rearranging of scenes was done. The deleted scenes were basically just lifted - however, and fortunately, not until after the seps had been made.
RAH: There's no doubt that you're looking under every rock and going through every frame of every element. It had been rumored that a cut of the film in the area of 143 minutes was the preferred Peckinpah cut. The current version runs about 124. How close have you been able to come to the grail?
GC: After all the searches and all the work, we are creating the longest version we can for which we have completed English audio. Outside of the approximately 12 minutes of footage in the seps, there really is nothing more and I realistically don't expect to see anything turn up in the future, so we might as well go forward with what we can right now.
RAH: That's a huge difference, if you've gotten the running time up to the 136 minute area. If you can find the time, it might be instructive to discuss several of your other projects. For now, I'm sure the question that's going to be asked on HTF is "When is Major Dundee going to come out on DVD?"
GC: We are rapidly approaching completion of the restoration and will transfer it in HD in the next two months. Incidentally, I screened a work-in-progress print for about half a dozen of the top Peckinpah scholars just three days ago and they were really enthusiastic about it, both the quality of the work and the version we have. It is not, technically, a director's cut, of course, since the director is not with us, but we have put back scenes that they had only heard about before, including from Peckinpah himself, and had never seen. The release for the new DVD looks to be around June of 2005. It will be preceded by a theatrical release, beginning in April in New York.
RAH: This is going to be exciting news in the home video area. We just went online at The Digital Bits with a conversation with Warner's George Feltenstein, who has been working hard to create a higher quality home video software environment with the Warner library. The good news here is that Columbia also has someone in place, not only overseeing asset protection, but working actively to reconstruct and restore their library while holding the line on quality. I understand that you've recently gained a voice in all library remastering and what elements are selected. This portends to be a very good thing for the studio, with more control over original aspect ratios and proper versions. Let's try to talk again soon.

Magill's Survey Of The Cinema 6/15/1995

Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston), reduced to commanding a prison camp for Confederates during the last days of the Civil War, sets out on a punitive mission against hostile Apaches. Accompanying the neurotic, inflexible Dundee is an odd assortment of volunteers, including Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), the Confederate captain who hates him.
Designed as a thoughtful epic Western by director Sam Peckinpah, the film was seriously truncated by producer Jerry Bresler but remains provocative and interesting.
MAJOR DUNDEE is a film of two wars. One of them is pictured in the film. The other war, between director and producer, occurred during the film’s production. As it stands, MAJOR DUNDEE is approximately one hour shorter than filmmaker Sam Peckinpah had originally intended it to be. Although the film’s principal star, Charlton Heston, returned his entire two-hundred thousand dollar salary to the producer as an act of good faith to ensure that the remaining scenes would be shot and director Peckinpah would have full control over the final cut of the film, the producer took the money but turned the film over to the editors. The producer won the off-screen war, and Peckinpah lost control of his film, but in the process, what might have been a great Western epic was turned into a severely truncated remnant of a very individualistic director’s vision of the West.
 In spite of its butchered form, however, MAJOR DUNDEE remains an interesting film and an important work in Peckinpah’s career. It cannot be called a great film, however; many of the scenes that were meant to establish the motivation of the main characters are now missing. The heart of the psychological concerns, which were so important in fleshing out Peckinpah’s themes, have vanished for ever on the cutting room floor. What remains does, however, still show glimpses of the creative control of director/screenwriter Peckinpah, but the film has an over-all incoherence and lack of continuity that obscures the meaning.
  As with most of his films, Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE is concerned with a world which violence is the rule rather than the exception. The film is set in the turbulent era of the final years of the Civil War. The opening scene was originally planned as twenty graphic minutes showing the Halloween night massacre of ‘B’ Troop of Fort Benlin, New Mexico, and a local ranching family, the Rostes’. With this scene in place, the structure of MAJOR DUNDEE would bear a great resemblance to that of Peckinpah’s later masterpiece, THE WILD BUNCH (1969), which is framed by two long and bloody battles, the first occurring during a bank holdup and the second involving the outlaws and Mexican Federales.
  These two scenes, like the battle scenes in MAJOR DUNDEE, reflect Peckinpah’s preoccupation with violence as both a thing of appeal and repulsion. The famous choreographed scenes of violence in THE WILD BUNCH, are also revealed to have their technical forerunner in the battle scenes of the earlier film, which communicate the agonies, but also the perverse excitement and fascination of warfare.
The present version of MAJOR DUNDEE shows only the very final moments of the Rostes Ranch massacre, but this raid provides the obvious impetus for the action of the film. Major Amos Charles Dundee, commander of Fort Benlin’s prison camp for Confederates, leads a motley band of Union reprobates, black prison guards, Confederate prisoners of war, and civilian horse thieves and murderers across the Mexican border in an attempt to rescue the Rostes’ three boys from their Indian captors. Ironically, this obsessive pursuit is revealed to be motivated less by the apparent need to save the boys than by the Major’s own overriding need to escape his role as warden of a prison camp. The boys adapt well to their new lives as Apaches, but the Major cannot adjust to a role forced on him as punishment for his own disregard for authority at Gettysburg.
  Dundee’s initial image is one of an authoritative, competent officer whose main interest is in rescuing the boys, but as the film progresses, he is seen as an inflexible, guilt-ridden man whose ramrod manner barely conceals a troubled, insecure soldier whose concept of self is assured only when he is embroiled in war. Heston offers a well-controlled performance as Dundee, and even though the dialog is sometimes inadequate in expressing character, director Peckinpah successfully uses Heston, and the other main characters, to create each character as a viable physical presence in a large-scale film that could easily have swallowed up lesser characterizations.
  Dundee is given a personal and military rival in the dashing figure of Confederate captain Benjamin Tyreen. Tyreen’s roles in life have been many – Irish potato farmer, court-martialed Union officer and captured Confederate, but unlike Dundee, Tyreen’s identity appears securely rooted beneath his assumption of a flamboyant, posturing appearance.  Tyreen has an eloquence and personal flair which Dundee lacks, but more importantly, he possesses an understanding of himself an intuitive knowledge of his fellows that make him a much more effective leader of men than his former friend, Major Amos Charles Dundee.
  Although the other key roles of Sgt. Gomez (Mario Adorf), Samuel T. Potts (James Coburn), and Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton) have suffered because of the massive editing, they are still important, as is Tyreen, in pointing out the deficiencies in Major Dundee’s failings, and his own, levelheaded, self-effacing professionalism contrasts sharply with Dundee’s chaotic leadership.
 As the film details the command’s raid into Mexico, the duality of Peckinpah’s vision is apparent in his embrace of a romantic view of that country while creating a generally realistic portrait of war. The poor Mexican village that welcomes the American soldiers as liberators becomes a haven full of simple, generous people, including Peckinpah’s usual selection of generous women, among them Senta Berger as the widow of the town’s doctor. The command’s leave-taking from the village is clearly a model for the startlingly similar scene in THE WILD BUNCH. In contrast to this romanticism, Peckinpah treats the violence in MAJOR DUNDEE in a realistic manner that emphasizes the bloody action and aftermath of conflict; men writhing in pain from festering wounds, rows of leaking canvass bags containing the mutilated bodies of the first battle’s casualties, and Dundee’s strained shoveling of dirt into a huge mass grave.
  The Rostes boys are ultimately rescued and the Apaches are destroyed, but Dundee’s command is decimated and the Major seems to have acquired little self-knowledge as a result of the costly foray. Our expectations of what a cavalry film should have been satisfied in terms of “action,” but Peckinpah turns the mythic expectations upside down.
The glorious of the frontier have been transformed into desperate, generally selfish men who, unlike the soldiers in John Ford’s cavalry films, are not bound together in a homogenous, lasting community. Only the figure of Captain Tyreen carries on the expected romantic tradition of the heroic cavalier. Tyreen dies in the final battle against the Emperor Maximillian’s forces, but his single-handed charge against the enemy is an idealistic gesture that enables the twelve survivors to escape across the river into Texas. Tyreen may damn Major Dundee and the Major’s flag, but Tyreen carries that flag into a glorious death as is possible in the world of Peckinpah. 
MAJOR DUNDEE attempts a great deal, and in some measure succeeds, in spite of its mutilated form. Within its epic proportions lurk some of the techniques and creative impulses that later achieve full fruition in Peckinpah’s indisputable masterpiece, THE WILD BUNCH

