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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Beautiful And the Damned. Article by Richard T Jameson

The Beautiful and the Damned: Major Dundee

28 April, 2010 (06:00) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews, Sam Peckinpah | By: Richard T. Jameson
[Originally published in the Queen Anne News, April 11, 2005]
Sam Peckinpah was one of our great modern filmmakers, but for many his name summons up such a fearsome Hollywood legend, of blighted career, outrageous excess and epic self-destructiveness, that remembering the great films becomes secondary.
The legend began to lock into place with his third feature film, the 1965 Major Dundee though it’s worth noting that even his universally admired second film, the elegiac Ride the High Country (1962), was nearly thrown away by its parent studio, only to be hailed as “the best American film of the year” by Newsweek magazine. Ride the High Country was a small a program picture, really featuring two over-the-hill cowboy stars (Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott). Major Dundee would be, by mid-’60s terms, an epic, with a $4.5-million budget, two recently Oscared or Oscar-nominated stars Charlton Heston and Richard Harris and an international cast with more color and flair than, perhaps, any one motion picture could accommodate. It was also to be a film of vast and complex thematic ambitions, a dual character study that sought to refract not only the historical tensions of the Civil War era frontier but also the fractious America of a century later, astir with the civil-rights movement and the beginnings of what we would come to know as the Vietnam era.
The production was, as they say, difficult. Working far from Hollywood, on locations in Durango, Mexico a nation that more and more would become Peckinpah’s spiritual home the director pushed himself, his cast and his crew hard. He also found himself making a $4.5-million picture that eventually turned into a $3-million picture, with no money to shoot several sequences key to the meaning and rhythm of the film. The last footage Peckinpah did get to shoot was paid for out of Heston’s salary, which the actor sacrificed to the cause despite growing apprehensiveness about his director’s stability. In the end, Peckinpah turned in a two-hour-and-40-minute cut that would be reduced several times during a contentious preview process, with the film finally going into release at just over two hours running time.
I saw Major Dundee in 1965. There was no question it was a mutilated film. Voiceover narration, ostensibly read from a soldier’s journal, filled in a lot of exposition and attempted to supply a sense of dramatic development (“We were becoming a command again…”) to which the ragged progression of scenes was not equal. Several scenes began so abruptly that it was clear we were missing transitional material. One hilltop view of an Apache chieftain Sierra Charriba (Australian actor Michael Pate), whose murderous raids would lead Dundee to pursue him into Mexico was cut into the narrative twice: two moments months and miles apart, same shot.
Yet there was, of course, much that was magnificent, deeply personal and flamboyantly original. The thrilling sense of bleakly beautiful landscape and how men, on or off horseback, moved through it. The weird visual music made by asymmetrical widescreen compositions and some almost hallucinatory editing (a new kind of continuity, as opposed to cutting desperately around narrative lacunae). Harris giving one of his few disciplined, effectively florid performances. The quiet equanimity of James Coburn’s one-armed scout, and the way Dundee turned a scene around just by pronouncing his name (“Sam Potts!”). The rich, colorful human tapestry, teeming with such Peckinpah regulars as Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones and John Davis Chandler (three of the Hammond brothers from Ride the High Country), Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens. And sudden, shocking explosions of blood something rarely if ever seen in American films before to testify to the horror and the hideous ecstasy of combat. Peckinpah was trying to get to somewhere new in action filmmaking; the film ached with aspiration, yet in the circumstances couldn’t help falling short of achievement.
Well, you know the rest of the story, in shorthand anyway. Major Dundee bombed and Sam Peckinpah became more or less unemployable. He worked his way back via TV (notably a masterly adaptation of Noon Wine with Jason Robards and Per Oscarsson) and returned, four years later, with The Wild Bunch. The Wild Bunch, too, was soon mutilated, a week or so after its initial release; but it was a masterpiece, and people had seen it, and eventually the stuff they cut was put back. And now we knew where Peckinpah had been trying to get to. It was awesome, in every sense of the word, and Major Dundee, as a groping endeavor and as a horrific professional experience, was essential to his getting-there.
