"This is another one of those films which I could only faintly recall from childhood. Recently I was fortunate to view a limited run of this firm in its new revised format. Having also seen the older version recently I am able to compare and contrast both versions of this interesting film. The biggest change noted in the revised edition is the music. A new score has been created and this completely changes the mood of the entire movie. The old score was a quirky, sardonic affair with the opening credits leading off with Mitch Miller's sing along gang! A big difference from the symphonic version we have here. If you are one of those people who don't notice movie music that much, try viewing the same film twice with two different scores! The music can make a big difference in how a movie feels to its viewer. We certainly have that here.
In addition to the score, about 13 minutes of footage has been restored. Dundee was one of those films that was butchered on the editing floor, so much so that there has been a lively debate about this ever since it was released back in the 1960s. Apparently almost an hour was cut out, and while 13 minutes does not seem a lot in comparison it can make a difference. Some of the restored scenes include showing the Confederates being captured as they try to escpae in the beginning, as well as showing Heston involved with the Mexican woman before the Austrian lady returns to see how he has recovered from his wound. Small stuff, but it can add up.
The background for this film is Heston (Dundee) putting together a scratch Troop of cavalry to pursue a renegade group of raiding Apaches. His unlikely command includes Confederate POWS, Blacks, and assorted riff-raff. The Rebels are commanded by Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris) an embittered rival of Dundee from before the Civil War. The tension between these two is what makes the movie. But there are many other edgy touches that take this out of the ordinary Western genre. The tensions between the two officers are mirrowed by their men, and it is a miracle that this divided command can accomplish anything at all. In fact, nothing like this could have functioned in reality! What makes this more than just another Western flick is the fact that Dundee's command has to fight two battles at once: One against the Apache, and the other against the French in Mexico.
This film has some interesting historical background. During the American Civil War Louis Napolean III decided to exploit the events taking place in North America by installing Maximillian Von Hapsburg (an Austrian archduke) as a French Puppet ruler in Mexico. In preceeding years Mexico had run up significant debts to various European powers and this was used as pretext to intervene. Dundee's command, after destroying the Apaches must contend with the pursueing French. We have a classic cavalry action in which the European and American styles of cavalry fighting are shown for this period. Dundee's boys have Henry repeating rifles which gives them a massive firepower advantage over the French Lancers. They also have a small horse drawn piece of light artillery. The French Lancers are shown to be a bit cloddish in this film, in reality American cavalry in this period was little more than mounted infantry. Dundee and co. hack and shot their way throw a troop of French Lancers at the Rio Grande losing about 3/4 of their men in the process! Its total fiction, but a great finale! This skirmish is well worth the wait, there is some exciting cavalry saber and pistol action here. This is one the few films that deals with the French intervention in Mexico, although Vera Cruz and Juarez also cover this subject.
Overall, Major Dundee is a pretty great film. It was good before, but is now even better. The film does digress sometimes, and wanders astray, but the atmosphere and tension between Heston and Harris always bring it back. Some reviwers have made comparisons to the Viet Nam War, since the film came out during that time. I fail to see any analogy here! Just because the film came out around 1965 does not mean that it is social commentary on Nam! Can we as Americans ever get over this! This film is not about Nam, its about action and adventure on the Mexican border during the American Civil War. Period! The acting and production value are great. Fans of Peckenpah, Heston and Harris should love it. This is also not your typical Western which is what makes it interesting as well. Viva Dundee!"
Masterpiece With More In It
Kevin Killian | San Francisco, CA United States | 06/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Well, I've seen the extended version, and even if they added only 12 minutes, out of a possible forty I guess, it still makes so much more sense now it is totally worth it. Kudos to the editors behind this reconstruction. I didn't have any problem following any of it, and I'm not really bright at complicated plots. All the main outlines of the drama became extremely vivid and clear; the tension between the Confederates and the Union soldiers; the dilemma about the French army; the massacre of the family at the beginning that causes Major Dundee to go all medieval and turn over command at the prison to his skeptical sub-lieutenant. "Maybe there's a reason why you're a jailer, not a soldier, Amos." They keep saying this as though being a jailer were something terrible.
Charlton Heston's descent into a delirium of infection is painful to deal with, very real. Now we see him drawn to the Mexican woman who brings him food; he's so out of it he finds himself having sex with her for the comfort it brings, and then of all times that's when Senta Berger shows up at his door on her own mission of mercy. She sees the naked back of the Mexican woman and you can see the pain in her eyes. Heston's pretty covered up but you get the picture, and he's man enough not to lie about what happened.
Richard Harris looks great and brings a rebel energy to the movie. Warren Oates' death scene is pure poetry, shot through with genius. What a ham he is! And oh, that is ham deluxe, 100 percent pure gold!
Michael Anderson, Jr. is excellent in his role as the young bugler, so much better here than in his other parts. He's sort of playing the Claude Jarman role, or maybe the part Brandon De Wilde played in IN HARMS WAY. The scenes where he meets Begonia Palacios in the ruined town where Senta Berger works as a doctor are credible and hilarious because he's so much in lust he can't see anything else but "Linda." Equally funny is the aftermath of the skirmish in which he's been shot in the butt and then they try to fix him up by tearing out the seat of his pants and stitching up what looks like his bare ass (kind of daring nudity for 1965). Anderson's got game and you can see why Peckinpah made him so prominent in this movie.