American Cinematographer Artcle by Herb A Lightman 2/1965

Behind the camera on Major Dundee By Herb A Lightman

Filmed almost completely on location in the wilds of Mexico, roaring screen spectacle offers stimulating challenges to the cinematographer.

As Columbia Pictures’ Civil War epic, “Major Dundee” sweeps and thunders its way across the wide screen it becomes stunningly obvious that - while direction and performances are of the highest level, - ‘Dundee’  is essentially a cameraman’s picture. Few films have relied so heavily on visual impact, pictorial mood and camera virtuosity to achieve a total effect, and to the director of photography, Sam Leavitt, A.S.C.  must go much of the credit for making Major Dundee a rousing show from beginning to end. Add to this the fact that at least 90% of the film’s intricate action (both interior and exterior) was filmed in actual locations extending over a vast area of the most tortuous terrain Mexico has to offer , and the achievement is doubly impressive.
  The major story plot of “Dundee”, based loosely on a true incident, is simple – although its incisive explorations into human character under stress made necessary several sub=plots and tangents, all of which had to be woven into a cohesive cinematic unity.
  Essentially, the story concerns Major Amos Dundee, 3rd U.S. Cavalry (played by Charlton Heston), a hard-bitten, cynical professional soldier whose over-harsh discipline has caused him to be shunted off to a New Mexico backwater to wait out the war.  At remote Fort Benlin, he bitterly resents his role as a “keeper” of four hundred slowly decaying Confederate prisoners, as well as Union deserters, murderers and thieves – the dregs of the frontier.
His life becomes less humdrum, however, when he hears that an Apache “mad-dog” chieftain, Sierra Charriba, has brutally ambushed and murdered a detachment of soldiers along with women and female children at a nearby ranch. The male children have been abducted by Charriba to be brainwashed into [becoming] Apache warriors.
  Meanwhile, back at the fort, Dundee is having problems Confederate captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris) who has attempted to escape, along with four other prisoners, and has killed a guard in the process. Dundee and Tyreen are no strangers. At West Point, before the Civil War broke out, they were close friends, but their choosing of different sides in the struggle, further complicated by Tyreen’s slaying of a Northern Officer, has made them bitter enemies. As penalty for killing the guard, Dundee condemns Tyreen and the other would-be escapees to be hanged.