Now Columbia Pictures is releasing “an extended version” of Major Dundee, 12 minutes longer than what we saw in 1965. Essentially, it’s the preview cut that preceded the last of the mutilations. Some of the gaps have been filled (most tellingly, in Dundee’s dark-night-of-the-soul recuperation from wounds in Durango), a few details restored that lend greater depth to the characterizations. It’s good that no one is trying to call this “the director’s cut.” The movie is, in some ways, more obviously a mess than ever (and that crude, phony-looking hilltop shot of Sierra Charriba is still in there, twice). Peckinpah loyalists will want to see it, of course, and anyone capable of appreciating flawed but distinctive work should. But there’s no getting back that other 20 minutes or so of footage, or the scenes that were never shot at all.
One more thing: The Major Dundee we knew for 40 years had a music score by Daniele Amfitheatrof and a recurring title song performed by (yes) Mitch Miller and the Sing-Along Gang. It’s gone, replaced by a new, hastily composed and quite nerveless score. I don’t doubt that Sam Peckinpah loathed the music imposed on him as an effort to pep up his hard-bitten movie and make it more salable (it’s nothing like the scores he later commissioned from the gifted Jerry Fielding). But for better or worse, that music was part of Major Dundee, and trying to wish it away is wrong.
© 2005 Richard T. Jameson

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Restoration of Major Dundee: Robert A Harris talks to Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures

RAH: I know you've had a number of projects in the works, to which you return when something positive occurs, such as finding a new bit of film or audio. Is there anything that you're comfortable discussing for public consumption?
GC: You and I discussed the missing elements and various ideas surrounding Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) years ago when Sony / Columbia had done a thorough search of our elements in known inventories. The problem was that we couldn't find much. The studio did not keep most of the trims and outtakes or sound mix elements (no 1/4" dailies, for instance), and definitely did not keep any lifts or deleted scenes in either positive or negative form. A few trims existed, but most of that is just for what is already in the film. Some minor outs exist in negative form, but no audio pre-mixes, or anything like that, existed. I knew we had a slightly longer version in the separation masters, but they were incomplete. We continued our search and consolidating worldwide inventories and, frankly, struck gold this past year, when we found a complete soundtrack for a longer version. Complete and finished in every way. This led me back to looking for picture to match and, sure enough, the track matched the version in the seps.
RAH: To cinephiles, this is exciting and important - especially to the many Peckinpah fans out there. This material had been thought lost for nearly forty years. When did it all start to come together?
GC: I started looking into this film seriously around 1995, and I believe inspecting the minimal amount of trims that existed was one of the first things Mike Pogorzelski did at the Academy when he started there as an archivist. Michael Friend [founding director of the AMPAS archive] and I decided to bring AMPAS in on the project, the project being to determine just what we had here in terms of picture trims, to see if anything was really of use. It was a useful exercise and Mike inspected other elements, of course, but it led nowhere, looked hopeless, and I did not have time to put into it then. Plus, we were missing some key reels, two records from different reels of the seps and one reel of original negative, all of which had some of the longer scenes. So, in the intervening years, storage facilities closed, we move things around, and we looked for new or misidentified material all the time, but especially in the period of '97 to 2002.
RAH: When did you decide to take on the project in earnest?
GC: I finally decided to tackle this film about two years ago, knowing at the time we had incomplete elements, and decided to work with Tom Heitman at Cineric laboratory in New York. He and Balazs Nyari, who owns Cineric, are some of the key people in the restoration lab business in this country, always willing to push the envelope and try new things. I had worked with Cineric on Funny Girl, the fade process titles like The Man from Laramie, Bell, Book and Candle, My Sister Eileen, etc. Plus, I knew we would have to recombine the seps for about half the film to get the new scenes and Cineric is very good at handling recombination of masters, Tech 3-strip shows, odd formats, and so forth.
RAH: How about the audio?
