Sunday, May 29, 2011
The New York Times Review by Eugene Archer 4/8/1965
Major Dundee has an interesting cast, a superior visual texture, unexpected bits of character revelation and a choppy continuity that finally negates its impact. Credit the director, Sam Peckinpah, for seeking a fresh approach to the Western. His expensive outdoor is bursting at the seams with evidence of a new filmmaker's ambition. Entrusted with his first large-scale production after a couple of likable small films, most notably Ride The High Country, Mr. Peckinpah displays a fine eye for panoramic vistas...Clearly Mr. Peckinpah has a flair for detail. His viewpoint may be a little too pessimistic, but his realistic method is a welcome departure for a Western adventure. Its drawbacks only emerge when the script veers into more conventional regions. The director has drawn a firm performance from Charlton Heston, whose axiomatic major is a far more complex character than the action format usually permits. Mr. Heston is solidly effective, as a Western hero ought to be. The British-accented Richard Harris and the attractive German, Senta Berger, are less so, and the problem is more than a matter of displaced accents. The intrusion of an alien love interest plays havoc with the realistic context, and Mr. Harris' role is merely another contrived bow to commercial cliches. Nothing could clash more stridently with Mr. Peckinpah's naturalistic approach. The conflict of mixed elements becomes more serious as this long adventure nears its climax, while some choppy editing abruptly disposes of whole characters, leaving several plot lines dangling. By provoking more curiosity than it satisfies, Major Dndee ends as a big, lop-sided melodrama, pleasant to watch but hardly a challenge to the eminence of the great Western folk director, John Ford. Even so, it has real virtues. Besides Mr. Heston's strong playing, there is good work by Jim Hutton, Mario Adorf and Michael Anderson Jr. as assorted troopers. Action abounds,and the pace is lively. The outdoor vistas are better than the intimate scenes, which are frequently marred by clumsy background processes,but Mr. Peckinpah does have an eye. He has a lot to learn, but his education should be worth paying for.