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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..!!"


Steve McQueen and Anthony Quinn were both suggested to play Tyreen.
Lee Marvin was suggested for Samuel Potts
Omar Sharif was suggested for Sgt Gomez
Woody Strode was suggested for Mr Aesop but ruled out due
to his Native American heritage.

Missing scenes

[] The massacre at the Rostes ranch WAS filmed. It was a long, bloody affair. The producer, Jerry Bresler was squeamish over the footage but cited that the introduction of the main characters would have been delayed too long.

[] Sgt Gomez declares that as a young boy he was kidnapped by the Apaches and had ridden  against his fellow Mexicans. Had the scene been included it would have provided a little extra intrigue as this may have caused him to have divided loyalties.

[] Lt. Graham makes a sortie on the 2nd California Column and demonstrates his authority by commandeering the weapons Dundee had requested.

[] Captain Waller is in pursuit of Dundee's force and hopes to get to them before they cross into Mexico and risk creating an International incident. As his force bears down on Dundee's a troop of Confederate cavalry intercepts him. He is forced to withdraw leaving the way clear for Dundee to enter Mexico.

[] Tyreen shoots a bird and use its tail feathers as a decoration for his hat. He regards it moodily, a la Brando. The scene was changed in favor of him plucking the feathers he finds on a tree branch.

[] Following the river crossing Dundee breaks out the whiskey for the command. 3 toasts are proposed, the first by Reverend Dahlstrom is to the Union, the second by Sgt Chillum to the Confederacy and the 3rd by Dundee to the success of the mission. Everyone spills their whiskey except Wiley, who declares.."Hell, I'll drink to whiskey"

[] The old Apache is at Mr Potts side as he leads them to the river. After the first shot is fired he vanishes.

[] Following Charriba's ambush the command is recovering on the banks of the river. Bugler Tim Ryan takes a drink from the dipper only to find that it contains blood.

[] When Dundee loses his mount in the river ambush he is keen to demonstrate the superiority of army mules to regular horses. However, once Dundee is aboard the mule it simply refuses to budge. Ryan is pulling at the reins and Wiley is behind the animal with his shoulder pushing it. The rest of the command observe the spectacle with muted laughter.

[] During the fiesta scene Dundee and Tyreen recall their days together at West Point

[] During the night fiesta Samuel Potts is moody and looking for trouble. He has been rejected by one of the village women and wants to prove himself.  He then insults her. Her brother, Armando, rushes in to defend her but is no match for the squaw man. Sgt Gomez intercedes and a knife fight ensues. Dundee rescues Gomez by striking Potts' good arm with a pistol just as Potts gets the upper hand.

[] When Dundee is recuperating in Durango he dallies with a young Mexican beauty, Melinche. When the two are interrupted by the arrival of Teresa Dundee begins a drink sodden and guilt ridden journey through the streets of Durango. A montage of scenes reliving the Rostes massacre and the specter of Lt Brannin's twisting corpse unfold. He searches for Teresa, grasping for her it turns out to be Melinche instead.

[] Potts and Gomez are left stranded in Durango when Dundee and Tyreen take their mounts. Eventually they return to camp on a burro.

[] After the final battle with the French Dundee and the eleven survivors head home. Along the way Potts points to yet another Apache marker i.e the broken saber and Apache lance.


John Davis Chandler (Jimmy Lee Benteen) had complained to Warren Oates that his character was to be killed off. Chandler thought he should survive and Oates lobbied Peckinpah on his behalf and the director agreed. On a weekly salary of $600 Chandler was only too pleased to have brought up the subject. It meant extra work. It lent credibility too since not all the unsavory characters neatly get killed off.
 Slim Pickens and R.G. Armstrong met the grandson of Pancho Villa during the filming in Durango.
There were more stuntmen employed on this movie than in any other previous Hollywood production.
Richard Harris's salary was equal to that of Charlton Heston's, which was $300,000. Harris had bluffed Columbia studios into paying him this amount since he really did not care to do the movie in the first place and thought they would probably not agree to his fee.
When Peckinpah was first asked whom he might suggest to play the Major his first choice was Brian Keith. Keith balked at the idea of spending long months in Mexico with Peckinpah.
Charriba's ambush in the river took 6 days to film. On screen it lasted 90 seconds.
The film borrows themes from non-Western movies such as Lawrence Of Arabia and The Guns Of Navarone. In both films an execution is called for. In Lawrence it was to keep two factions from destroying each other. In Navarone it was to rid the group of a traitor.
The idea of 'galvanized Yankees' a joint force of Union and Confederates with a mission to destroy an even greater threat appears in  Robert Wise' Two Flags West.
John Ford's movie Fort Apache was also a source for Major Dundee as was Howard Hawks' Red River. " I don't want to look up at him" was a line uttered by Tom Dunstan (Wayne) and echoed by Dundee when  O W Hadley is caught after deserting.
Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz also had some influences - the exterior shot of the cafe where the Countess meets the sea captain is almost identical to the cafe where Dundee's wound is being treated.

R.G. Armstrong was to point out to Peckinpah that Major Dundee was "Moby Dick on horseback!" (sometimes quoted as Moby Dick in the desert.) Interesting to note here that both films share the same initials - MD.
There were no Civil War prisons in New Mexico
The first draft of the script ran to some 136 pages and only covered one third of the film. Usually 1 page of script covers one minute of screen time.
After the ambush in the river Dundee is shoveling dirt onto the graves and glances upwards to see vultures circling overhead. For this shot they actually shot a burro and staked it out. No presence of The AHA here!
Note the slow moving truck in the scene where Dundee and Teresa talk under the arches.

Also visit this blog -  the author points out that "A broken arch does not connect (and thus dooms any romance) between Major Dundee and Teresa Santiago." Well spotted, that man!!

