Saturday, May 28, 2011
Saturday Review by Hollis Alpert, 4/10/1965
A large-scale Western called Major Dundee, starring Charlton Heston, left me with the impression that I had seen a movie of no distinction whatsoever - crude in its action, composed of remnants and fragments of other Westerns, its plot meandering over a florid landscape of cliches. Yet I fully expect a case to be made for it in serious quarterlies of movie opinion here and abroad. Consider first that its director is Sam Peckinpah, who was singled out by the sassily unorthodox reviewers for Time and as having what they termed on of 1962's best films, Ride The High Country. He has a flair for violence, so I'm told, and any cineaste in good standing knows that violence handled by a currently fashionable director is 'cinematic poetry'. There's lots of violence in Major Dundee; gallons of bloodshed are caused by Indian arrows and U.S. Cavalry rifles. Heston chases for no good reason after a bloodthirsty Apache, Sierra Charriba. But just in case the various ineptitudes of the movie should disturb, there's another way of regarding it. Simply call it 'camp.' The New York Times recently informed us that the word 'camp', formerly used in homosexual circles, can now be used heterosexually and that it can mean practically anything you want it to mean. As far as I can see, it means means that something is just too much. Well, Major Dundee is just too much, and for that reason is probably wonderful. Any objective consideration is therefore ruled out. The movie begins with a massacre by the Apache chief, and his running off with three small white children. ( You know what that means: they'll be brought up as Indians, they'll lose their white-hood.) Naturally Major Dundee has to get them back, even if it means killing most of his men. He recruits an old West Point comrade, who is played by Richard Harris doing yet another Marlon Brandon emulation.(Bad acting, but good camp.) They chase the Apaches all the way to Mexico. (Can they trust their Indian guides? Yes and no) They encounter the most beautiful girl you ever saw, whose breasts are big and white and almost fully exposed, in a woebegone Mexican village, tyrannized by a troop of French soldiers. What's this beautiful girl doing therewith all those starving Mexicans? She's for Major Dundee, during certain interludes in the chasing and the fighting. There's more, much more, so much that practically everyone is dead at the end. Chalk up another one for Sam Peckinpah.