However, since Dundee cannot strip the Fort of Union troops to hunt down Charriba and rescue the kidnapped children, he is forced to ask for volunteers from the Confederate prisoners and the motley group of thieves and murderers. Gathering about him a raggle-taggle band of cutthroats, including Tyreen, he sets forth after Charriba’s scalp.
 From that point on the action of the film becomes a protracted trek-chase, during the course of which the patrol is embroiled in bloody skirmishes with the Apaches as well as the French colonial troops, once they have crossed into Mexican territory. Interspersed with these mass battles are personal clashes between the two friends-turned enemies as they give vent to the peculiar love-hate rivalry which is fairly common among men in war.
  Inevitably romance rears its lovely head in the seductively proportioned personification of Senta Berger, a Viennese beauty somewhat incongruously plunked down in the heart of the Mexican wilderness. Her main problem seems to be that deciding which of the two swashbucklers she cherishes the most – but for sheer geographical splendor she runs the spectacular Mexican scenery a close second.
  And there is considerable Mexican scenery in the film, utilized to stunning visual and dramatic advantage, but involving one of the most widespread and arduous location safaris ever encountered by a motion picture company.
  The technicians and actors who worked on “Dundee” roamed the outlands of Mexico from the Sierra Madre to the white tropical heat of the Rio Mescala; they filmed at sea level and then climbed to the labored-breath altitude of 10,000 feet at La Marquesa. It is a film of unrelenting wild action, with few interiors – photographed in cold, and mist, and in temperatures of 110 degrees.
  In short, no matter what the terrain or physical discomfort, “Dundee” traveled where the actual story occurred to re-create for the International the bruising, savage trek of “C” Troop, U.S.A in 1864-65.
  Like most creative cameramen, Sam Leavitt, A.S.C. regards each new filming assignment as a unique project demanding its own distinctive photographic style precisely keyed to the particular subject matter. “Major Dundee” had its own special atmosphere and he gave much pre-production thought to selecting a photographic point of view that would present the mood of the story most effectively.
  “I tried to establish an individualistic concept of style in photographing this picture”, he comments. “I definitely didn’t want it to be in vivid color. I tried to capture more of a realistic quality in keeping with the subject. Many times color comes up too vividly, a sort of candy-cane type of color, which might be just right for a comedy or a musical, but in this one it had to be downbeat, an understated pastel quality – almost like a ‘color’ picture in black and white”
  In following through on this concept, he worked closely with the wardrobe designer (Gordon Dawson) to keep the colors of the costumes muted. True reds and blues were avoided, and the fact that the costumes were supposed to be dirty during most of the action helped dull them down considerably. He designed his lighting in a low key so that shadows, unrelieved by fill light, could inject dark areas into the compositions. The over-all effect has much of the graphic, almost documentary quality achieved by Matthew Brady in his actual still photographs of Civil War action.
 It is doubtful that any film in recent history had a “travelog” comparable to “Dundee.” Beginning in Durango, headquarters for the first month of shooting, the company trekked daily to the ice-rimmed Rio Mescala, some thirty miles away in the foothills of the fabled Sierra Madre. Then the location shifted to the Tiapas ruins of a 400 year old hacienda which was reconstructed as Fort Benlin.
  It was here that Leavitt encountered his first problem. Although the company had brought along a sufficient number of “brute” arc lamps and generators to light most of the sequences to be shot, the lighting of the Tiapas ruins turned out to be more than what was bargained for.
  “We had several night sequences in a tremendous prison yard where we had to light up six hundred prisoners and this was a great challenge,” Leavitt admits, “but there’s an old saying among cameramen: “You can shoot with two brutes as well as you can shoot with 22 brutes – if you know where to put them.’  It’s a matter of experience and knowing what can take care of itself.”
  Asked why he did not fall back on the seemingly simple solution of shooting the sequence day-for-night, he replied:
  “Most of our night scenes were actually shot at night. In a few cases, when there were mass action over terrain that was simply too vast to light, we were forced to shoot day-for-night, but to me, day-for-night always looks ‘day-for-night.‘ What you see at night is not what you see in the daytime, and if you try to make it look like night you are taking a chance. All you can do is under-expose your film and do the best you can, hoping that the laboratory can help you in getting the effect, but if you are required to shoot in areas where you have hot sands and hot skies, it’s very difficult to create a convincing day-for-night illusion.”
  The ancient village of Chupaderos, some twenty kilometers from Durango, served as a “Dundee” locale for almost two weeks. Against purple ridges, the crew fought gale force winds that drove through the Chupaderos Valley. Next came the pastoral setting of Morcillo, and finally Saltito, in The Valley In The Name Of God, a favorite hiding spot for the legendary Pancho Villa.
  Since “Major Dundee” is a “man’s picture” in the most literal sense of the term, great pains were taken to get the mostly all-male cast to appear as rugged as possible. Low angles were often used to make the characters seem to loom larger than life, as indeed they must have, judging from historical records of their violent exploits. Strong cross-lighting, un-softened by fill light, made their features stand out as if chiseled from granite. It is safe to say that the actors appearing in this film have never looked so harshly virile on the screen before.
  Yet Leavitt’s photographic treatment of the story was not unrelieved blood-and-guts. The romantic sequences allowed him to inject poetic overtones into the total tapestry. An idyllic bathing-in-a-woodland-pool sequence has an almost idealized time-out-of-war visual mood, faithfully capturing the nostalgia men in war have always felt when dreaming of home.
  The sequence in which Heston bids a romantic farewell to the voluptuous Miss Berger was filmed against strongly back-lighted crumbling arches with a camera angle accenting the loneliness of terrain stretching of into infinity. In this sequence, Leavitt managed to capture the almost Dali-esque beauty of a surrealist landscape dwarfing the human figures against the vast emptiness of unknown Fate.
  After these love scenes between Charlton Heston and Senta Berger had been filmed in Zacatopec, the “Dundee” company settled on the banks of the Tehuixtla River, where heavy action began, with Indian battles. The stock company of stunt men led the river fighting, while Panavision cameras, mounted on dolly trucks laid in the bed of the river, trucked along with the tumult.
  Finishing up at Tehuixtla with a whirlwind action sequence, “Dundee” moved to the Cuautla area, in the heart of pineapple and sugar cane country. Another venerable hacienda, in ruins since the days of Zapata, became the “set” for this sequence of the Civil War story. Hacienda Pantitlan, one hour’s ride from Cuautla, was in such neglect that the walls had to be propped up to keep them tumbling in on the film-makers.
  Here was encountered once more the typical location interior problem of where to find room for lamps, dolly tracks, camera equipment and actors in the cramped confines of the ancient hacienda which had been converted to a bar for the sequence. Unable to avoid having some of the lamps intrude into the composition, Leavitt simply had them painted to blend with the background, a desperate measure resorted to by many professional cameramen when everything else fails.
  A yawning gorge was the next before the cameras. This canyon was selected to be the death trap of Sierra Charriba. Next, the company moved to Jonacatapec, still another example of time-halted civilization, for the introduction of the French lancer forces. Tlayacapan, where time seldom reaches at all; where pre-Columbian art may be found by digging in the ruins, was the final location site for the Cuautla environs.
  The Rio Mescala, forty kilometers from Chilpancingo, and tucked down in desolate hills, was the locale for the wind-up battle scenes of “Major Dundee”. Four hundred members of the 13th Mexican Cavalry changed into uniforms of French lancers for this climatic action, clashing head-on in unbelievably violent film battles that raged all along the banks of the Mescala for ten days.
  By 10.00a.m. each morning the temperature was usually over one hundred degrees and still climbing. The Rio Mescala had its own weaponry of red ants, chiggers and mosquitoes. Few locations have served up so much misery. But Mescala provided spectacular back-drops for the cavalry fights. “Major Dundee” was finally completed with the burning of an entire ranch at La Marquesa.
  Like most of the A.S.C. Directors of Photography who have worked in the film industry since the silent days, Sam Leavitt tends to play down the problems confronting the Hollywood cinematographer. The simple fact is that these veterans of the camera have, on one film or another through the years, encountered and solved most every imaginable photographic problem, so that they are inclined to take everything in their stride. This does not detract, however, from their achievement or their accumulated know-how which has made them the greatest camera craftsmen in the world.
  While admitting that “Major Dundee” was one of the most difficult films he has ever worked on due to its many rugged locations, Leavitt still finds such films a stimulating experience to photograph.  
  “I feel that shooting in practical locations is a special challenge to the camera man, but that’s what most professional cinematographers welcome – a challenge that may make it possible for them to achieve a different  style of photography,” he observes. “Of course its much harder than working in a studio – at least twice as hard, I’d say – because the cameraman has nowhere to place his lights, especially if he’s moving around making dolly shots. But it’s a challenge that keeps you on your toes.”
  Winner of The Academy “Oscar” for his black-and-white photography of “The Defiant Ones,” Sam Leavitt’s credit has appeared on many of Hollywood’s most distinguished films including (besides “Major Dundee”) “Exodus,” “Advise And Consent” and “Diamond Head