Pre production

June 13 Heston screens Ride the High Country. Impressed he calls Sam Peckinpah and arranges to meet with him on the 17th.
June 26 Heston consults with Peckinpah and suggests Richard Harris for Tyreen. Harris worked with him on The Wreck Of The Mary Deare in 1959
Nov 4 Heston is given the first script.
Nov 13 Anthony Quinn is not available for Tyreen. Steve McQueen is submitted. Lee Marvin is put forward for Samuel Potts and Omar Sharif is to be Sgt Gomez.
Nov 14 Script creates doubts about the woman's role (Maria in the script, Teresa in the movie.)
Nov 22 Michael Anderson is to read for the part of Bugler Tim Ryan. It is called off when news of John F Kennedy's assassination breaks.
Nov 26 2nd re-write fails to resonate with Heston
Dec 3 Peckinpah green lights Richard Harris.
Dec 6 Peckinpah and Bresler return from Rome after meeting with Richard Harris.
Dec 12 Anthony Quinn again becomes available for Tyreen when Richard Harris bumps his asking price up to $300,000
Dec 18 Richard Harris is confirmed to play Tyreen
Dec 31 Peckinpah wants James Coburn for Potts
Jan 28 Horseback trials. Only James Coburn is considered to be 100%
Jan 29 Richard Harris is unable to master a believable Southern accent and plays Tyreen as "an honest Irishman"
Jan 30 Rehearsals with Jim Hutton go well
Feb 2 Heston expresses doubts over Peckinpah's re-write

Shooting schedule and locations

Shooting schedule - Feb 5th - April 29th, 1964

Feb 5th Main cast arrives in Durango. They stay at the Posada Durant. The supporting cast stay at the Casablanca.
Feb 12th Senta Berger arrives in Durango and is met with hostility at the hotel. Although Miss Berger is from Austria she was castigated by a gaffer over her Germanic heritage. Apparently  the man had lost his wife in Auschwitz
Feb 22 The fiesta scene is shot in Tlayacapan, a 400 year old village that had seen the Conquistadors 3 centuries earlier. (Heston's book The Actors Life quotes this date. American Cinematographer Feb 1965 states that the scenes were shot in April.
Feb 23 Heston tries a stunt called a  Cossack fall and is thrown from his black stallion injuring his left elbow. He conceals the injury from Peckinpah under a poncho hoping not to cause the director to have to shoot 'around him'.
Feb 25 Peckinpah is made aware of the injury but remains unconcerned.
March 2 SALTILLO aka The Valley In The Name Of God. This was the location where the master shot for O.W. Hadley's desertion was filmed.
March 7 Heston leaves for Mexico City, presumably for interior shots. Heston persuades Peckinpah to shoot the taunting of Mr Aesop by Jimmy Lee Benteen on a sound stage at Estudios Churubusco. Try as they might the set looked and sounded artificial.
March 15 Heston attends a bullfight
March 16 VISTA HERMOSA The swimming scene between Heston and Miss Berger. Dundee turns over the command to Lt Graham. Here Peckinpah and Heston disagree again over the scene where Dundee leaves the command in Graham's charge. Peckinpah wanted to play the exchange with Tyreen. Heston convinced Peckinpah that it should be between Tyreen and Graham with only looks, no dialog. Peckinpah prevailed with the inclusion of dialog.
March 30 CUATLA Set up for the French cavalry
April 11 Bar fight (Tyreen and Gomez rescue Dundee) not completed due to Peckinpah waiting 1 hour for a real life 15 year old prostitute who appears only briefly in the scene.
April 14 MESCALA
April 15 - 21 RIO MESCALA Heston catches a summer cold and has to loop all his lines. The final battle with French lancers is filmed here.
April 17 RIO BALSAS Final battle with the French (source American Cinematographer Feb 1965)
April 22 ESTUDIO CHURUBUSCO MEXICO CITY Heston's scenes with Aurora Clavell
April 28-29 LA MARQUESA The Rostes ranch.
Other locations include - Chilpancingo, Guerrero Monterrey, Nuevo Leon,
Tehuixtla River, Morelos (exterior shots - Charriba's defeat, O W Hadley's desertion
Tequestquitengo, Morelos
Zacatapec (Dundee and Teresa's love scene)
Tiapas or Chiapas (Fort Benlin) (This locale was previously used in the 1960 movie  Geronimo with Chuck Connors)
Hacienda Pontitlan (2nd night camp - Potts vs Riago)
Jonacatapec French lancers are introduced
Rio Balsas

DVD Savant Review by Glenn Erickson 2005


Sitting out the war as the jailer of a Union prison stockade in Eastern New Mexico, Amos Charles Dundee (Charlton Heston) seizes upon a local Apache massacre to ignore his assignment and launch a search-and-destroy mission into Mexico. Having already lost many troopers to the the Indian chief Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate), Dundee is forced to augment his command with local thieves and drunks, promote his black cavalrymen to active status and make a deal with the leader of his Confederate prisoners, the cavalier Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris). It's an all-or-nothing gambit; Dundee will either find his Apache quarry and come home a national hero, or return empty-handed and face the wrath of military superiors who already see him as an untrustworthy glory hound. Either way, he'd be wise to avoid the thousands of French troops that are also in Northern Mexico, harshly suppressing the revolution of Benito Juarez.
Why get so excited about Major Dundee when there are so many more accomplished movies out there? It's a question with several answers. My interest in the picture was sort of a bounce-back effect from being so ga-ga over The Wild Bunch for five solid years 1969 through 1974 or so. Jim Kitses' book Horizons West and the class I was able to take with him at UCLA convinced me that Sam Peckinpah was the contemporary filmmaker that 'put it all together for me,' a promise that none of his films post- Bunch fulfilled. But looking back at Major Dundee with an editor's eyes, trying to figure out what the missing material hinted at in Kitses' book might be, became a recurrent obsession. Remember, this was in the early 70s when the 'long' version of The Wild Bunch we all know now was for me only a few remarks from teaching assistant Janey Place; it wasn't until that epochal Beverly Canon screening in 1974 that I finally got to see both Peckinpah and his personal uncut print of Bunch.

