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Unter Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit

Reviews

John Chard
What could have been gives way to an enjoyable curio piece. Originally intended as a searing epic by director Sam Peckinpah, Major Dundee was taken away from his guiding hands post production and edited into an almost incoherent mess. Here in the new millennium we are able to see a restoration of the film with added scenes that gives the film are more cohesive structure, and yes it improves the film ten fold because the characters have flesh on their bones, yet still we are only really glimpsing three parts of Peckinpah's vision since there is another 30 minutes of film seemingly lost forever, and that is a crying shame because this film could have been a western masterpiece had it been allowed to flourish. There is still a lot to enjoy here tho, Major Dundee leads a rag tag army of Union soldiers, Confederate rebels, convicts, loonies, and a one armed James Coburn into Mexico to hunt down an Apache army who are responsible for deadly attacks on U.S. bases in Texas. It's not so much The Dirty Dozen, but more like the dirty army! And in the main here it's the fractious nature of this assembled army that gives the film its vigour and selling point. Almost certainly the film is one of the forerunners of Vietnam allegories, and like it or not it's the thematic undercurrent of soldiers under prepared that keeps the film above average. The cast are fine, it's like a roll call for the macho assembly, Charlton Heston is Dundee, a big square jawed brash man who tries to keep this army in line whilst dealing with his own nagging ego. Richard Harris owns the film as Tyreen, his on going personal war with Dundee gives the film added impetus. James Coburn plays a very interesting character, but it's a character that demands more time on screen than we actually get (perhaps the victim of the cretinous cuts?), and it leaves a hankering feeling that never quite leaves you. It's a fine journey, it's a fine character piece, and everyone also note that the wide screen shoot is gorgeous, but at the end of the day Major Dundee is only hinting at the genius that would deliver The Wild Bunch four years down the line, but it could have been so much different... Forgive them for they know not what they do. 7/10
Wuchak
***Harsh, dense Peckinpah Western with Charlton Heston, Richard Harris and James Coburn*** A disgraced Major (Charlton Heston) guilty of making a tactical error at Gettysburg is assigned to command a dull P.O.W. camp in the New Mexican Territory. After some ranchers and a cavalry unit are massacred, the glory-seeking Dundee (Heston) seizes the opportunity by illegally crossing into Mexico to wipe out the Native raiders with a dubious team consisting of Union troops, Confederate prisoners, civilian mercenaries and a couple scouts. Richard Harris makes his debut as the dashing leader of the Confederates while James Coburn plays the lead scout. Brock Peters appears as the black sergeant whereas Ben Johnson and Warren Oates play Rebel soldiers. This was director Sam Peckinpah’s third Western after “The Deadly Companions” (1961) and “Ride the High Country” (1962); and would be followed up by the heralded “The Wild Bunch” (1969). It’s not as good as “Ride,” but it’s superior to “Companions” and “Bunch” IMHO. The main reason I don’t favor “Bunch” is because it’s about a bunch of dirtbag thugs for whom I could care less. “Dundee,” by contrast, has several interesting, more worthy, protagonists. The script was loosely based on historical examples (e.g. the Dakota War of 1862) mixed with the plot of Moby-Dick, as well as elements of Lawrence of Arabia and classic John Wayne/Ford Westerns. The questionable group assembled to invade Mexico is a microcosm of the USA with the conflict between Northern and Southern soldiers, the rising complication of freed blacks, civilians & their guns and an AmerIndian scout. There’s a depth to the proceedings that makes the first half almost impenetrable. But, if you concentrate, there are a lot of riches to glean and you can’t beat the superlative cast with Heston and Harris shining in their conflicting roles. Meanwhile Senta Berger and Begoña Palacios are noteworthy on the female front. The movie reflects the harsh realities of horse militarists on a mission in the Southwestern wilderness in the late 1800s. But it was reportedly a troubled production (of course, which large-scale production isn’t?). At one point Peckinpah got too dictatorial during the filming of a particular scene and disrespected Heston from afar with rude verbiage. Charlton, on horseback, bolted toward the director with saber drawn to which the much smaller director took off out of Heston’s reach. The theatrical release ran 2 hours, 3 minutes while the restored 2005 version added 13 minutes and featured an (optional) new score, which is the version I viewed. The movie was shot entirely in Mexico. GRADE: B/B-

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