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Overall Rating
3.06

Awesome: 5.88%
Worth A Look: 35.29%
Average: 17.65%
Pretty Bad41.18%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 11 user ratings



Major Dundee
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by dionwr

"A restored failure; still a failure--a bad movie with good scenes in it"
2 stars

"Major Dundee: the Extended Edition" is a legendary film by Sam Peckinpah, who was famously thrown off it just after shooting was complete. The film was edited by the studio, 45 to 50 minutes was supposedly lost, and the film was always an intriguing failure. Now it's back, it's 12 minutes longer--and it's still an intriguing failure.

Sam Peckinpah will always be remembered for two great films, "Ride the High Country," and "The Wild Bunch." Made between those two, "Major Dundee" is of interest only to those who are interested in that highly idiosyncratic filmmaker. Peckinpah picked fights with almost every producer and studio he worked with, kept every set he ran in a state of constant tension, and there's a high correlation between his best work and how free he was left to do what he wanted. Watching "Major Dundee," I kept wondering how it might have worked if he'd concentrated on the movie, instead of his fights with management.

Charlton Heston stars as a Union officer in New Mexico during the Civil War who puts together a punitive expedition against a raiding Apache band, using captive Confederate soldiers led by Richard Harris, and a group of ex-slaves led by Brock Peters. In many ways, the film plays like a dry run for Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch."

Like "The Wild Bunch," the central tension is between two old friends who have gone separate ways. Dundee (Heston) was a friend of the confederate Captain Tyreen (Harris), until he cast the deciding vote in a court martial against him, before the war. Given the chance to make a name for himself by responding to the Apache raid, Dundee jumps at it, and Tyreen finds himself bound by his word under the command of a man he hates.

The film holds together until about the point that the ragtag, put-together band leave the fort, a wonderful scene where the Yankee cavalry begin singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the Confederates counter with "Dixie," the blacks have a song of their own, and the troop proceeds, un-united and cacophanously, into the unknown. And then the film loses steam, and degenerates into a series of incidents that seem more and more meaningless the longer the film proceeds.

The troop trail, but do not engage, the Apache, then get ambushed by them, then vacation for a few days in a Mexican village, and then Dundee gets wounded when he stupidly ventures beyond the pickets of his camp and has to spend several weeks in Durango, healing. By the time the troop gets back together again for a big fight scene finale, it's impossible to care.

Peckinpah was a tremendous talent, and you can see that even in a mess like "Major Dundee." For one thing, he had an ability to take the cliches of western life and make them real. You see that here; the troopers really look like they're living on horseback, meandering around northern Mexico looking for the Apaches, or a compelling plot. There's a convincing grime to this cavalry troop, and a relaxed familiarity with their horses and equipment that you don't see in earlier, John Wayne movies.

Another gift of Peckinpah is that he usually managed to pull great performances out of every member of the supporting cast, and that is certainly the case here. Any of the supporting characters are more interesting than Dundee. James Coburn as a one-armed scout named Potts and Jim Hutton as a green lieutenant who slowly gains competence are particularly fine. Richard Harris gives one of his best performances as Tyreen, in Dundee's words, "a would-be cavalier, fighting for a plantation you never had and never will."

It seems to have been a rule of Harris that he did his best work in lost causes. Watch him with Sean Connery in "The Molly Maguires," in one of the best performances anyone has ever given in a movie no one saw.

The biggest problem with this film is Dundee himself. We're never given any reason to like or care about this obsessive, prickly sumbitch. William Holden in "The Wild Bunch," it was established, had some core beliefs, even if he hadn't lived up to them. At the end of that film, it meant something when he did live up to those beliefs, giving up his life for his friends. Dundee, by contrast, doesn't get any sort of chance to redeem himself.

Certain scenes do have an impact, but that dissipates, as the film never builds on the good scenes. In the last hour, every good scene is sandwiched between two bad ones. And it must be mentioned that the biggest source of the bad scenes comes from a routine Hollywood love story that the producer insisted upon, featuring Senta Berger as a love interest for Dundee. She's gorgeous, and she had no reason to be in the picture. In every scene in which she appears, the movie screeches to a halt.

In a real rarity, this "Extended Edition" also features a completely new soundtrack, which is actually a good thing. The original score, vehemently denounced by Peckinpah himself in his lifetime, featured a jolly marching song by the Mitch Miller singers which was thoroughly jarring and out of place with the material. The new one is servicable, if not particularly memorable.

Sam Peckinpah had his trimuphs. "Major Dundee" was not one of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12250&reviewer=301
originally posted: 05/12/05 04:32:26
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User Comments

3/01/14 action movie fan story should have been more cohesive but action and everything else is great 4 stars
9/05/13 mr.mike Liked it. 4 stars
8/31/08 brian Visually terrific but dull and cliched 3 stars
10/06/06 Lynn Wetzel The first half is great, but then it looses its way and runs out of steam. 3 stars
9/20/06 Sepi53 EXCELLENT MOVIE!! 5 stars
7/13/06 Peter the Great You are right. It is not a great film, although it has its moments. 3 stars
6/01/06 Black Horse Restored and rescued from undeserved rejection. 4 stars
4/22/06 ALBERT A GREAT MOVIE. 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Peckinpah can't miss project fails miserably. Major Bore. 2 stars
6/21/05 Erik North Somewhat flawed but still interesting Civil War-era western from salty Sam Peckinpah 4 stars
5/12/05 John Peckinpah's version is exiting and involving 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Apr-1965
  DVD: 20-Sep-2005

UK
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