The more I studied Major Dundee, the more I felt that it was an even more meaningful picture. The Wild Bunch was a soured and bitter liberal look at groups of men engaged in crooked fighting at the periphery of a war; it coincided with the inescapable conclusion that Vietnam was a political quagmire. Major Dundee came out right as the Vietnam conflict began to escalate and has a cynical but not entirely hopeless attitude toward foreign adventurism.
I obtained an original shooting script in 1979 that laid out exactly what Peckinpah planned to film as he started his fateful production already fighting an uphill battle against his producer and his studio. That's when the enthusiasm clicked in, as the information in the script illuminated aspects of Peckinpah's intentions that even Kitses had not been able to consider.  1
The script, coupled with two day's reading of Peckinpah's special collection papers on Dundee at the Academy library (at the recommendation of fellow Peckinpah researcher Darren Gross) told me several 'secrets' about the film, the kind that make one feel in possession of privileged information:
1) The movie was never more than 2/3 written; it desperately needed another draft to make sense of the last act and resolve all the issues raised in the first act. Peckinpah's story dissolves as we lose track of the Indians in the picture -- the editors repeat a medium shot of Sierra Charriba just to remind us who he is. The French are also poorly established and never seem to be engaged until the final battle. Senta Berger's Teresa is hustled in and out of the movie, giving us the feeling of huge missing sections, even with the reinstated Extended Version material.
2) Told to make an epic like Lawrence of Arabia, the hired writers (and perhaps Peckinpah as well) literally grafted situations from previous epics into the picture. For instance, Dundee's exile in Durango is lifted wholesale from Lawrence, and the shooting of O.W. Hadley (Warren Oates) is a plain steal from both Lawrence (Lawrence shoots a murderer to keep his tribal allies from killing each other) and The Guns of Navarone (Irene Papas shoots traitor Gia Scala because nobody else has the guts required to kill a woman).
3) The rest of the film is a huge collection of homages to earlier Westerns, and not just John Ford cavalry pictures. As in The Wild Bunch most of the borrowings invert the spirit of the originals: The troop has no solidarity (the conflicting songs as they ride out from Fort Benlin) and the rules of war are mocked ("The Major ain't no lawyer, sonny - You now got four minutes"). The 'holy mission' is a fraud, as retrieving the kidnapped children is an excuse and not a goal. Peckinpah borrows John Ford's songs and repeats the burial scene from The Searchers.
4) Peckinpah's lack of big-time production experience really screwed up the movie. Roaming hundreds of miles all over Mexico with a troupe bigger than the Ringling Brothers Circus wasted a huge portion of the budget. Some locations are extremely effective but many are almost generic and could have been done 100 miles from Los Angeles in the Mojave desert. Even more galling is the fact that in many shots actors stand or sit on horses in front of an empty sky: they could have been filmed in a parking lot back in the studio.
5) The movie is not visually distinguished. In Lucien Ballard Peckinpah had found a cameraman who transformed every setup into visual art. Probably out of frustration with his director, Sam Leavitt seems happy just to get a shot. The many day-for-night scenes look terrible (and in this new transfer seem to have been printed extra dark). The interior art direction both on location and in the Churubusco studio is pretty sad as well. There are many terrific shots, but a lot of the film looks like indifferent coverage.

6) (A personal theory). Peckinpah's intention was to criticize the character of Dundee, not exalt him. Dundee represents what Peckinpah thinks is the chaotic side of American military ambition. Determined to regain face and be a great officer, Amos invents a personal war to take the place of opportunities he'll never be given by his own army. He exceeds his authority as soon as he patrols the territory, as that is not the function of a prison-keeper. Losing all those troops at the Rostes Ranch surely means the end of his career. But Amos is so set on his personal destiny that he defies all authority to launch a spectacular campaign for personal gain, robbing his own army to obtain weapons and hiring a thief to procure needed horses. In a missing scene probably not filmed, Dundee's underling Captain Waller (Karl Swenson) tries to arrest him as he crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico.
I believe that Peckinpah intended for Charlton Heston to play an Oliver North kind of character, without even telling him. Heston provided the faultless performance of a dedicated soldier, and Peckinpah's plan was to subvert the character into a war criminal behind Heston's back, in much the same way that William Wyler and Gore Vidal pulled the wool over Heston's eyes and made his Ben-Hur bisexual.
7) If Peckinpah had an ounce of political finesse he could have won Columbia and perhaps even his producer Jerry Bresler over to his way of thinking. No, 1963 was the dawn of the concept of the Director as Star and Peckinpah was determined to rocket to the level of the Antonionis and David Leans by sheer will. What he should have earned on Dundee he decided he already had. The studio (and its new penny-pinching head Mike Frankovich) opted to squash the arrogant director early on. It was quickly Columbia versus Sam Peckinpah, to the extent that assistant director John Veitch 'rode herd' on the wayward director for the front office. Peckinpah never fully picked up on the studio's potential for vindictiveness; in the cheapskate post-production dubbing, Sgt. Gomez (Mario Adorf) is made to report to Dundee on the guard clubbed by Richard Harris by saying "Corporal Vietch just died, Sir." (at 11:25)
8) If Bresler and Peckinpah ever saw eye to eye, any understanding between them dissolved as filming progressed slowly and dailies seemed unimpressive. Bresler's correspondence asserts almost from the start that Peckinpah's 'obscene' gory details will not be allowed in the movie. Peckinpah's courtly letters angle to retain things he's shot, like an unscripted moment where Bugler Ryan dips a ladle into a river after a battle and comes up with a dipper full of blood (this would immediately follow the action at 1:01:01 - 1:01:48).
Bresler appears to have methodically removed all of Peckinpah's graphic violence, and would have excised the buckets of blood in the river battles if it were possible to do so. His stated excuse was that as producer it was his picture, and he wanted a cut that would not be bounced back by censors either in America or overseas. He mentioned that his greatest successes, the Gidget movies, made money for Columbia because they were censor-proof.
Look at the movie again. When the suicide Apache tries to assassinate Dundee at the Rostes Ranch (5:36) the final cut makes it look as if both Sam Potts (James Coburn) and Dundee were meant to fire their shotguns at him, point blank. Look closely at the minimized angle on the Apache and you'll see a bit of a massive squib effect, two years before Bonnie & Clyde. In the first river battle a rider falls on a hillside and his horse starts to roll over on him, but the camera cuts away (57:27). Bresler probably made the cut just to irritate Peckinpah, because the featurette Riding for a Fall continues the action to show the painful-looking stunt in toto. The last shot in the Super-8 color version of the featurette demonstrates that Peckinpah intended the death of Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris) to be a much more drawn out affair. Tyreen isn't lanced in the saddle but de-horsed and run through as he regains his feet. Photos in the disc's still section bear this out; Tyreen's dying grimace is revealed to take place when he is standing, not sitting on his horse.
9) There is no slow motion in the final cut, and it is altogether likely that Peckinpah never got the opportunity to experiment with the thousands of feet he shot of multi-camera slow motion battle footage. Remember that he was able to spend at least five months cutting The Wild Bunch but on Dundee was locked out of the studio editing room after only a few rushed weeks, just long enough to get an assembly together. That's what Dundee is, a partially tuned assembly of the movie with about a half-hour to forty minutes' worth of material missing. Many scenes -- the baiting of trooper Aesop (Brock Peters), the 'trial' of O.W Hadley -- are either chaotically cut or desperately in need of trimming.
The disc commentary refers to two shots immediately following the ambush of the Apache as slow motion, which they are not. A short shot of Dundee at the top of the ravine (2:04:11) is step-printed (each frame printed twice), probably to turn a fragment of film into a useable shot. The shot of Sierra Charriba's body being pushed to the bottom of the ravine (2:04:22) isn't slo-mo either, but simply filmed using a narrow camera shutter that takes the blur off the falling body and makes it 'chatter' down the incline. The same narrow shutter effect can be seen as Dundee and Sgt. Gomez descend from the prison roof (26:54). The narrower the shutter, the less blurred motion becomes, like action photography made with a strobe light. No slow motion footage made it into the cut of Major Dundee.
10) Bugler Ryan's narration wasn't invented in post-production. It was always in the script, meant only as an ironic comment on the action. It showed how one immature soldier might see the campaign, an effect put to notable use in real letters read by actors in Ken Burns' television documentary The Civil War. In post-production, some of Ryan's lines were changed or added to plug holes in the script.
In all fairness, Peckinpah doesn't satisfactorily tell his story. His visuals ignore many seemingly crucial events, like the return of the Rostes boys. The narration only points out the lapses in continuity and audiences usually pay little attention to narration in movies anyway. Why aren't we being told useful things instead of idle observations? Where are the Indians? Where are the French? Where did the forward momentum of the story go?
In this writer's opinion, Peckinpah never framed a proper ending for his film. The opening narration says that Ryan's journal provided 'the only surviving record of the massacre and the campaign that followed.' Are we to understand then that Dundee's decimated troop never gets back to Fort Benlin, and that Dundee never announces his historic success? Or that Captain Waller or General Carlton didn't keep records of the massacre of eighty troopers and the disappearance of fifty more men into Mexico? Even if Peckinpah wanted to leave his tale with Teresa's prediction that 'for Dundee, the war will never end,' the conclusion seems arbitrary. Even the script's coda, with Potts and Dundee finding yet another mocking Apache marker in their path, might not have been enough.