GC: Initially, I thought we would need to go back to square one with the audio and re-record a lot, which was one of the reasons I was postponing getting into it to begin with, but in the course of going through all the audio tracks - which had been done once years before - the longer version magnetic track, a complete mono DME [A DME is a three stripe containing Dialogue, Music and Effects] was identified. It was never identified prior to that as differing from the other tracks. All audio elements, whether magnetic, optical, English, Music and Effects, all foreign language tracks, including French - every bit of it matches the short version as originally released. So, it was only in deciding to go through all of it again that we discovered this one lone magnetic element that was longer. Same number of reels. Both versions are eight double reels, with four common to both versions, four different. Not much in the way of editing or rearranging of scenes was done. The deleted scenes were basically just lifted - however, and fortunately, not until after the seps had been made.
RAH: There's no doubt that you're looking under every rock and going through every frame of every element. It had been rumored that a cut of the film in the area of 143 minutes was the preferred Peckinpah cut. The current version runs about 124. How close have you been able to come to the grail?
GC: After all the searches and all the work, we are creating the longest version we can for which we have completed English audio. Outside of the approximately 12 minutes of footage in the seps, there really is nothing more and I realistically don't expect to see anything turn up in the future, so we might as well go forward with what we can right now.
RAH: That's a huge difference, if you've gotten the running time up to the 136 minute area. If you can find the time, it might be instructive to discuss several of your other projects. For now, I'm sure the question that's going to be asked on HTF is "When is Major Dundee going to come out on DVD?"
GC: We are rapidly approaching completion of the restoration and will transfer it in HD in the next two months. Incidentally, I screened a work-in-progress print for about half a dozen of the top Peckinpah scholars just three days ago and they were really enthusiastic about it, both the quality of the work and the version we have. It is not, technically, a director's cut, of course, since the director is not with us, but we have put back scenes that they had only heard about before, including from Peckinpah himself, and had never seen. The release for the new DVD looks to be around June of 2005. It will be preceded by a theatrical release, beginning in April in New York.
RAH: This is going to be exciting news in the home video area. We just went online at The Digital Bits with a conversation with Warner's George Feltenstein, who has been working hard to create a higher quality home video software environment with the Warner library. The good news here is that Columbia also has someone in place, not only overseeing asset protection, but working actively to reconstruct and restore their library while holding the line on quality. I understand that you've recently gained a voice in all library remastering and what elements are selected. This portends to be a very good thing for the studio, with more control over original aspect ratios and proper versions. Let's try to talk again soon.

Magill's Survey Of The Cinema 6/15/1995


MAJOR DUNDEE
Abstract:
Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston), reduced to commanding a prison camp for Confederates during the last days of the Civil War, sets out on a punitive mission against hostile Apaches. Accompanying the neurotic, inflexible Dundee is an odd assortment of volunteers, including Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), the Confederate captain who hates him.
Designed as a thoughtful epic Western by director Sam Peckinpah, the film was seriously truncated by producer Jerry Bresler but remains provocative and interesting.
Summary:
MAJOR DUNDEE is a film of two wars. One of them is pictured in the film. The other war, between director and producer, occurred during the film’s production. As it stands, MAJOR DUNDEE is approximately one hour shorter than filmmaker Sam Peckinpah had originally intended it to be. Although the film’s principal star, Charlton Heston, returned his entire two-hundred thousand dollar salary to the producer as an act of good faith to ensure that the remaining scenes would be shot and director Peckinpah would have full control over the final cut of the film, the producer took the money but turned the film over to the editors. The producer won the off-screen war, and Peckinpah lost control of his film, but in the process, what might have been a great Western epic was turned into a severely truncated remnant of a very individualistic director’s vision of the West.
 In spite of its butchered form, however, MAJOR DUNDEE remains an interesting film and an important work in Peckinpah’s career. It cannot be called a great film, however; many of the scenes that were meant to establish the motivation of the main characters are now missing. The heart of the psychological concerns, which were so important in fleshing out Peckinpah’s themes, have vanished for ever on the cutting room floor. What remains does, however, still show glimpses of the creative control of director/screenwriter Peckinpah, but the film has an over-all incoherence and lack of continuity that obscures the meaning.
