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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Western Film & TV Annual (1965)

A United States cavalry troop headquartered at Fort Benlin, which is also a Federal prison, is massacred by Apaches led by Sierra Charriba, who has left a blood-stained trail across the south-west. The murderous Indian chief always escapes into Mexico with his plunder after sadistic and violent raids.
 After the massacre he kidnaps three small children from a ranch near the  fort so as to lure troops across the border.
 Major Dundee takes up the challenge. He augments his force by giving Ben Tyreen of the Confederate Army (Richard Harris) and a few hand-picked Rebs a choice of "throwing in" or facing a murder charge for killing a prison guard.
  Dundee and Tyreen, once friends at West Point Point, together lead a strangely mixed bunch of frontier thieves and murderers against the deadly Charriba. Dundee knows that as soon as they have found the deadly Charriba and killed him, Tyreen will turn on him, pistol at the ready.
  The chase takes them well into Mexico and into fights with the Apache and "liberating" French forces. It also takes Dundee momentarily into the arms of a beautiful woman, Maria.
  Their mission ends with the killing of Charriba, and both Dundee and Tyreen, even in death, come to understand that there are larger stakes than personal vendettas.
  The explosive, large-scale epic of Major Dundee was shot mainly on location in Mexico. The distinguished cast, headed by Charlton Heston, and large crew were faced with numerous hardships in bringing this subject to the screen.
  The locations ranged from the high sierra to desert and river, and weather extremities ranged from sub-freezing to the white heat of the Chilpancingo location. The company worked at heights of over 8,000 feet, where the air was cold and crystal clear, down to sea level, where the heat and humidity were often unbearable.
  "I've been on some pretty rough locations," said Charlton Heston, "but this one was certainly amongst the roughest and hardest I've ever worked on."
  In addition to the sheer physical problems of terrain, such scenes as cavalry charges can become nightmarish. Trying to control these vast scenes is no mean task for any man. In the case of Major Dundee the difficult job of direction fell upon David Samuel Peckinpah, hailed as the new "John Ford". Ford, of course, has directed some of the great westerns of all time.
 In 1962, Peckinpah directed Guns In The Afternoon, with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. The American magazine Newsweek cited it as the "best American film of the year" It was listed by Time magazine as one of the ten best. He also created three T.V. series, "The Rifleman", "Klondike" and "The Westerner"
  The remarkable director considers Major Dundee to be one of the biggest undertakings of his interesting career.
  On a film such as this it is interesting to know how a crew is composed. For instance, twelve wranglers made the trip from Hollywood to handle 800 horses that were being used on the production, not counting the numerous mules and Apache ponies. Thirty seven specially trained horses, including "jumpers" and "falling horses" were shipped to the far-distant location.
  The actual crew numbered between eighty to a one hundred and forty-four personnel, depending on the type of scene being filmed.
  Working, feeding and housing, and of course traveling from one locale to another, made up another mammoth undertaking, which could well been compared to a military operation.
  The task of keeping the film on the move over 2,000 rugged miles of Mexico was in the hands of Fransisco Day, who had worked for the late Cecil B. De Mille and was no stranger to epic films.
  Twenty-five of Hollywood's top stuntmen were flown to the varied locations to take part in highly dangerous stunts.
The many cavalry action scenes required more than a group of extras riding off in all directions. Some scenes called for highly-skilled horsemen who could be "shot" from a horse riding full gallop. No mean task this! The battle scenes demanded only the very best stuntmen, who faked death with remarkable reality.
  Making a Western a western on a scale such as Major Dundee is a considerable task. The makers believe it will prove to be well worth their while.

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