The Disc:
Sony Pictures DVD of Major Dundee: The Extended Version will certainly thrill Peckinpah fans with its bright picture and plentiful extras - the picture now plays better than it ever has. The feature was remastered on film, with the additional eleven minutes of 'new' footage recovered from a perfect set of color separations made just before the show was chopped down for the last time in 1965. Old flaws from mis-timed printing elements are gone, and both color and image definition have improved. The day-for night scenes are purposely timed darker than ever before, so don't try and watch the film at high noon in a bright room. The encoding is good but not terrific; as with last month's The High and the Mighty, the main titles 'buzz' with pixel artifacts.
The disc is encoded with two separate soundtracks, the original 1965 Daniele Amfitheatrof score and Christopher Caliendo's moody 2005 re-score for the Extended Edition theatrical release. The new score is in 5.1; the video seamlessly branches to accomodate different title sequences. Viewers who know Dundee will welcome the opportunity to watch it without being distracted by the old music track, which fights the movie all the way. Amfitheatrof's main theme is good but over-used and other musical choices (the romance theme, for one) are just terrible. Mainly, the old score just refuses to go away - even quiet dialogue scenes are dominated by insistent, inappropriate cues. And there's always the idiotic musical sting to complain about ... (push the button):

Christopher Caliendo's score improves the movie by staying mostly in the background. He has a good marching theme and his mariachi re-score for the Mexican fiesta is far superior. Allowed to play without underscoring, key dialogue scenes are now twice as effective.
This writer believes that one reason the old Dundee had so much music was to allow producer Bresler to finish the film without the expense of a full audio job. When the music tracks are playing loudly, there's no need to fill dialogue with presences or add simple things like wind noise and background walla. One of the few drawbacks of the new score is that the audio-scape often goes dead whenever the music stops. Big scenes are thin on the effects track, even battle scenes. The troop charges out of the river at a full gallop, yet we barely hear them.