Sunday, May 29, 2011

DVD Verdict Review by George Hatch 2005

All Rise... Judge George Hatch finds nothing at all minor about this major release of an underrated Sam Peckinpah classic. The Charge "You thieves, renegades, deserters?and you gentlemen of the South. I want volunteers to fight the Apache Sierra Charriba. I need horse soldiers?men who can ride and men who can shoot. In return, I promise you nothing. Saddle sores, short rations, maybe a bullet in your belly! -free air to breathe, a fair share of tobacco, quarter pay - and my good will and best officers for pardons and paroles." (Major Amos Dundee Opening Statement) Since the mid-1950s, Sam Peckinpah had been writing and directing half-hour TV westerns such as /The Rifleman/ and /Gunsmoke/. He also directed two low-budget feature films, *The Deadly Companions* (1961) and Ride the High Country (1962), with the latter receiving so many critical accolades that it turned into a sleeper hit. Those glowing reviews caught the attention of Hollywood bigwigs who started looking at Peckinpah as a promising new talent with potential. In 1963, Paramount producer Jerry Bresler wanted to make a sprawling Western epic and give it a "road show" release: Limited Engagement Openings, Overture, Intermission, and about three hours of quality on-screen entertainment. Bresler had a 73-page treatment by Julian Fink titled "And Then Came the Tiger!" that he felt had all of the elements he was looking for. He asked Charlton Heston to read it, and Heston agreed to star only if they could find a director with authentic vision and a unique perspective of the Old West, someone who could develop the basic idea into "a richly textured screenplay," complex in character and theme. Bresler screened Peckinpah's *Ride the High Country* and Heston was hooked. Peckinpah had proven himself a master at working within the restrictive half-hour TV format; and had imbued his two films with a genuine Western aura. But could he adapt, co-script, coordinate, and direct a sweeping $4.5 million epic? The gestation, shooting, and tragic pre-release tampering of the retitled *Major Dundee* is almost as exciting?and frustrating?as the film itself. Sony's stunning new DVD release, *Major Dundee: The Extended Version*, fills us in on the backstory of this ill-fated production by providing copious extras and detailed commentary. Although it's not a "Director's Cut" /per se/, it does include about 13 minutes of footage that enhances characterization and fills in some of the plot holes that were left as the result of the studio's brutal butchering of Sam Peckinpah's underrated classic. Facts of the Case Having been discredited for inappropriate battlefield behavior during the Civil War, Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur ) has been banished to a Union prison stockade in New Mexico, where he's been assigned the ego-deflating position of jail keeper. When he learns that a family at the nearby Rostes Ranch has been massacred, and that a regiment of his soldiers was decimated trying to protect them, Dundee decides to retaliate. He recruits a disreputable squad of thieves, cutthroats, and deserters to ride with him into Mexico and track down the Apache, led by their war chief Sierra Charriba. He assigns this disparate group the task of finding mounts and ammunition, going so far as to suggest another Union outpost as a source. Dundee stirs up racial tension when he calls into service seven black cavalrymen who are tired of cleaning stalls and are willing to stand beside a Union officer who fought for their freedom. He also strikes a deal with Confederate Captain Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris, A Man Called Horse ), who convinces the rest of the Southern prisoners to join Dundee's campaign. Dundee and Tyreen had been friends at West Point, but chose different sides when the war broke out and resentment still festers between them. As his small band of troops move deeper into Mexico, Dundee soon becomes embroiled in another battle with a massive army of French cavalrymen who are battling the Juaristas. They consider Dundee's presence a breach of international law. Dundee musters all of his military prowess to pursue the Apache and fight off the French at the same time. But is his ultimate goal to mete out justice by revenge or simply revel in self-glorification? The Evidence In his biography of Sam Peckinpah, /If They Move?Kill 'Em/, David Weddle notes that Peckinpah and co-screenwriter Oscar Saul "pored over an eleven-volume encyclopedia of the Civil War as well as a file full of notes by various philosophers on the nature and meaning of war." They found one quotation, written by Immanuel Kant, that inspired the primary implicit theme for *Major Dundee*. /"War requires no particular motive; it appears grafted onto human nature. It passes even for an act of greatness, to which the love of glory alone, without any other motive, impels."/ The sparse but revelatory footage included in *Major Dundee: The Extended Version* turns Dundee's noble vendetta against Sierra Charriba into a self-aggrandizing attempt to earn himself a place in history. The "love of glory alone" is his sole impetus and he'll go to any lengths to secure that recognition and stature. In many ways, the film is much more of an intimate character study than an outright action spectacle As Weddle and the other Peckinpah aficionados note on the commentary, *Major Dundee* was intended as both a stylistic homage to the classic westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford, and an "all-out assault" on their romanticized themes of men drawn together for a common cause. Under the guise of such a "common cause," Major Dundee assembles his regiment of riffraff and ne'er-do-wells for personal gain. Dundee's troops believe in him and blindly follow orders without realizing that he's willing to sacrifice every last one of them in battle. Only his former friend and military equal, Captain Tyreen, is aware of, and challenges, Dundee's motives. "Amos, have you even stopped to think why they made you a jailer instead of a soldier?," he asks. Dundee calls Tyreen "a would-be cavalier, an Irish potato farmer with a plumed hat, fighting for a white-columned plantation house you never had and never will." Dundee reminds Tyreen that he took soldiers to fight for the country while Tyreen betrayed it. But Tyreen counters with another jab at Dundee's ultimate strategy. "You're a man who took his kin to fight against their own brothers. Why?" They both know that it's Dundee's narcissistic ego. Dundee's exaggerated opinion of himself apparent in several scenes, the most obvious being when, after a brief skirmish, he mounts a mule. The commentators note that Peckinpah meant to show that Dundee was stubborn, but, in fact, "looked like a jackass." I think it goes a bit further. Heston is a tall, well-built actor and presents an imposing figure astride a normal-sized horse. When Dundee climbs on the mule, he looks gigantic and believes he's making himself loom larger over his men. As he moseys through the campground, one soldier tumbles down a small incline in front of him. "Did you get hit, soldier?" "No, sir. One of them damn mules kicked me!" So, again, Dundee is showing absolute control over a particularly unpredictable animal. His intention is to generate more confidence among his troops as he plans to lead them through future "unpredictable" circumstances. One of the best scenes in the film takes place at night when a Confederate soldier demands that the black cavalry man, Aesop (Brock Peters, The Pawnbroker ), remove his boots. "You forget your manners, boy?" Dundee just watches, apparently intending to let the incident play itself out. But the Rev. Dahlstrom (R. G. Armstrong, The Ballad of Cable Hogue ) intervenes, "Let me take care of that son." He grabs the soldier's leg and twists him over the campfire, then, by the seat of his pants, tosses him onto the other Confederates. The tension builds when Sgt. Chillum (Ben Johnson, Junior Bonner ) pulls a gun. "You kick up a lot of dust with your sermon, Preacher." Sgt. Gomez (Mario Adorf, The Tin Drum ) says, "You Southern trash better sit down!" With a mini-Civil War on the verge of breaking out, Dundee is content to stay on the sidelines; after all, breaking up this "squabble" will do nothing to enhance his calculated and ambitious ulterior motive. It's Captain Tyreen who steps in to quell the hostilities. Tyreen goes a step further by personally commending Aesop on his handling of a river crossing earlier that day. It's a simple but noble move, and one made in front of his Confederates. Realizing that Tyreen is the better man and soldier, a somewhat chagrined Dundee tells him, "That gesture was necessary. I'm sorry it was so painful for you." Proving himself even more of a leader, Tyreen says, "Mr. Aesop is a fine soldier. It won't happen again." Tyreen, in fact, constantly reminds his Rebels that both he and they have sworn allegiance to Dundee for this mission and will follow the Major's orders. When Confederate deserter O.W. Hadley (Warren Oates, Cockfighter ) is captured and brought back to camp, Dundee instructs a soldier to knock him off his horse. "I don't want to have to look up at him." Hadley makes excuses and pleads for his life, but Dundee calls for an execution. "Have the men draw lots for a firing squad." Then he graciously adds, "The Confederates need not be included." While the men argue, Tyreen again takes control of the situation, by shooting Hadley himself. Although he knows that almost any man under his command would stab him in the back at first opportunity, Major Dundee is also a provocateur, even toward his trusted scout, the one-armed Sam Potts (James Coburn, Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round ). During an escalating knife fight with the Apache scout Riago (José Carlos Ruiz, Who'll Stop The Rain ), Dundee warns, "I think he's going to take you, Samuel. You know why? Because the artillery is betting on you. Did you know that Lt. Graham bet five dollars on you? Ever hear of an artilleryman winning a bet, a girl or a war?" "Who bet against me?" asks Potts. "Me." replies Dundee. As an inspirational leader, Dundee is a self-deluded fraud. As a military official, he's incompetent, and as a character who should engage our sympathy, he's a total failure, blinded by his own megalomania and quest for historic recognition at any cost. Peckinpah originally intended *Major Dundee* to be a Western counterpart to epics like Lawrence of Arabia in which introspective characterization would be on a par with spectacularly staged action set pieces. Peckinpah failed to strike that balance, resulting in a confused portrayal of Dundee and a lopsided depiction of events. There was never a finished screenplay for *Dundee* and Peckinpah believed he could improvise his way through the crucial "third act." His inexperience turned into outright unprofessionalism early on, and this quickly became obvious to the studio heads when he squandered half of the original budget traveling through Mexico scouting out the proper locations for individual scenes. Peckinpah was a perfectionist, but not a realist, and that was his downfall. Like Major Dundee, Peckinpah deluded himself into believing that if he could deliver a handful of great scenes, the studio would back off and continue to finance the production. He wasn't able to prove himself, and the film was finally taken out of his hands. But overall, *Major Dundee: The Extended Version* gives us a better idea of what Peckinpah had intended to be his first complex masterwork. Although the script falters, the lead actors and supporting cast do not. Richard Harris delivers a riveting portrayal of Captain Tyreen. He manages to checkmate Charlton Heston's Dundee at every confrontation, both in character and performance, as the director intended. The commentators note that one of Peckinpah's frequent motifs was to have two characters represent opposite sides of the same personality. It's most evident in Ride the High Country , in which two former lawmen, way past their prime, must decide whether to accept what comes their way or take a stab at breaking the law to secure a financial future. Harris's Captain Tyreen is everything Heston's Major Dundee is not; he's the flip side of the coin. Tyreen is decisive under pressure, contemplative, and anticipatory in his decisions, and, most importantly, he's earned the trust and respect of his soldiers. By the end of the film, both the Union troops and the scroungy squad of reprobates Dundee has mustered look toward Tyreen for leadership. Tyreen is also a man of his word and he fights alongside Dundee as he had pledged. In an emotional finale, when a Union cavalryman carrying the Stars-and Stripes is killed, Tyreen retrieves the flag and passes it over to Dundee. These are not Tyreen's "colors" but, as a true gentleman and soldier, he maintains his loyalty to the end. Richard Harris is absolutely dynamic in this role and dominates every scene he's in. James Coburn and the actors who would become Peckinpah regulars?Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, L. Q. Jones, Strother Martin and Dub Taylor?all enhance an uncanny, realistic feel for the Old West that Peckinpah was striving for. Senta Berger is less effective in a brief romantic role, an interlude that almost seems out-of-place in the context of the film. As I understand it, her scenes were written in to ensure an overseas marketability. Sony's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is near perfect. Two of the restored nighttime sequences are extremely dark and lack clear resolution, but, in general, the print looks in fine shape. It's a shame that Peckinpah was assigned his technical crew because the cinematography by Sam Leavitt (Anatomy Of A Murder ) falls short of the work done by Peckinpah's cinematic soul mate, Lucien Ballard, who shot a half-dozen of his films, including *Ride the High Country*, The Wild Bunch , and *The Ballad of Cable Hogue*. Leavitt's blue skies and green trees look rather dull and commonplace in comparison. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack features a new score composed by Christopher Caliendo and it is an outstanding contribution to the Extended Version of the film. His score is subtle and somber and never overwhelms the dialogue. The original score by Daniele Amfitheatrof (*The Virginian*) is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. It's interesting to use your remote to switch between scores during key sequences, like battles, tense confrontations, and even a token love scene with Dundee and Teresa (Senta Berger, *Cross of Iron*. The commentators call Amfitheatrof's score "one of the worst ever written." It's abrasive and intruding and almost always sounds as if it's trying to upstage the visuals, while Caliendo's score fits in smoothly and complements every aspect of this extended version. The informative commentary is by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle, the group whose excellent insights also can be heard on *Junior Bonner* and *The Osterman Weekend*. At times, I felt they were overdoing their praise for *Bonner* but you won't find any of that here. They're surprisingly forthright in acknowledging the film's faults and Peckinpah's inexperience in helming an epic. They admit that, "There are a lot of puzzling choices he made in this movie." When not being scene specific, they go into detail about the film's ill-fated production, from budget cuts to Peckinpah's fights with Bresler and the studio. One surprising anecdote reveals that Heston once became so infuriated with the director he galloped toward him waving a saber. But when the studio threatened to replace the director, Heston told them he'd quit. He also reimbursed his salary when the film started going over-budget. The other extras include Deleted and Extended Scenes and Silent Extended Outtakes that help fill out other areas of the story that could not be included in the restored footage. There is a fascinating 20-minute excerpt from Mike Siegel's documentary /Passion & Poetry?The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah/ that focuses solely on *Dundee*. /Riding for a Fall/ is interesting featurette about a few of the stunts in the film. Interviews with some of the actors reveal more about Peckinpah the man rather than the director. Senta Berger remembers her genuine concern over Peckinpah's infatuation with Begonia Palacios, the young Mexican actress who had a small role in the film. Several of the director's regulars seem intent on enhancing the "legend of Sam Peckinpah," citing dubious off-screen adventures. Artwork, promotional stills, a promo reel excerpt, and trailers for both the original 1965 release and the 2005 re-release round out the Extras. It's really a terrific package, well thought out and smartly put together. A welcome surprise inside the keepcase is four-page booklet of liner notes titled "Peckinpah's Wounded Masterpiece" by Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant. I've provided a link to his incredibly detailed analysis of the film under Accomplices. Closing Statement *Major Dundee: The Extended Version* is surely one of Sam Peckinpah's least recognized efforts, often overlooked and underrated because it doesn't carry his personal stamp. His other important films were pastoral and elegiac (Ride the High Country ) and (Junior Bonner ), tragicomic (The Ballad of Cable Hogue ), or provocatively violent (The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs ). After *Dundee* was ripped apart by the studio, Peckinpah basically disowned the film, and said he wouldn't even consider an offer to restore it. Sony has done the best possible job of taking on that task. Although their keepcase advertising is slightly misleading?"at last presented as the legendary director intended!"?*Major Dundee: The Extended Version* is as close as we're going to get to Peckinpah's original vision. The Verdict Not guilty! Ride, Dundee, ride! Buy This Blu-ray/DVD Additional Purchase Recommendations Similar Decisions ? A River Runs Through It ? Oliver Twist: Criterion Collection ? Pursuit ? The Big Blue Give us your feedback! Did we give *Major Dundee: The Extended Version* a fair trial <#>? yes <#> / no <#> What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits. More Reviews ? This Week's Reviews ? Most Popular Reviews ? Golden Gavel Award Winners Scales of Justice Video: 95 Audio: 98 Extras: 85 Acting: 98 Story: 90 Judgment: 95 Special Commendations ? Golden Gavel 2005 Nominee Perp Profile *Studio:* Sony *Video Formats:* ? 2.35:1 Anamorphic *Audio Formats:* ? Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English) ? Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English) *Subtitles:* ? English ? French ? Korean *Running Time:* 136 Minutes *Release Year:* 1965 *MPAA Rating:* Rated PG-13 *Genres:* ? Action ? Classic ? Drama ? Western Distinguishing Marks ? Commentary by Peckinpah historians David Weddle, Garner Simmons, Nick Redman, and Paul Seydor ? Incomplete Deleted Scene: "Knife Fight" ? Extended Scene: "Dundee and Teresa" ? Extended 20-Minute Excerpt from Mike Siegel's Film: "Passion and Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah ? Vintage Stunts Featurette: "Riding for a Fall" ? Silent Extended Outtakes ? Exhibitor Promo Reel Excerpt ? Original Theatrical Trailer ? 2005 Re-release Trailer ? Promotional Stills and Poster Artwork Accomplices ? IMDb ? Charlton Heston at The Golden Years ? Sam Peckinpah at Senses of Cinema ?

