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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Variety Review by Whit 3/17/1965

Rugged action but too many delaying sequences...Somewhere in the development of this production the central premise was sidetracked and a maze of little-meaning action substituted. What started out as a straight story-line (or at least, idea) devolves into a series od sub-plots and tedious, poorly edited footage in which much of the continuity is lost...
Interestingly lensed against actual Mexican terrain, film would benefit by a good 20 to 25 minute snap-up, especially of sequences having virtually no bearing on main plot and which serve to reduce pace to a crawl instead of adhering to rapid movement the topic requires. Sam Peckinpah's direction of individual scenes is mostly vigorous but he cannot overcome the weakness of the screenplay of whose responsibility he bears a share. Use of off screen narration reduces the impact and is a further deterrent to fast unfoldment. Heston delivers one of his regulation hefty portrayals and gets solid backing from a cast headed by Richard Harris who presents a dashing figure....Photography by Sam Leavitt is one of the high marks of picture.


(Unabridged version)

Somewhere in the development of this Jerry Bresler production the central premise was sidetracked and a maze of little-meaning action substituted. What started out as a straight story-line (or at least idea) - a troop of U.S Cavalry chasing a murderous Indian and his band into Mexico to rescue three kidnapped white children and avenge an Indian massacre - devolves into a series of sub-plots and tedious, poorly-edited footage in which much of the continuity is lost. There are certain salable ingredients, however. To wit, type of violence inherent in its subject matter, and presence of Charlton Heston.
  Interestingly lensed in Panavision and Pathe Color against the actual Mexican terrain, film would benefit from a 20-25 minute snap-up, especially of sequences having virtually no bearing on main plot and which serve to reduce pace to a crawl. Instead of adhering to rapid movement the topic requires, Sam Peckinpah's direction of individual scenes is mostly vigorous but he cannot overcome the weakness of the screenplay of whose responsibility he bears a share with Harry Julian Fink and Oscar Saul. Use of  off-screen narration, ostensibly from the diary of one of the troopers on the march, reduces impact and is further deterrent to fast unfoldment.
  Heston delivers one of his regulation hefty portrayals and gets solid backing from a cast headed by Richard Harris as the Rebel captain, who presents a dashing figure. Jim Hutton as an energetic young lieutenant and James Coburn an Indian scout likewise stand out. Michael Anderson Jr. is the bugler, sole survivor of the Indian massacre, who kills the Apache when the trap is laid for him, and Mario Adorf a sergeant, and Brock Peters a Negro trooper, all handling there roles well. For distaff interest, Senta Berger, as widow of a Mexican doctor provides the slight romance in pic.
  Photography by Sam Leavitt is one of the high marks of picture, which has a rousing music score by Daniel Amphitheatrof. Three editors are credited, including William A. Lyon, Don Starling and Howard Kunin which may account in part for the film's lack of continuity through too many cutters.
  Mitch Miller and The Singalong Gang sing the "Major Dundee March" composed by Amphitheatrof and lyrics by Ned Washington over opening credits.

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