The extras:
There are a wealth of extras to discuss! The 'Peckinpah Historians' on the commentary track are the same group of noted Peckinpah biographers previously heard on discs for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Osterman Weekend: Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. They really know their specialty and fill the track with interesting ideas and opinions, especially when it comes to understanding the point of view of the director. Over a year ago, Warner DVD planned a multi-disc boxed set of Peckinpah westerns featuring new transfers of titles from their library -- The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Ride the High Country. I've seen an amazingly good new HD transfer of Ride and am eager to see the same with The Wild Bunch. The original plan was for Warners to 'borrow' Columbia/Sony's Major Dundee as it had done with Dr. Strangelove for its Stanley Kubrick boxed set back in 2000. The group did the commentary for Dundee after the restoration but before the new music score was initiated, and before the loan-out to Warners fell through (the last Savant heard, the Warners box might come early in 2006). This accounts for the old score being used behind the commentary and the authors' allusion to several Peckinpah DVDs, not just one.
The group spends a lot of time saying what's wrong with Dundee and accounting for the apparent incompetence behind the final release version. This makes for a curiously negative track, as most of the authors think that the film is Peckinpah's worst. Scene specific comments tend to be generalizations and nobody quotes the script to clear up story inconsistencies. They get many observations exactly right, especially the curious formlessness of the final reels. But they tend to fall back on the Moby Dick-Red River argument to explain the Dundee character.
Dundee is no Ahab. He's not driven and obsessed, but calculating and ambitious. He doesn't really give a hoot about rescuing children or even killing Sierra Charriba. What Dundee wants is a career and glory. He's a moral cripple (as symbolized by by his leg wound) who doesn't know how to inspire loyalty from his men and instead uses the power of his rank to dominate them. That's the definition of a martinet, and Captain Tyreen's natural charisma and leadership ability repeatedly reveal Dundee for what he is.
When Jimmy Lee Benteen (John Davis Chandler) tells Aesop to remove his boots 'like a good nigger', the command almost falls apart on the spot. One of the commentators has the idea that Dundee is purposely staying silent to force Captain Tyreen to take charge. I don't believe that Dundee is in control of anything, or that he has the faintest clue what to do (besides keep the green Lt. Graham out of harm's way). Amos just sits there like a lump, while it finally dawns on him that half the men he's brought to Mexico would gladly cut his throat. Tyreen's inspired action shows the flair and flexibility Dundee lacks: Tyreen gives a condescending but formally acceptable compliment to Aesop, diplomatically defusing the situation. That Tyreen can perform such a subtle gesture while essentially being Dundee's involuntary prisoner, is another proof of Dundee's inferiority.
Another 'major' extra are raw clips and a couple of partially-edited sequences of missing scenes. All were discovered by Sony VP Grover Crisp in boxes left over from an exhibitor's promo touting upcoming 1965 Columbia product. The biggest chunk is part of the never-before-seen fiesta knife fight between Sam Potts and Sgt. Gomez. The original release cut of Dundee had no night-for-night exteriors at all, and Crisp's extended cut adds a few seconds of fireworks and partying that show, among other things, a drunken and unhappy Potts being snubbed by a village girl (1:18:45). The extra clip is the beginning of a cut scene intended to follow. It could not be reinstated into the film because a) it was probably re-cut to work as a promo, and b) stock music library cues mixed into the track don't match anything in Dundee.

If the knife scene were intact, it would further explain Amos Dundee's inadequacy as a leader of men. Potts is a rough mountain man and this is his character-defining scene. Bitter and mean, he provokes a fight with young Armando for his girl, who he insults by calling a 'she-cat.' Gomez steps in and fights in Armando's place, but the contest immediately changes from a dangerous death match into a macho ritual for its own sake. The clip ends as Dundee arrives to break up the fight, hitting Potts' arm with his Navy Colt pistol.
But in the script the scene continues. Both Potts and Gomez tell Dundee to mind his own damn business, as he understands nothing of what is going on. Before Potts and Gomez can charge each other again, Tyreen faces off with Potts. Potts laughs and throws his knife down. When Dundee leaves, Potts, Gomez, Tyreen and Armando are arm in arm, drinking like happy idiots. Dundee is once again proven the outsider.
What strikes Savant about the fight scene excerpt and the raw outtakes is how ordinary Peckinpah's blocking is. The angles used are just standard uninteresting coverage.
Two other 'raw, uncut takes' reveal more about the film. As both shots appear in shortened form in the remnants of the promo cut (obviously the basis for the original trailer), the raw takes were retained because they were sorted out as optical material to be duped but not cut. One shot is the full unedited master take of Dundee ordering the gallop to the river, the one where the shadow of Sam Leavitt's camera crane is discernable against the lines of mounted horsemen. In his diary accounts of the shoot Heston often mentions his own superior horsemanship and that of his troopers, and what we see is better than anything in a John Ford Western. Dundee calls attention and the horses snap into line like soldiers on parade. Heston rides out to confer with his scouts, and then rides back and reverses his mount into position like he's parallel-parking a Volkswagen. One forward-ho later, The entire troop starts out as a unit without a single horse going astray. The uncut take allows us to see that most of the troopers are the real actors, not pro wranglers or Mexican cavalrymen.
The first outtake is the real prize, as it's probably the mastershot for the intended first scene of the legendary missing opening of the movie. The troop of soldiers -- who will later be massacred by Sierra Charriba's Indians -- rides into frame, moves through some sheep herders and heads for the Rostes Ranch. In the script, cowboys and 'wooly wardens' exchange light insults. Peckinpah possibly intended this loose shot to have some credits over it, although the script reserved the main title for where it appears now, after Charriba delivers his oath: "Who will you send against me now?"  2
The first rider in the column is Lt. Brannin, who in the final film is only seen hung upside down over a fire, wounded, burned and incoherent. According to Academy records he's played by Jody McCrea, son of star Joel McCrea of Ride the High Country. Brannin prances by, the prima donna of Dundee's young Lieutenants. He wears a dashing white scarf, indicating possibly that he models himself after the stylish George Armstrong Custer. At any rate, he's drawn the exciting job of hunting Charriba instead of pulling boring duty back at Fort Benlin.
Several horses back, the Scout Riago (José Carlos Ruiz) rides manacled and under arrest. Brannin has found nothing and has already decided to save face by scapegoating Riago - he intends to hang him when they get back to the fort. Peckinpah was in the Marines, and knew how efficiently any army's chain of command reassigns the blame for failure ... and Riago is an Apache, after all.  3
The other promo outtakes are mostly scraps, the most useless being the textless artwork for the original American posters, some of the ugliest stuff ever done. Sony's DVD box illustration is by contrast a really great Photoshop construction - the best ad images for the film since the original French poster.
An especially good feature is an augmented excerpt about Dundee from Mike Siegel's docu Passion & Poetry - The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah. Good interviews cover the production of the movie from a fair perspective. Senta Berger talks about Peckinpah in German and the show even addresses Peckinpah's rash marriage to Begonia Palacios, the Mexican actress who played Linda, Tim Ryan's girlfriend. The only off-note comes from Peckinpah stock company actor L.Q. Jones, who tells a far-fetched Peckinpah story. After hearing Jones' gonzo commentary on the disc of his A Boy and His Dog, I'd take anything he said with a grain of salt.
Major Dundee's official featurette Riding for a Fall is presented in B&W 16mm (Savant's print) and in color Super-8, a slightly different cut. The short has many instances of publicity B.S., especially when it implies that its step-framed action shots of stunts are real slow motion. If only it were so.
That old publicity ignorance extends to the present, and the new theatrical trailer and the text on the back of the DVD. They come from the same handouts that accompanied the theatrical release last April. Working totally against the spirit of the restoration, the trailer and publicity copy make one false claim after another. Dundee was not the first film taken from Peckinpah and re-cut, that was his The Deadly Companions. 'Most of the missing footage' has not been found, and the film is not a 'restored masterpiece' -- it's easily twenty  or thirty minutes short of what Peckinpah screened earlier. Nobody can say what he would have ended up with because he never got the chance to finish the film. The film never raises the issue that Dundee's men might be a greater threat than the Apaches - the tagline is meaningless. The pub copy asserts that Major Dundee is 'at last presented as its legendary director intended,' which is sheer nonsense.
The end of the trailer beckons us to 'Fall in with the Major', a tagline that refers to the lyrics of Mitch Miller's chorus march. Getting rid of that silly song was a big part of the motivation for Sony to commit to creating a new Extended Version with a new music score. Curiously, the trailer contains no new footage from the film!
The film's clunky but colorful original 1965 trailer is included as well. The ID closeup of Tyreen shows him fingering a feather in his hatband, from a deleted scene. The script has Tyreen shoot a bird to obtain the feather as a cavalier's decoration. Not much later, Peckinpah has Tyreen tear the feather on a desert tree branch, and moodily regard it. (37:25) After O.W. Hadley is shot, Tyreen symbolically plucks the feather out and drops it to the ground (1:38:44). Savant didn't notice the detail until he'd seen the film uncounted numbers of times.
Savant was invited to write the liner notes for the disc and aimed to summarize the complex filming of the movie and present an accurate account of the 2005 restoration-rescoring. I think the notes are positive addition, if only because the disc would otherwise address the whys and hows of the new Extended Version only through Sony's misleading publicity copy.
There's a lot more to be said about Major Dundee, and I realize that the cumulative effect of the comments above might make the film seem a disorganized mess. It's far better than that. It's a great picture with many brilliant scenes and powerful moments. If mangled movies by great filmmakers were studied as closely as lost books by great authors, I believe Dundee would stand out as an American national epic about the politics of military adventurism.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Major Dundee rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Two soundtracks; 20-minute extended excerpt from Mike Siegel's documentary Passion & Poetry - The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah; commentary by Peckinpah authors Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle; two versions of the stunt featurette Riding for a Fall; clips, fragments and raw takes from a 1965 exhibitor's promo, including remnants of two still-missing scenes; a selection of rare stills; two trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 19, 2005