  As with most of his films, Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE is concerned with a world which violence is the rule rather than the exception. The film is set in the turbulent era of the final years of the Civil War. The opening scene was originally planned as twenty graphic minutes showing the Halloween night massacre of ‘B’ Troop of Fort Benlin, New Mexico, and a local ranching family, the Rostes’. With this scene in place, the structure of MAJOR DUNDEE would bear a great resemblance to that of Peckinpah’s later masterpiece, THE WILD BUNCH (1969), which is framed by two long and bloody battles, the first occurring during a bank holdup and the second involving the outlaws and Mexican Federales.
  These two scenes, like the battle scenes in MAJOR DUNDEE, reflect Peckinpah’s preoccupation with violence as both a thing of appeal and repulsion. The famous choreographed scenes of violence in THE WILD BUNCH, are also revealed to have their technical forerunner in the battle scenes of the earlier film, which communicate the agonies, but also the perverse excitement and fascination of warfare.
The present version of MAJOR DUNDEE shows only the very final moments of the Rostes Ranch massacre, but this raid provides the obvious impetus for the action of the film. Major Amos Charles Dundee, commander of Fort Benlin’s prison camp for Confederates, leads a motley band of Union reprobates, black prison guards, Confederate prisoners of war, and civilian horse thieves and murderers across the Mexican border in an attempt to rescue the Rostes’ three boys from their Indian captors. Ironically, this obsessive pursuit is revealed to be motivated less by the apparent need to save the boys than by the Major’s own overriding need to escape his role as warden of a prison camp. The boys adapt well to their new lives as Apaches, but the Major cannot adjust to a role forced on him as punishment for his own disregard for authority at Gettysburg.
  Dundee’s initial image is one of an authoritative, competent officer whose main interest is in rescuing the boys, but as the film progresses, he is seen as an inflexible, guilt-ridden man whose ramrod manner barely conceals a troubled, insecure soldier whose concept of self is assured only when he is embroiled in war. Heston offers a well-controlled performance as Dundee, and even though the dialog is sometimes inadequate in expressing character, director Peckinpah successfully uses Heston, and the other main characters, to create each character as a viable physical presence in a large-scale film that could easily have swallowed up lesser characterizations.
  Dundee is given a personal and military rival in the dashing figure of Confederate captain Benjamin Tyreen. Tyreen’s roles in life have been many – Irish potato farmer, court-martialed Union officer and captured Confederate, but unlike Dundee, Tyreen’s identity appears securely rooted beneath his assumption of a flamboyant, posturing appearance.  Tyreen has an eloquence and personal flair which Dundee lacks, but more importantly, he possesses an understanding of himself an intuitive knowledge of his fellows that make him a much more effective leader of men than his former friend, Major Amos Charles Dundee.
  Although the other key roles of Sgt. Gomez (Mario Adorf), Samuel T. Potts (James Coburn), and Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton) have suffered because of the massive editing, they are still important, as is Tyreen, in pointing out the deficiencies in Major Dundee’s failings, and his own, levelheaded, self-effacing professionalism contrasts sharply with Dundee’s chaotic leadership.
 As the film details the command’s raid into Mexico, the duality of Peckinpah’s vision is apparent in his embrace of a romantic view of that country while creating a generally realistic portrait of war. The poor Mexican village that welcomes the American soldiers as liberators becomes a haven full of simple, generous people, including Peckinpah’s usual selection of generous women, among them Senta Berger as the widow of the town’s doctor. The command’s leave-taking from the village is clearly a model for the startlingly similar scene in THE WILD BUNCH. In contrast to this romanticism, Peckinpah treats the violence in MAJOR DUNDEE in a realistic manner that emphasizes the bloody action and aftermath of conflict; men writhing in pain from festering wounds, rows of leaking canvass bags containing the mutilated bodies of the first battle’s casualties, and Dundee’s strained shoveling of dirt into a huge mass grave.
  The Rostes boys are ultimately rescued and the Apaches are destroyed, but Dundee’s command is decimated and the Major seems to have acquired little self-knowledge as a result of the costly foray. Our expectations of what a cavalry film should have been satisfied in terms of “action,” but Peckinpah turns the mythic expectations upside down.
