Major Dundee (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
(Charlton Heston, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, Brock Peters, et al / 2-Disc Blu-ray / PG-13 / (1963) 2021 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: After making his first bonafide classic in Ride the High Country, director Sam Peckinpah took a step towards the epic with Major Dundee.
The film would, in many ways, define the rest of his career both on screen and off, as the drama behind the camera matched the action in front of it.
Charlton Heston stars as Major Amos Dundee, a vainglorious Union Cavalry officer, who mounts an expedition to hunt down Apache war chief Sierra Charriba.
Building his own army of criminals, ex-slaves and Confederate POWs - among them one Captain Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), whose intense former friendship with Dundee is tainted with a sense of betrayal on both sides - Dundee heads into Mexico, his eye fixed firmly on a last shot at greatness.
Blu-ray Verdict: Since the dawn of the film industry, there has always been strife between the camps of artists and money-holders, when getting a product to the public. The second camp always won because they have the money, and the first one mutters in angry silence.
Fortunately, thanks to the techniques of film restoration, art wins in the extended version of Major Dundee, a once-maligned movie by its studio, critics and moviegoers in 1965.
It now gets the red carpet treatment here via Arrow Films (UK) and tells the tale that at the end of the American Civil War, a vicious Apache, Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate) and his forty-seven warriors have terrorized the New Mexico territories.
A faction of the 5th U.S. Cavalry is sent to stop and dispatch them, but Charriba slaughters them, sparing three young boys to be indoctrinated. Who will you send against me now? he spits to a dying lieutenant, strung up by his feet.
The answer: Amos Charles Dundee (the gruff, posing Charlton Heston), an Union major demoted to being a prison warden, due to his glory-hounding antics in Gettysburg (not detailed, being one of the films flaws that will be addressed later).
He does not have enough enlisted soldiers to form a hunting party, but he begrudgingly employs some of his prisoners, including drunks, horse thieves and Confederate soldiers.
One of the soldiers is a former friend from West Point, the cavalier, gentlemanly Capt. Benjamin Tyreen (the late, scene-stealing Richard Harris), who questions Dundees loyalty and pride, along the way, forcing the major to choose the true enemy: Charriba, Tyreen and his Southern born and proud boys or himself?
If the films a failure, it is an interesting one. Heston is the casts front runner, but Harris pulls the carpet beneath him (even sucker punches him more than once!!!), giving the film a sharp edge.
Fascinating are the other actors, including Jim Hutton (the late father of Oscar-winning Timothy; The Green Berets) as a too-strict artillery officer; Michael Anderson Jr. (Logans Run) as a green, wet-eared bugle boy, the films narrator; future Oscar-winner James Coburn (The Great Escape, Cross of Iron) as an one-armed, half-breed Indian tracker; Senta Berger (also of Iron) as a sweet but strong village doctor and Brock Peters (Soylent Green with Heston; To Kill A Mockingbird and the first African-American actor to work on a Peckinpah film) as the leader of free African slaves-cum-Union soldiers.
There is also Peckinpahs stock actors: Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, John David Chandler, L.Q. Jones, Dub Taylor, Slim Pickens and R.G. Armstrong. Yeah, Coburn and Berger are part of them too, since Peckinpah directed Iron. Plus, Bergers assistant in Major Dundee is played by Begonia Palacios, who would later be the infamous directors second wife.
And there is the film is bad stuff, including characters coming and leaving during important plot points, back story details being scant (Peckinpah co-wrote the screenplay on a tight budget and schedule with Harry Julian Fink, who later co-created Dirty Harry with his wife, and Oscar Saul, who wrote the screenplay of A Streetcar Named Desire) and behind the scenes animosity, like Heston, on horseback, nearly cutting down Peckinpah with a saber, and Peckinpah himself being locked out of the editing room by film producer Jerry Bresler (the two Gidget sequels) and then-executives at Columbia Pictures, who wanted a John Ford-like cavalry film!
To the movie-going public, however, Major Dundee was a major mess!
However, time have passed and Major Dundee receives a renovation, thanks to an extended 136-minute version of the film from a 4K scan where missing footage has been found and restored to the original film.
A better music score by Christopher Caliendo replaces the one by Daniele Amiftheatrof (awful name) which is both annoying (a trilling electronic vibe pops up when Charribas seen or mentioned) and inappropriate (the song Fall In Behind The Major, a proud march, is played after the massacres aftermath/ the films main title sequence).
With the patching, Major Dundee is a stronger film, a fun rough draft to Peckinpahs magnum opus, The Wild Bunch, a parallel to the war on terror (Charribas the 19th Centurys Osama Bin Laden?!) and a honest character study of a man who wants honor but has too much pride; a theme echoed in the directors films and personal life.
Though not as brutal as Bunch, Major Dundee is just as intelligent and thoughtful. I just wish it did not rated as PG-13. Sure it has scenes of subtle yet bloody violence and mild sexuality, but the film came out before the ratings code! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
The 136-minute Extended Version of the film from a 4K scan, as well as the original 122-minute Theatrical Version
60-page booklet featuring new writing by Farran Nehme, Roderick Heath and Jeremy Carr plus select archive material
Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
Fold out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
Audio commentary with Nick Redman, David Weddle, Garner Simmons, Paul Seydor
Audio commentary by critics Glenn Erickson & Alan K. Rode
Audio commentary by Glenn Erickson
Moby Dick on Horseback, a brand new visual essay by David Cairns
Passion & Poetry: The Dundee Odyssey, a feature length documentary about the making of Major Dundee by Mike Siegel, featuring James Coburn, Senta Berger, Mario Adorf, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Gordon Dawson
Passion & Poetry: Peckinpah Anecdotes, nine actors talk about working with legendary director Sam Peckinpah, featuring Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, James Coburn, David Warner, Ali MacGraw, L.Q. Jones, Bo Hopkins, R.G. Armstrong, Isela Vega
Mike Siegel: About the Passion & Poetry Project, in which filmmaker Mike Siegel talks about his beginnings and his ongoing historical project about director Sam Peckinpah
Extensive stills galleries, featuring rare on set, behind the scenes, and marketing materials
2005 re-release trailer
Riding for a Fall, a vintage behind the scenes featurette
Select extended/deleted scenes and outtakes with commentary by historian and critic Glenn Erickson giving context on how they were intended to appear in Peckinpahs vision of the film
Original US, UK and German theatrical trailers