'Dundee' Follows Ford Formula But Falls Short of Its Goal
When you have a typical John Ford Western, such as the one called "Major Dundee" at the Capitol, and it turns out that it was produced and directed by someone other than John Ford, the results, naturally enough, are something less than what you might have expected. "Major Dundee" is a work put on the screen by Jerry Bresler, directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Harry Julian Fink, Oscar Saul and Mr. Peckinpah, all of whom apparently tried their very best to come up to the standards set by the Old Master but unfortunately fell a good distance short.
This thing follows the Ford formula so closely that you almost expect to see John Wayne in the title role. Instead of whom we have in the present instance Charlton Heston, now fully recovered, apparently, from his recent Biblical appearances, here impersonating a Union Army officer back around 1864 and 1865, hard on the trail of a murderous Apache chieftain. And with an enemy Confederate officer, up to this moment a war prisoner condemned to death, acting as Heston's second in command and chief executive officer on the promise that once the Apache is captured, the two of them can go back to fighting their personal Civil War all over again.
There is the customary colorful photography of these wide open spaces in the Great Outdoors (much of "Major Dundee" was filmed in Mexico) with the U.S. Cavalry on the march and on the run; there's a brief encounter with a Mexican village in which dwells a handsome girl with a European accent and a dress cut all the way down to here; and there are the inevitable fireworks at the end in which everybody gets killed - except Charlton Heston, of course. What did you expect , Greek tragedy maybe? - and the U.S. Cavalry goes riding off in triumph.
The reports are that Heston turned back the salary he received for playing this title role in "Major Dundee', the reasons for which escape me at the moment, but the integrity of which can in no way be faulted. Richard Harris, a British actor who has made something of a name for himself in various films, plays the Confederate lieutenant (ever since Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara, Hollywood has made a big thing out of British performers impersonating the flower and aristocracy of The Old South), and Senta Berger, a strikingly constructed lady from Mittel Europa, appears as the Mexican village girl trying to keep her bosom covered with a shawl and not succeeding very well. It all follows the usual pattern, and it all comes out as you know it will from the beginning.
But one wonders what John Ford would have done with a typical John Ford Western like "Major Dundee"