The glorious of the frontier have been transformed into desperate, generally selfish men who, unlike the soldiers in John Ford’s cavalry films, are not bound together in a homogenous, lasting community. Only the figure of Captain Tyreen carries on the expected romantic tradition of the heroic cavalier. Tyreen dies in the final battle against the Emperor Maximillian’s forces, but his single-handed charge against the enemy is an idealistic gesture that enables the twelve survivors to escape across the river into Texas. Tyreen may damn Major Dundee and the Major’s flag, but Tyreen carries that flag into a glorious death as is possible in the world of Peckinpah. 
Conclusion
MAJOR DUNDEE attempts a great deal, and in some measure succeeds, in spite of its mutilated form. Within its epic proportions lurk some of the techniques and creative impulses that later achieve full fruition in Peckinpah’s indisputable masterpiece, THE WILD BUNCH

American Cinematographer Artcle by Herb A Lightman 2/1965


Behind the camera on Major Dundee By Herb A Lightman

Filmed almost completely on location in the wilds of Mexico, roaring screen spectacle offers stimulating challenges to the cinematographer.

As Columbia Pictures’ Civil War epic, “Major Dundee” sweeps and thunders its way across the wide screen it becomes stunningly obvious that - while direction and performances are of the highest level, - ‘Dundee’  is essentially a cameraman’s picture. Few films have relied so heavily on visual impact, pictorial mood and camera virtuosity to achieve a total effect, and to the director of photography, Sam Leavitt, A.S.C.  must go much of the credit for making Major Dundee a rousing show from beginning to end. Add to this the fact that at least 90% of the film’s intricate action (both interior and exterior) was filmed in actual locations extending over a vast area of the most tortuous terrain Mexico has to offer , and the achievement is doubly impressive.
  The major story plot of “Dundee”, based loosely on a true incident, is simple – although its incisive explorations into human character under stress made necessary several sub=plots and tangents, all of which had to be woven into a cohesive cinematic unity.
  Essentially, the story concerns Major Amos Dundee, 3rd U.S. Cavalry (played by Charlton Heston), a hard-bitten, cynical professional soldier whose over-harsh discipline has caused him to be shunted off to a New Mexico backwater to wait out the war.  At remote Fort Benlin, he bitterly resents his role as a “keeper” of four hundred slowly decaying Confederate prisoners, as well as Union deserters, murderers and thieves – the dregs of the frontier.
His life becomes less humdrum, however, when he hears that an Apache “mad-dog” chieftain, Sierra Charriba, has brutally ambushed and murdered a detachment of soldiers along with women and female children at a nearby ranch. The male children have been abducted by Charriba to be brainwashed into [becoming] Apache warriors.
  Meanwhile, back at the fort, Dundee is having problems Confederate captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris) who has attempted to escape, along with four other prisoners, and has killed a guard in the process. Dundee and Tyreen are no strangers. At West Point, before the Civil War broke out, they were close friends, but their choosing of different sides in the struggle, further complicated by Tyreen’s slaying of a Northern Officer, has made them bitter enemies. As penalty for killing the guard, Dundee condemns Tyreen and the other would-be escapees to be hanged.

However, since Dundee cannot strip the Fort of Union troops to hunt down Charriba and rescue the kidnapped children, he is forced to ask for volunteers from the Confederate prisoners and the motley group of thieves and murderers. Gathering about him a raggle-taggle band of cutthroats, including Tyreen, he sets forth after Charriba’s scalp.
 From that point on the action of the film becomes a protracted trek-chase, during the course of which the patrol is embroiled in bloody skirmishes with the Apaches as well as the French colonial troops, once they have crossed into Mexican territory. Interspersed with these mass battles are personal clashes between the two friends-turned enemies as they give vent to the peculiar love-hate rivalry which is fairly common among men in war.
  Inevitably romance rears its lovely head in the seductively proportioned personification of Senta Berger, a Viennese beauty somewhat incongruously plunked down in the heart of the Mexican wilderness. Her main problem seems to be that deciding which of the two swashbucklers she cherishes the most – but for sheer geographical splendor she runs the spectacular Mexican scenery a close second.