The chronology straightens itself out and before long we come to the scene where the troops find the crucified corpse of their Indian scout, whose trustworthiness the previous version had left in doubt. Somehow it is nice, after all these forty years, to have at least one MAJOR DUNDEE mystery cleared up, and also to find that that Riago was loyal after all!
[END OF SPOILER.]
At the end a whole bunch of us (film geeks I expect) clapped at the final credits. PS, the new music is outstanding, though I'm glkad the forthcoming DVD will give you the option to hear the old sing-along theme too."
Viva Dundee-EXTENDED to a point.
Mark Marcon | Detroit, MI United States | 05/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Finally, some missing footage from Bloody Sam's flawed masterpiece is coming out. The web news and ads promise 12-15 minutes restored which should help with the major continuity of the film. Having loved this movie for over 30 years and read everything possible on the "butchery" of it, I can offer the following cut footage information;
1. The longest cut was noted in a critical film analysis book I found in the U. of Toronto library. The scene is supposedly 10-12 minutes long and shows the Cavalry detachment at the farm dancing and celebrating with the Rustis (?) family. The Apaches attack, the massacre ensues (and is shown in detail),Trooper Ryan escapes, and the wounded Lieutenant (Brannon ?) is strung up under the slow fire, which is exactly where the movie STARTS in the cut version. The Critical Film Analysis book claimed that the sudio refused to accept that a film could run almost 15 minutes with no major character introduction and then kill off the characters before the main character (Dundee) even appears!
2. Peckinpah's original directors release was to be 152 minutes and this cut at the beginning accounts for approximately 10-12 minutes.If the new Restored release adds about 15 minutes we should get to see about what Sam had intended, better continuity, including the despair/decay of Dundee in the Mexican village, the double back of the Apaches in the hills and the extended knife fight between Potts/Gomez, along with the truth behind Riago (the Apache scout, who is supposedly a traitor). The restored version will apparently not include the Farm massacre scene.
3. The recent book, Bloody Sam, mentions the many cuts and mentions an even longer version. What is known is that Sam edited the film from a 220 minute time, down to 185 minutes and finally under studio pressure (but still acceptable to Sam) of 152 min. What was eventually released was the chopped 123 minute version that made a mess of this great movie. Though the relevance of the Farm massacre scene can be questioned, its savage aspects were intended to show how viscious Sierra Chariba was and why he needed to be hunted down.
As it was many years ago that I read of the Farm massacre scene I cannot say for certain if it was part of Sam's 152 or 185 minute versions except that it did exist and was one of the cuts. Any and all restoration is welcome and I am eagerly waiting for the DVD release, which will contain both the original release and the extended version. "
Flawed But Very Watchable
Erik North | San Gabriel, CA USA | 07/18/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Despite being cut to pieces by its penny-pinching producer and then subsequently disowned by its director, MAJOR DUNDEE is a rather well-made antidote of sorts to those John Ford/John Wayne cavalry westerns that came before. Sam Peckinpah, on only his third movie overall and first with a big budget, managed to get enough on screen so that whatever flaws it might have are mostly kept to a minimum.
Heston plays an ambitious Union officer of an Army prison in New Mexico during the last months of the Civil War. When a band of marauding Apache destroy a nearby ranch, its occupants, and a regiment of his own troops, Heston sees a chance to get out of his run-of-the-mill job, for he sees himself as "a professional soldier, not a prison keeper." He assembles a ragtag regiment consisting of civilians, Union officers, negroes, and Confederates to go after the Apache. The pursuit, however, takes Dundee's gang across the Rio Grande into French-occupied Mexico. So not only do they have to find the Apache and keep the peace amongst themselves, they also have to tangle with French lancers as well.
The flaws in MAJOR DUNDEE are rather evident. It probably wasn't necessary for a love story involving Heston and a female village doctor (Senta Berger) to be inserted within. And as many reviewers have stated, there are a lot of loose ends in the story that needed connecting, and they all seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. Reportedly, Peckinpah's original cut was 164 minutes in length, but studio cutting bought it down to just slightly over 122 minutes. The recently restored 40th anniversary release adds twelve minutes of never-before-seen footage, not to mention adding a new score by Christopher Caliendo that is substituted for the Daniele Amfitheatrof original that was but one of many reasons he basically disowned the film; but it still leaves thirty minutes of film that have probably forever disappeared.
Despite the flaws, the film is redeemed by its cast giving solid performances. Heston is, of course, at his best in the title role; yet even he is matched line-for-line by Richard Harris as Tyreen, his former friend and now sworn enemy. James Coburn also contributes a wry line or two as the one-armed scout Sam Potts. There is also Peckinpah's cast of the Usual Suspects here as well: L.Q. Jones, Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, and Dub Taylor. MAJOR DUNDEE also shows Peckinpah willing to stretch the violence angle a bit; the battle scenes are bloody enough to have warranted at least a 'PG-13' rating (which is, in fact, the rating the restored version received). He would up the ante in this department considerably when he made THE WILD BUNCH.
To sum it up, MAJOR DUNDEE is a flawed movie, but one that remains compellingly watchable. Filmed almost exclusively on location in Mexico."
L Gontzes | Athens, Greece | 02/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Definitely a great Western and one of my personal favorites, Major Dundee, brings to the screen such heavyweights as Charlton Heston and Richard Harris, whose performances are outstanding, making this movie one of the best of its kind. The acting, the battles and the costumes are all wonderful!
Major Dundee is a movie about honor, bravery, and heroes from a time long gone.
A great movie indeed!"