1. Even the noted Peckinpah biographers who share an interview on this disc (they're affectionately known as the 'Peckinpah Posse') could do with a re-reading of the script. At one point they wonder why Amos Dundee is stuck riding a mule when other soldiers have horses. The script (and earlier treatments) establish that Dundee considers himself a fancier of mules and thinks they make better mounts than horses. He rides one to prove himself a superior trooper and to raise morale. The joke comes with the irony that, after all his praise of mules, this one refuses to cooperate and won't budge.
2. By the way, look at the shot of the stand of trees, followed by Dundee's troop making their entrance at the Rostes ranch (feature: 3:21 - 3:28). These shots once formed a jump cut when Dundee was only available as a Pan-Scan video. The script only partially backs up this theory, but Savant thinks it possible that both cuts were originally opposite ends of one uncut take, a slow trucking shot down the row of trees, finally ending on the gap where Dundee and the spearhead of his column climb the hill to the foreground.  I theorize that Peckinpah intended the trees to serve as a background for the balance of the main titles.
3. By the way, the commentators say that the opening massacre scenes were at least partially shot and filmed last in the production schedule; they venture the possibility that they were of poor quality and that one reason the sequence was cut is that it didn't work. This writer believes otherwise. The excellent opening for the film, with Dundee's troop surrounding the massacre scene, was filmed at the same time. If the footage was of indifferent quality, it would still have to 'stand in line' behind several other sequences that play like blah second-unit efforts. Dundee researcher Darren Gross has interview testimony (that Savant is not at liberty to present here) that everything was shot, right down to the slaughter of the Rostes family and their Halloween guests the Romeros and Cartwrights.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Columbia/Sony has revived Sam Peckinpah's famous 'ruined masterpiece' Major Dundee, reinstating twelve minutes of virtually unseen footage and restoring the film to a quality much higher than the original color-by-Pathé prints. Even more remarkable is the studio's unprecedented step of putting a new score on the film. In this isolated case, that decision is quite a good thing. More on that subject below.


Sitting out the war as the jailer of a Union prison stockade in Eastern New Mexico, Amos Charles Dundee (Charlton Heston) seizes upon a local Apache massacre to ignore his assignment and launch a search-and-destroy mission into Mexico. Having already lost many troopers to the the Indian chief Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate), Dundee is forced to augment his command with local thieves and drunks, promote his black cavalrymen to active status and make a deal with the leader of his Confederate prisoners, the cavalier Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris). It's an all-or-nothing gambit; Dundee will either find his Apache quarry and come home a national hero, or return empty-handed and face the wrath of military superiors who already see him as an untrustworthy glory hound. Either way, he'd better avoid the thousands of French troops that are also in Northern Mexico, harshly suppressing the revolution of Benito Juarez.
Hired in 1963 to make Major Dundee as a big-budget Road Show release, Peckinpah prepared a sprawling tale with extended subplots and thematic complexities. But just before filming began Columbia chopped both his budget and shooting schedule and told the ambitious director to scale the project down ... over a weekend. Peckinpah ignored those instructions and proceeded to shoot the film as planned, hoping Columbia would let him finish what he began. After one of the most embattled shoots in film history, the studio barred him from the lot and butchered the film in the editing room. His +/- 160-minute cut was chopped to a little over two hours. Some scholars have seen the outlines of a lost masterpiece in what remains.
There is a big difference between the old cut of Major Dundee and this new Extended Version: Although only 12 out of a possible 30 or 40 minutes have been restored, the average audience now has a chance to understand the show on a first viewing, and appreciate the scope of its story. The old cut had glaring continuity problems, starting with an awkward beginning that omitted the introduction of a main character and didn't properly establish the setting of Fort Benlin as a Union stockade for Confederate prisoners. Big pieces seemed to be missing from the second half of the show, which barely maintained a coherent storyline.