  And there is considerable Mexican scenery in the film, utilized to stunning visual and dramatic advantage, but involving one of the most widespread and arduous location safaris ever encountered by a motion picture company.
  The technicians and actors who worked on “Dundee” roamed the outlands of Mexico from the Sierra Madre to the white tropical heat of the Rio Mescala; they filmed at sea level and then climbed to the labored-breath altitude of 10,000 feet at La Marquesa. It is a film of unrelenting wild action, with few interiors – photographed in cold, and mist, and in temperatures of 110 degrees.
  In short, no matter what the terrain or physical discomfort, “Dundee” traveled where the actual story occurred to re-create for the International the bruising, savage trek of “C” Troop, U.S.A in 1864-65.
  Like most creative cameramen, Sam Leavitt, A.S.C. regards each new filming assignment as a unique project demanding its own distinctive photographic style precisely keyed to the particular subject matter. “Major Dundee” had its own special atmosphere and he gave much pre-production thought to selecting a photographic point of view that would present the mood of the story most effectively.
  “I tried to establish an individualistic concept of style in photographing this picture”, he comments. “I definitely didn’t want it to be in vivid color. I tried to capture more of a realistic quality in keeping with the subject. Many times color comes up too vividly, a sort of candy-cane type of color, which might be just right for a comedy or a musical, but in this one it had to be downbeat, an understated pastel quality – almost like a ‘color’ picture in black and white”
  In following through on this concept, he worked closely with the wardrobe designer (Gordon Dawson) to keep the colors of the costumes muted. True reds and blues were avoided, and the fact that the costumes were supposed to be dirty during most of the action helped dull them down considerably. He designed his lighting in a low key so that shadows, unrelieved by fill light, could inject dark areas into the compositions. The over-all effect has much of the graphic, almost documentary quality achieved by Matthew Brady in his actual still photographs of Civil War action.
 It is doubtful that any film in recent history had a “travelog” comparable to “Dundee.” Beginning in Durango, headquarters for the first month of shooting, the company trekked daily to the ice-rimmed Rio Mescala, some thirty miles away in the foothills of the fabled Sierra Madre. Then the location shifted to the Tiapas ruins of a 400 year old hacienda which was reconstructed as Fort Benlin.
  It was here that Leavitt encountered his first problem. Although the company had brought along a sufficient number of “brute” arc lamps and generators to light most of the sequences to be shot, the lighting of the Tiapas ruins turned out to be more than what was bargained for.
  “We had several night sequences in a tremendous prison yard where we had to light up six hundred prisoners and this was a great challenge,” Leavitt admits, “but there’s an old saying among cameramen: “You can shoot with two brutes as well as you can shoot with 22 brutes – if you know where to put them.’  It’s a matter of experience and knowing what can take care of itself.”
  Asked why he did not fall back on the seemingly simple solution of shooting the sequence day-for-night, he replied:
  “Most of our night scenes were actually shot at night. In a few cases, when there were mass action over terrain that was simply too vast to light, we were forced to shoot day-for-night, but to me, day-for-night always looks ‘day-for-night.‘ What you see at night is not what you see in the daytime, and if you try to make it look like night you are taking a chance. All you can do is under-expose your film and do the best you can, hoping that the laboratory can help you in getting the effect, but if you are required to shoot in areas where you have hot sands and hot skies, it’s very difficult to create a convincing day-for-night illusion.”
  The ancient village of Chupaderos, some twenty kilometers from Durango, served as a “Dundee” locale for almost two weeks. Against purple ridges, the crew fought gale force winds that drove through the Chupaderos Valley. Next came the pastoral setting of Morcillo, and finally Saltito, in The Valley In The Name Of God, a favorite hiding spot for the legendary Pancho Villa.
  Since “Major Dundee” is a “man’s picture” in the most literal sense of the term, great pains were taken to get the mostly all-male cast to appear as rugged as possible. Low angles were often used to make the characters seem to loom larger than life, as indeed they must have, judging from historical records of their violent exploits. Strong cross-lighting, un-softened by fill light, made their features stand out as if chiseled from granite. It is safe to say that the actors appearing in this film have never looked so harshly virile on the screen before.