review by Frederick Lombardi

  New Version of Major Dundee Premiered

    By Frederic Lombardi

A new extended version of Sam Peckinpah's 1965 film Major Dundee had its
world premiere at New York City's Film Forum on April 8th with
additional showings following a week later in other major cities. A DVD
of this "extended version" will appear later this year.

The newly restored print includes 12 minutes of footage cut from the
original 124 minute release. Also, since the music for the film was
imposed over Peckinpah's objections, a new score was commissioned and
composed by Christopher Caliendo. Caliendo met with the foremost
Peckinpah experts before doing the score and it was fully intended to
reflect the time in which the film was made and not more current film
score trends.

Peckinpah clashed with producer Jerry Bresler over the film and was
prevented from shooting additional scenes. Bresler and/or the Columbia
executives then slashed much of the director's cut, eliminating entire
scenes as well as short bits.

"One of Hollywood's great broken monuments," bemoaned Jim Kitses of
Major Dundee in his landmark critical study "Horizons West".

Grover Crisp, Vice-President of Asset Management and Film Restoration
for Sony Pictures spent years supervising the reconstruction and
restoration of the film. "This is the most complete cut of the film that
could be constructed," Crisp said. It is not called the Director's
Version because there are still scenes missing. (The DVD of Major Dundee
will include outtakes from the film as well as a fragment of a scene
that ends abruptly and therefore could not be incorporated in the new

Perhaps not surprisingly, the new edition of Major Dundee still falls
well short of a masterpiece. But the Extended Version cuts more deeply
and gives a bit more unity to an ambitious film that remains sprawling
and never totally resolved. Its story of a detachment of white and black
Union solders, Confederate prisoners seeking parole, Indian scouts, and
other disparate characters presided over by a bitterly divided command
of two sworn enemies is a fascinating artifact of the national divisions
of the 1960s. It is also a pivotal film in the careers of director Sam
Peckinpah and its often underrated star Charlton Heston.

As a piece of cinema history, it has aspects linking it back to John
Ford's cavalry trilogy and others looking forward not only to later
Peckinpah films like The Wild Bunch but to Robert Aldrich's superb
Ulzana's Raid.

Like practically everything else about Major Dundee, exactly how much
footage is still missing is open to debate. Peckinpah biographer David
Weddle claims that Peckinpah gave the studio a 161 minute rough cut.
Crisp acknowledges hearing of this cut but refers to a 142 minute
version. Quite possibly, there were several editions of the film before
it was cut down to its 124 minute release. In Kitses' book "Horizons
West", he notes eight scenes eliminated from Dundee and fewer than half
of them are restored in the extended version. Two of these scenes were
never shot.

But even the unexpurgated Peckinpah might not have solved all the film's
aesthetic problems. Heston, who used his star power to keep Peckinpah
from getting fired from the film said of the version he saw, "The thing
is it was too long . . . What happened with Dundee is that it didn't cut
well. There was so much to it that it would clearly have to be shorter .
. ."

In fairness, one can imagine the befuddlement of studio executives
looking for a conventional cavalry vs. Indians action film. "All right,
the Apaches massacre a company of cavalry and kidnap some white male
children. Now because the garrison has been reduced by the loss of these
men they have to get Confederate prisoners to join the pursuit to get
the Apaches. Yeah, Yanks and Rebs reuniting to fight bloodthirsty
Indians, that's worked before. And lots of antagonism at the top with a
Union major and Confederate captain who hate each other, that'll work
too . . . but now the detachment crosses into Mexico and comes across
oppressed peasants and gets into a fight with the French army? And
there's an Austrian widow in the Mexican town and the stiff arrogant
Union major falls in love with her, neglects his command and gets
wounded. He has to be smuggled into a Mexican town to be treated by a
doctor and while recovering he gets involved with a Mexican woman. Then
the Austrian widow finds out about this and spurns him and the Major
goes off on a bender until finally the Confederate guy who hates him has
to come to drag him back to his command. Then the detachment resumes its
chase of the Apaches but the Americans are also being chased by the
French army . . . WHAT THE HELL IS THIS MOVIE ABOUT ANYWAY? . . . Well,
at least there's a lot of action going on. Maybe if we can cut around
that . . ."

The original score for Major Dundee was composed by Daniele Amfitheatrof
and it included a title song that was used with the credits superimposed
over the film's opening scenes. Sung by Mitch Miller's Sing Along Gang
it provided an effectively jaunty tune.

The problem was that this song was slapped over the aftermath of an
Indian massacre with images of scattered bodies and burning buildings on
screen. Clearly, the studio wanted to get the audience past that and
looking forward to the adventure ahead. Peckinpah wanted you to linger
over the death and the destruction that was setting everything in
motion. With Caliendo's new score melodic reassurance is replaced with
the abrasive cacophony of shrill trumpets and pounding drums. The music
signals more of a descent than an exhortation and the promise of a storm
to come. The new score also omits some of the heavy handed traits of the
first one, such as some tinkly noises that are sounded every time a key
line is repeated.

Music also provides an important role in the first of the restored
pieces of footage. The patrol led by Heston's Major Dundee that comes
upon the scene of the massacre includes the bugler Ryan (Michael
Anderson, Jr.) a member of the vanquished company who went for help.

As the bodies are gathered for burial Ryan plays taps but in the throes
of his emotions he falters off key. Such rituals were always portrayed
perfectly in John Ford films but the dissonance registered here is part
of the fallibility of his characters that Peckinpah want us to recognize.