The twelve minutes of new material clear up a number of unanswered questions. Besides restoring three complete scenes, at least three others are augmented with more material. Dundee spends more time recovering from his leg wound in Durango, and the Christmas Eve knife fight between the one-armed Sam Potts (James Coburn) and the Indian scout Riago is allowed room to breathe. There are a number of little additions, sometimes individual shots: Corpses being buried at the Rostes Ranch; children watching Dundee's men mount up; young bugler Ryan (Michael Anderson Jr.) retiring with his Mexican nurse Linda (Begonia Palacios) to her private quarters.
The movie still has pacing problems, but the new material greatly increases our understanding of what Peckinpah was after. A confusing movie with poor continuity is now an intriguing movie ... a more complete assembly of a larger work. Imagine The Wild Bunch without an opening shootout, any of its flashbacks, and half of the character-building scenes removed. Take away the setup for the final battle, and remove any mention of what happens to the Angel character played by Jaime Sanchez. Rush the editing so that some sequences are too slow. Do little or no audio work, especially looping, so that ragged tracks from the set have to suffice. Edit the action scenes as quickly as possible and drop any violence or bloody detail that might be "in bad taste." That's what happened to Major Dundee.
The most important change in this Extended Version is the new music score. Over the years Savant has tried to show the old version to many people, including Peckinpah fans, and found that most had difficulty staying with the story because of its distracting, overbearing musical score. Veteran composer Daniele Amfitheatrof's serviceable themes are overused and poorly matched to the action. The main march is repeated too often, while dialogue sequences are drowned out by quotes from The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie. An interesting love theme is also badly orchestrated, while battle scenes are overrun with unnecessary cues. Producer Jerry Bresler, himself once a songwriter, commissioned Mitch Miller and his Sing-Along Gang to chant the cheerful title march over shots of the aftermath of a massacre. The last straw is an oft-repeated musical sting that sounds like an electronic doorbell. The laughable cue pops up every time a key line of dialogue is uttered - "Until the Apache is taken or destroyed."  3
In any normal circumstance, replacing the music for a forty year-old movie would seem the definition of revisionist meddling, the kind of thing archivists and movie lovers hate. Monaural films are routinely being remixed in stereo sound, effectively altering film history in the name of commercial necessity. But Major Dundee was rescored not as a commercial gambit but to allow audiences access to what remains of Peckinpah's vision. The original score was imposed on the film in a truly slipshod post-production process after the director had been locked out of the studio.
The new score was composed and recorded by Christopher Caliendo using two large orchestras and a mariachi band. The first thing one notices is that the new Extended Version has a lot less music overall. The new silence behind dramatic scenes allows us to listen to Peckinpah's careful dialogue without a constant musical commentary. The music in the battle scenes is much more restrained. Caliendo's new themes are more serious and less melodic, and in many instances fit the mood of the picture better. For instance, the Mexican fiesta previously had the same folk song repeated on a loop. The new Mariachi music is much more variegated and seems to be coming from the musicians on screen.
My only personal criticism of the new score is that it sometimes seems too sombre, playing mournful notes in high-adrenalin scenes such as thee aftermath of the final battle. The new interpretation has tension but little in the way of grandeur. Also, the sound effects, foley and walla on the original tracks are so thin that some scenes are far too quiet when the music is removed. The film was not retracked or remixed in any way except to change the music; and a few moments suffer in an odd silence.
I think the rescoring is a positive step and a valuable experiment unique to this situation. It does not play like an attempt to 'jazz up' an old movie by meddling with the soundtrack. The most flagrant rumor I've heard of a comparable situation is Brian De Palma's Scarface. I am told some executives wanted to re-score it with hip-hop music to make it appeal to today's gangsta-rap audiences. Reportedly, De Palma said no.
Columbia reports that the Extended Version will be maintained in 35mm with both scores, and the upcoming DVD will have both scores as well. The old 1965 version will not be retired.
The experts say that Major Dundee could never be reconstituted in Sam Peckinpah's cut; even if all the daily negative and audio could be located, the producer did not retain his all-important work picture or documentation that could make a recut possible. The extra twelve minutes of this Extended Version were part of the film's full finish, and were cut out at the very last minute. At least parts of it were shown in a couple of foreign territories, but not in England or America.  1

Viewers will want to know about the substantial content still missing from Major Dundee. The movie was meant to begin with the Halloween night massacre at the Rostes Ranch, a legendary opening that was discussed in screenwriting classes at UCLA. All we see of it now is a bit of footage peeking through the 'burning diary' opening optical. It introduces us to Lt. Brannin (Jody McCrea), the Custer-like young officer we see being roasted over a fire. Brannin wants to hang the scout Riago, who he thinks has misled the patrol away from Sierra Charriba. Later on Riago is discussed by various characters, especially by Sam Potts and Dundee. The last major addition in the Extended Version finally shows us whether or not Riago is a loyal trooper.
Other excised scenes highlighted the blatant illegality of Major Dundee's self-invented mission. More than anything else, Dundee wants to get out of the military doghouse and back into the war. He exceeds his orders by searching for Charriba, and his recklessness results in the loss of dozens of soldiers. Making a crusade out of catching Charriba is the only way he can avoid punishment, and if he's lucky, win career-enhancing applause and approval. In the script, Captain Waller (Karl Swenson) sends a runner to General Carlton to have Dundee arrested for flagrantly illegal acts like stealing supplies from his own army. Dundee is less like Captain Ahab, and more like Oliver North, an opportunist saving his skin by claiming a higher purpose.