  Yet Leavitt’s photographic treatment of the story was not unrelieved blood-and-guts. The romantic sequences allowed him to inject poetic overtones into the total tapestry. An idyllic bathing-in-a-woodland-pool sequence has an almost idealized time-out-of-war visual mood, faithfully capturing the nostalgia men in war have always felt when dreaming of home.
  The sequence in which Heston bids a romantic farewell to the voluptuous Miss Berger was filmed against strongly back-lighted crumbling arches with a camera angle accenting the loneliness of terrain stretching of into infinity. In this sequence, Leavitt managed to capture the almost Dali-esque beauty of a surrealist landscape dwarfing the human figures against the vast emptiness of unknown Fate.
  After these love scenes between Charlton Heston and Senta Berger had been filmed in Zacatopec, the “Dundee” company settled on the banks of the Tehuixtla River, where heavy action began, with Indian battles. The stock company of stunt men led the river fighting, while Panavision cameras, mounted on dolly trucks laid in the bed of the river, trucked along with the tumult.
  Finishing up at Tehuixtla with a whirlwind action sequence, “Dundee” moved to the Cuautla area, in the heart of pineapple and sugar cane country. Another venerable hacienda, in ruins since the days of Zapata, became the “set” for this sequence of the Civil War story. Hacienda Pantitlan, one hour’s ride from Cuautla, was in such neglect that the walls had to be propped up to keep them tumbling in on the film-makers.
  Here was encountered once more the typical location interior problem of where to find room for lamps, dolly tracks, camera equipment and actors in the cramped confines of the ancient hacienda which had been converted to a bar for the sequence. Unable to avoid having some of the lamps intrude into the composition, Leavitt simply had them painted to blend with the background, a desperate measure resorted to by many professional cameramen when everything else fails.
  A yawning gorge was the next before the cameras. This canyon was selected to be the death trap of Sierra Charriba. Next, the company moved to Jonacatapec, still another example of time-halted civilization, for the introduction of the French lancer forces. Tlayacapan, where time seldom reaches at all; where pre-Columbian art may be found by digging in the ruins, was the final location site for the Cuautla environs.
  The Rio Mescala, forty kilometers from Chilpancingo, and tucked down in desolate hills, was the locale for the wind-up battle scenes of “Major Dundee”. Four hundred members of the 13th Mexican Cavalry changed into uniforms of French lancers for this climatic action, clashing head-on in unbelievably violent film battles that raged all along the banks of the Mescala for ten days.
  By 10.00a.m. each morning the temperature was usually over one hundred degrees and still climbing. The Rio Mescala had its own weaponry of red ants, chiggers and mosquitoes. Few locations have served up so much misery. But Mescala provided spectacular back-drops for the cavalry fights. “Major Dundee” was finally completed with the burning of an entire ranch at La Marquesa.
  Like most of the A.S.C. Directors of Photography who have worked in the film industry since the silent days, Sam Leavitt tends to play down the problems confronting the Hollywood cinematographer. The simple fact is that these veterans of the camera have, on one film or another through the years, encountered and solved most every imaginable photographic problem, so that they are inclined to take everything in their stride. This does not detract, however, from their achievement or their accumulated know-how which has made them the greatest camera craftsmen in the world.
  While admitting that “Major Dundee” was one of the most difficult films he has ever worked on due to its many rugged locations, Leavitt still finds such films a stimulating experience to photograph.  
  “I feel that shooting in practical locations is a special challenge to the camera man, but that’s what most professional cinematographers welcome – a challenge that may make it possible for them to achieve a different  style of photography,” he observes. “Of course its much harder than working in a studio – at least twice as hard, I’d say – because the cameraman has nowhere to place his lights, especially if he’s moving around making dolly shots. But it’s a challenge that keeps you on your toes.”
  Winner of The Academy “Oscar” for his black-and-white photography of “The Defiant Ones,” Sam Leavitt’s credit has appeared on many of Hollywood’s most distinguished films including (besides “Major Dundee”) “Exodus,” “Advise And Consent” and “Diamond Head