It's also in line with the use of music throughout the film. "Whistle me
a tune, son," Dundee will occasionally call out to Ryan throughout the
film. When Dundee's contingent leaves the post the dissonance reappears
as Ryan strikes up one tune on his bugle, the Confederates counter with
Dixie, the Union soldiers belt out The Battle Hymn of the Republic and
the civilians warble My Darling Clementine. But in a later scene showing
Peckinpah in complete unison with John Ford, a burial scene evokes the
same song from all participants. As the camera pans past both Yanks and
Rebs, all are singing, Shall We Gather At The River?

To backtrack to the next restored scene, after Dundee and his men leave
the site of the massacre it is nightfall when there is a cut to Richard
Harris' Confederate captain and several of his soldiers making their
escape from their Union prison as they stumble through a stream. Union
pursuers are about and as Harris tries to flee he runs right into the
returning Dundee who has him placed under arrest. On returning to the
fort, Dundee demands that everyone within its confines including all its
prisoners be gathered on the parade grounds.

The old version went directly from the scene of the massacre to the men
gathered together at the fort with Harris' Captain Tyreen already under
restraint. The reinserted scene of the attempted escape and Dundee's
reaction to it starts the movie off with a greater sense of the
explosive instability underlying the tensions of the story.

Dundee offers the Confederates a chance for parole if they join his
crusade against the Apaches and asks Tyreen if he would serve his
country's flag again. The manacled Tyreen like a defiant Prometheus
replies, "It is not my country, Major Dundee. I damn its flag, and I
damn you."

Before considering the restoration of other sequences it may be
appropriate here to give an overview of the conflicts in the story and
of how Major Dundee was put together in the first place.

The film was based on a script outline by Harry Julien Fink. According
to Peckinpah biographer Marshall Fine, Fink's first draft was "a
sprawling mess, with several different story lines intertwined." The
script was in this incomplete state when producer Bresler hired Heston
and Peckinpah. While he was also engaged in preproduction, Peckinpah
worked with the writer Oscar Saul to complete the script and Heston had
some input as well.

In his autobiography Heston suggests that three different visions for
the film were taking shape. "Columbia reasonably enough, wanted a
cavalry/Indians film as much like Jack Ford's best as possible. I wanted
to be the first to make a film that really explored the Civil War. Sam,
though he never said anything like this, really wanted to make The Wild
Bunch. That's the movie that was steaming in his psyche Lucky man, he
actually got to do it, a few years later."

In their desire for a traditional type of cavalry/Indian flick Columbia
may have glossed over the complexities of the Ford films. Be that as it
may, the script does share some plot points with all three of Ford's
cavalry movies, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande
but most markedly from Rio Grande. This film which Ford made at Republic
has the most conventional action plot of the three and like Dundee
involves chasing Indians across the Mexican border to recover kidnapped

In both She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande the cavalry is well
served by a hard riding former Confederate sergeant named Tyree. Richard
Harris' character, Heston's Confederate antagonist and former friend is
named Tyreen. The actor who played Sgt. Tyree in the Ford films was
future Oscar winner Ben Johnson who plays a Confederate sergeant in
Major Dundee and would become a member of Peckinpah's talented stock
company including among others R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones and Warren Oates.

While the studio view was less reconcilable with the other concepts the
gulf between Heston's ambitions and Peckinpah's was not really large.
Heston's interest may have been more historical but Peckinpah's fondness
for character contradictions and conflicts finds an ideal background in
the Civil War.

At the heart of the story is the rivalry between Dundee and Tyreen.
Dundee is a Southerner who has chosen to fight for the Union but because
of an initiative he took at Gettysburg, he has been disciplined with the
command of Fort Benlin where he basically serves as warden to
Confederate prisoners. Tyreen once served under Dundee but he was
cashiered out of the army after he killed a fellow officer in a duel.
Dundee cast the deciding vote against Tyreen in his court martial.

Both protagonists are useful tools for exploring the differences in the
opposing views of the war. Dundee is an overreacher whose action at
Gettysburg may well be attributed to Dundee's need to prove himself.
Tyreen accuses Dundee of condemning him to "please the generals in
Washington." Dundee looks at the larger picture of things and is
contemptuous of plantation society and those who would betray their
country. But he cannot overlook that he is viewed with suspicion by
those he serves. Tyreen never sees the forest for the trees and
emphasizes matters of honor and personal alliances. He cannot forgive
Dundee for voting against his "friend" and fighting his neighbors.

Tyreen has also kept reinventing himself. He has been an Irish
immigrant, a Union officer and now a Confederate captain. "I fight for
the only country I have left," Tyreen proclaims suggesting less a
decisive allegiance than a process of elimination.

In their encounters Dundee and Tyreen try to taunt their opposite by
holding up a mirror to him, questioning what the other's identity is.

Heston's interest in the Civil War came at a time when he was well aware
of the ruptures in his country. The summer prior to the shooting of
Dundee he had participated in the 1963 March on Washington for civil
rights. He also seemed familiar with Dundee's sense of hubris and
implacability. After making an entry in his journal belittling Richard
Harris, Heston apologizes acknowledging that he (Heston) can be a
"hard-nosed son of a bitch."

Peckinpah quickly seized on the nature of Dundee's obsessiveness in his
relentless pursuit of the Apache. According to Fine, Peckinpah
appreciated the observation when R.G. Armstrong told him, "Sam this is
Moby Dick in the West."

There was a bit of psychodrama in the making of Major Dundee in various
ways, particularly in how hard Peckinpah ran his crew and actors and
wound up alienating many of them. The conditions for the shooting of the
film in Mexico were also very harsh and provided a strong atmosphere for
the performers to emulate their characters.

There would be many conflicts between the management and the artists on
Major Dundee but perhaps the most overriding clash was budgetary.

Peckinpah's frequent collaborator Jim Silke, is quoted by Fine as
saying, "Dundee was set up to be a film with intermissions, but the
producers had a schedule for a B film."

Heston, who was chosen to star in Dundee before Peckinpah was signed on
stands at the center of all this. Heston's status as an actor has for
too long been obscured by reactions to his political involvements and
the fame of his Biblical roles. At the very least he deserves the
gratitude of film fans around the world for having secured the services
of Orson Welles as director for Touch of Evil. And without demeaning his
earlier contributions, some of Heston's best and most complex roles came
AFTER he played Moses and Ben-Hur.

His portrayal of Dundee came at a time when he was playing some of his
most obsessive characters. It was during this period he took on the
title role in The War Lord, impersonated the immovable General Gordon in
Khartoum and was stuck up on the Sistine Chapel in The Agony and The
Ecstasy. One wonders what John Huston's film of Moby Dick might have
been like had Heston instead of his good friend Gregory Peck, played
Ahab but Dundee may have offered a second chance.

When Heston would assume such characters of granite implacability it
would always be tempting to look for chinks in his armor. Heston's
performances usually conveyed an intelligence that suggested a deeper
sensitivity to his characters. The War Lord was probably the film that
best explored the exposed vulnerability of the driven Heston hero. In
Major Dundee the question is more of how far Dundee can extend his reach
until something begins to crack.