Although his rival Ben Tyreen is intuitively a finer officer, Dundee's reckless plan works for one reason: Once his command crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico, they cease being a motley group of ethnic, regional and political enemies and take on a communal identity as Americans. In a newly-restored scene, Dundee's officers energetically propose the final trap for Sierra Charriba - working as a team. The shave-tail lieutenant becomes a seasoned officer and the hateful rebel ends up championing the flag he once formally damned.
What Peckinpah learned from Major Dundee was put to good use on his next film, a much happier experience. Dundee still can't touch the The Wild Bunch but has qualities of its own and a fascinatingly complex script that stacks up as a cautionary national epic for a nation entering the Vietnam war. Interestingly, in Peckinpah's shooting script, just as the survivors of the troop prepare to re-enter Texas, Sam Potts points out a telling detail in the brush at their feet: Sierra Charriba's sub-chief Guero has left another Apache marker-gauntlet, another lance with a broken saber and a bloody soldier's tunic. Not all of the Apaches have been killed, and there may be more awaiting them on the trail. For both Major Dundee and his ambitious nation, the war will indeed last forever.  2
Perhaps because it is an unfinished, killed-in-the-womb masterpiece with a marvelous script of great potential, Major Dundee is Savant's favorite movie. With this Extended Version release, I'm hoping that its admirer base will grow larger and that more Sam Peckinpah fans will see it for what it is - surely not the writer/director's best work, but the one closest to his personal vision and political philosophy.
Reviewed April 4, 2005

Savant's review of the Major Dundee DVD, with additional discussion, is Here.


1. Researcher Darren Gross located long prints in an archive in Finland in 2001; the Academy reviewed a French print that had some of that material but also censored much more, especially anti-French sentiments. Darren determined that the final "Riago" scene may have been in English prints. Savant has a 16mm print of the movie that contains this cut scene, and always thought it was a slightly longer TV cut. I can't see why anyone would want to cut some of the Extended Version footage, but the Riago scene might be dropped because it is so gory, and the Durango scene has a lot of Spanish dialogue that the studio probably thought was a waste of time. Producer Bresler fought Peckinpah all down the line to remove violence and blood from the movie. The main point of contention in their bitter post-production correspondence was a shot of bugler Ryan dipping a ladle of water from a stream, and coming up with a dipper full of blood. Bresler harped on the shot as disgusting, something he'd never allow in a movie. A solemn statement of ethics from a man who made Gidget movies.
2. Original Columbia program notes state that the tale was based on a true story, but that seems to be an error sourced from Harry Julian Fink's first treatment - which only pretends that the story is a true one.
By the way, as we learned from research on The Good, The Bad and the Ugly there were plenty of Yankee troops in Colorado and New Mexico during the Civil War, partially as a deterrent to the French. Mexico's European rulers were engaged in their own Civil War with the Juarista revolutionaries; if things were otherwise they might have used the distraction of our War Between the States to try and reclaim the Western territories we'd seized from Mexico in 1848. (Thanks for this observation from Beverly Warren.)

Major Dundee.

The version released of Sam Peckinpah's 1965 Major Dundee is a monument of confusion, an American National Epic that was unfortunately killed in the womb. A 3-hour roadshow film whose shooting schedule was truncated, Dundee's tragic reduction to 123 minutes of poorly paced and sometimes incomprehensible plotting is a story unto itself. Despite split intentions (Charlton Heston and Peckinpah seemed to be making two different movies) and inconsistent direction caused by the beseiged director's own stress meltdown on location, Dundee still emerges as the film which best expresses American ambitions at the beginning of the larger Vietnam conflict. Peckinpah was to practically re-make Dundee just four years later as The Wild Bunch, which critics immediately called a vision of Vietnam.

In Major Dundee we find Peckinpah complicating the 'Mexican adventure' subgenre with wicked political commentary that only too accurately sums up a liberal's version of America's real rationale for its involvement in Vietnam. Since it was written in 1963 and filmed in 1964, Dundee doesn't have the venemous and apocalyptic outlook of The Wild Bunch, but its cynical stew of motives and motivations make it (especially its uncut script, a Hollywood classic) the logical successor to Vera Cruz for radical outrage.

Charlton Heston as Major Amos Dundee represents not just the American military but an expansionist, aggressive America itself, the Nation popular politics denies exists. The noble mission in Dundee, the rescue of innocent children kidnapped by marauding Apache Indians, is a fraud from the word go. Like all the other characters in Dundee's unformed and divided America, Amos lacks self-identity and seeks to forge his own destiny through willful ambition. Spouting selfrighteously about the necessity of the rescue (and completely charmed by Reverend Dahlstrom's quasi-biblical justification for mayhem) Amos lets his self-invented mission be stopped by neither the Army (it's against orders) nor personal loyalties (he extorts cooperation from his Confederate nemesis Captain Tyreen with the threat of hanging) nor the advice of his experts (the likelihood of success against the Apaches in Mexico is less than nil).

This is all because Dundee's real motivation is personal ambition, the desire to seize for himself the glorious military career denied him by the Union Army which has exiled him as a prison warden far away from the glory of Gettysburg. Amos needs a War, and Any War will do. An Oliver North for the 1860's, Dundee basically takes an illegal army into Mexico and allows it to be decimated by the superior tactics of the Apache on their own ground. To recover, he callously uses an innocent Mexican village knowing it will be subject to reprisals by the occupying French (in their first appearance in an American movie since Vera Cruz?). By provoking a fight with the French he wins for himself what he (and America) have been denied in four years of pointless and destructive Civil War: Direct confrontation with a European power, a real competitor with colonial aspirations in the Western Hemisphere that would be well-served by an America divided into North and South.1

Amos Dundee's mission begins as a blind thrust into the unknown and ends with him fighting an international battle (a real historical fantasy) that makes the command he lost back at Gettysburg pale by comparison. Fortunately for Amos, even though he has no understanding of anything but his own ambition, once he crosses the Rio Grande his hodgepodge troop will rally behind him no matter how ruthless or corrupt he becomes. When faced with the formal hauteur of the French adversary, American identity-confusion both political (North, South, Texican) and personal (black, white, Mexican, Indian) melts away and Dundee's motley troop becomes a fighting unit upon which he can rely. Barely surviving, the troop reenters the United States and Major Dundee the film abruptly ends on an inconclusive note. After an understanding of Peckinpah's script, Dundee crossing the river vindicated can be seen as America getting a first taste of international conflict, liking it, and ready for more 'adventures' in foreign lands.