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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review by Jim Silke 1965

Charlton Heston and Sam Peckinpah have lost their war to producer Jerry Bresler. The guts of the story have been torn from the film and slaughtered. "Major Dundee", the story of a loser, has lost so badly as a film that the audience will not even know what the whole thing is about. Heston and Peckinpah, however, even when bloodied and beaten, are something to see. The angry mark of Peckinpah is seen in every frame, and every performance. The whole film, the putting together of pictures in time, has been handled as if it were the last reel in an early Hopalong Cassidy film. Bresler has attempted to reduce the entire film to a simple story of a chase with action. He fails. By cutting out scenes essential to the characters of Heston and many subsidiary players, he has precluded empathy one must have with them. The opening of the film has been destroyed and the entire motivation is now gone. For the first ten minutess you don't know what is happening or why. Add to this a musical score that would have made Pearl White turn blue, and you have a film that is still worth seeing only because at every moment you can see what might have been.
  There is a mudhole quality about the appearance of the film that ranks it with "My Darling Clementine", "Shane" and "Gone With The Wind" for capturing the period. Richard Harris is one of the most charming rogues in many a film. Warren Oates has a memorable death scene that would have been far more effective had his other moments been left in. Ben Johnson, Mario Adorf and Slim Pickens all have moments. James Coburn is superb and would have been even greater had his essential knife fight with Adorf not been cut. As it is, the other side of his character, the part with the real soul, is left out and only half a performance is there. So it is with the whole film. The soul is missing, having been cut out by a man who didn't know what it was. Just how much of Columbia's stock holders will be missing is hard to tell, but it is certain that Bresler's waterbasket is a mighy expensive one, not only for the dollars thrown away, but for the discarded moments of real cinema which each frame testifies were there before the cutting.

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