After some clumsy attempts to interest the widow Teresa (who takes up
with Dundee's contingent when her village is raided) it is Dundee's
growing isolation from his men that pulls Teresa towards him. While
having their tryst by a river Dundee carelessly exposes them beyond his
picket lines and the Apaches attack wounding Dundee.

Dundee then has to be taken to a village where a doctor can care for
him. The doctor prescribes over a week of rest for the major but he
arrogantly assumes he can recover more quickly and instructs his men to
leave him in the town. His scout Sam Potts warns him, "You better stay
off those streets, Amos. You make an unlikely looking Mexican." (A dig
at Touch of Evil?)

In the originally released version there follows one of the film's most
jarring transitions. As the doctor completes his work, Dundee casts a
look at someone else in the room. There is a shot of a young woman who
is the object of his look, strumming a guitar, then a closeup of Dundee
obviously interested. The next scene has the door opening on the young
woman partly undressed and a cut to Teresa (Senta Berger) who knows that
Dundee has been cheating on her.

Dundee has been caught almost literally with his pants down but we know
nothing of what there was to this brief affair.

The Extended Version restores this interlude. When Dundee was treated
for his wounds he was gulping down liquor and the doctor had joked that
it may be running in his veins. Forced to stay in the room of his
mistress to avoid detection, Dundee complains when she returns that she
has not brought enough alcohol for him. Dundee then pursues her
physically noting that this is the last "battlefield" left for him to fight.

It is shortly after this that Teresa opens the door and grasps his
betrayal of her. Dundee tries one last appeal noting that the war will
not last forever to which Teresa replies, "For you, it will, major."

The missing "battlefield" line synchronizes with the war that will never
end for Dundee. It suggests that everything has become combat for this
man in conflict with himself so that his greatest vulnerability is to be
left by himself and he sinks deeper into drunkenness when Teresa leaves
him. "Don't you have any doubts about who you are?" Dundee asks Tyreen
when he comes to rescue him.

The restored footage gives a bit more of a pause to this sequence which
had rushed by much too quickly in the 1965 release. But it's still not
substantial enough for what should be an interval of Dundee taking stock
of himself. (According to Kitses this sequence would have included "a
long montage of his memories of all that has happened.")

One of the problems in discussing Major Dundee is that it is too easy to
focus solely on the characters played by Heston and Harris. But it is
part of both the richness and confusion of Major Dundee that it is
blessed with so many fascinatingly drawn secondary characters played by
gifted actors.

One of the most affecting characters is that of O.W. Hadley, marvelously
played by Warren Oates. Hadley is the only Confederate depicted as being
able to have a friendly conversation with the head of the black solders,
Aesop (Brock Peters). Earlier, as a peace gesture Tyreen had
complimented Aesop on the conduct of his men during the river crossing
but this was just a way of heading off a violent confrontation between
Union and Confederate forces over a racial incident. (When it was simply
a matter of a Confederate soldier racially bullying Aesop, Tyreen did
nothing.) Hadley's openness may also be a part of his being the most
anarchic of the Confederate contingent. At one point, he deserts and
when captured expects only the prescribed "whipping" that Tyreen has
given him on similar occasions. Instead, Dundee orders him shot by a
firing squad but Tyreen kills him before the order can be executed.

The most compelling secondary character is the chief scout of the
expedition, Sam Potts (James Coburn). As Dundee's friend, he can
criticize Dundee without invective; as a civilian he can separate
himself from tasks he considers repugnant. One-armed, half-Indian,
dressed in beads and buckskin he is detached from the military power
games and can see the foibles of both sides. When Dundee questions
whether the Indian scouts Potts has taken on can be trusted to turn
against their own people deadpans, "Why not, everybody else seems to be
doing it."

The scout that draws Dundee's deepest suspicion is Riago (Jose Carlos
Ruiz) who had been the scout for the massacred party and somehow
survived. Dundee never believes his loyalty but Potts stakes his job on
it. In the original release this issue is left unsettled.

But in another sequence restored to the film we learn Riago has suffered
a terrible fate at the hands of Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate), the
Apache chief Dundee is pursuing. His body has been left to hang from a
tree. Potts refuses to cut him down and tells Dundee that because of his
doubts this should be the Major's job. When Dundee climbs up to set
Riago loose we see his limp body stretched out grotesquely in a
crucifixion posture.

Although Dundee tells a volunteering preacher that God has nothing to do
with this expedition, something of Heston's Biblical gravitas sometimes
follows him into his movies. One scene looks like a riff of one of his
Biblical roles. In the gathering at Fort Benlin after Tyreen rejects his
offer of volunteering and arouses the solidarity of his men, Dundee
walks directly into a sea of Confederate prisoners. As we are given
Dundee's point of view in a hand held camera shot we see the hostile
prisoners suddenly giving way and providing Dundee with a path to walk

In his pursuit of the Apache, Dundee leads his men to wander in the
desert for far more than forty days and nights. Like many incursions
this one takes them into situations they had not foreseen and some
questionable judgments by the Major. When they re-enter the United States
five months later the war is over and a way is open to unity.

With the additional footage one gets another chance to assess if the
messy and erratic Major Dundee is showing us a group of conflicted
self-destructive men or part of a nation trying to find its soul.

Frederic Lombardi is writing a book on the film director Allan Dwan for
McFarland & Co. Publishers.

Sam Peckinpah

 One studio executive had the misfortune to rile Peckinpah enough to have the director rip his clothes off while visiting the set. The hapless exec was "left standing as naked as a badly told lie"
 Peckinpah toyed with the idea that Dundee and his entire command get wiped out and that the search itself would be the end. Cooler heads prevailed - the studio insisted that the Indians had to die.
The first meeting between Peckinpah and his future wife did not go especially well. Begonia Palacios, niece of Chalo Gonzales, Peckinpah's personal driver was a young dancer with only a slight grasp of English. At her audition she mentioned to Peckinpah that she "Does not speak English very good" He corrected her by saying "You do not speak English very well!" The fiery girl turn on her heels and left.
 Ben Johnson was an observer when Peckinpah had cause to reprimand a crew member. He was not impressed and stated to the director "I can't work for you. 'Cos if you ever spoke to me like you did that other feller I'd punch you right on the nose an' I ain't ready to quit working in this town"

 Charlton Heston came close to committing homicide when he drew his saber and charged full gallop at Peckinpah. The director had told Heston to bring his troop down the hill at a trot. The light was fading and pressure was on to get the shot and wrap for the day. Heston as asked brought the  troop in trotting down the hill but Peckinpah had obviously forgotten what he had said and blamed Heston " No, no, Chuck. That's too slow. I said bring them in at a canter." "I'll bring them in at any speed you like but damn it you said at a trot"  Peckinpah turned scarlet and blasted Heston with a barrage of abusive epithets. Heston spurred his mount and Peckinpah - sitting on a chair at the end of a crane yelled 'Take me up..take me up..!!"