In 1864, due to frequent Apache raids from Mexico into the U.S., a Union officer decides to illegally cross the border and destroy the Apache, using a mixed army of Union troops, Confederate POWs, civilian mercenaries, and scouts.
During the last winter of the Civil War, cavalry officer Amos Dundee leads a contentious troop of Army regulars, Confederate prisoners and scouts on an expedition into Mexico to destroy a band of Apaches who have been raiding U.S. bases in Texas.Written by
Although Mexico was occupied by French troops during the American Civil War and that occupation was not looked upon kindly by the Abraham Lincoln administration, there was never any fighting between US and French forces. See more »
In the territory of New Mexico towards the end of the Civil War, an Indian, Sierra Charriba, and his Apache warriors raided, sacked and looted an area almost three times the size of Texas.
See more »
Opening credits prologue:
1864 JOURNAL 1865
In the territory of New Mexico, toward the end of the Civil War, an Indian Sierra Charriba, and his 47 Apache warriors raided, sacked, and looted an area almost three times the size of Texas.
On October 31, 1864, an entire company of the 5th United States Cavalry sent out from Fort Benlin to destroy him, was ambushed and massacred at the Rostes ranch.
We are indebted to Timothy Ryan, bugler 5th United States Cavalry, the company's sole survivor, for his diary, the only existing record of this tragedy and the campaign that followed. See more »
"Major Dundee" is a Western hard to classify, in part because of some deliberate ambiguity in vision characteristic of director Sam Peckinpah's later work, in part from trying to force too much into too small a space. The result is a picture deeply flawed though never uninteresting.
The concept is terrific, anyway: In the waning days of the American Civil War, an Apache raiding party attacks a Union force and makes off with three small boys. Chasing them, with a mixture of Union, captured Confederate, and irregular civilian forces, is one Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston), a reckless albeit humane seeker of the same kind of glory that led George Custer to Little Bighorn a decade hence.
It's a big role tailor-made for Heston, who fills the part in his singular ham-on-wry way, going for the big moment even when delivering the smallest of lines, doing so with the kind of nuance and wit that carries you along for the ride. Heston imitators like Phil Hartman must have had a field day watching as Heston, stripped to his undershirt but still wearing a manly neckerchief, tells his head scout (James Coburn): "Don't get yourself killed. That would inconvenience me."
Also terrific is Richard Harris as the leader of the captured Confederates, Tyreen, a fellow more noble than Dundee but nursing an even more bloated sense of wounded pride. Harris was another blowhard actor who overdid it a lot but nails it here. Between Dundee and Tyreen is much of the film's central conflict. To Peckinpah's credit the early scenes showcasing this tension are every bit as tense and exciting as the action sequences later on.
Peckinpah even gets great service from such disparate elements as comic actor Jim Hutton (who doesn't seem to belong in a Peckinpah picture, yet makes it work here as a befuddled lieutenant with able help from Heston), location shooting in Mexico, and skysets that sometimes call to mind David Lean's work on "Lawrence Of Arabia."
Peckinpah was trying to make the same kind of epic as "Lawrence," vast in scope and profound in message. Here "Dundee" gets into serious trouble. As Dundee's band rides on, the script ambles off into strange directions, shoehorning a romance and a drinking binge for Dundee that pulls us away from the central story even as that mutates into twin conflicts with the Apaches and the French, all resolved in a rushed and unsatisfying fashion. Minor characters, played by name talents like Dub Taylor and Slim Pickens, are established as if they herald things to come, only to completely disappear instead. The theme music is as ill-fitting as Coburn's phony beard.
By all accounts Peckinpah eventually lost interest in "Major Dundee," and the result is a film that never finds its way. But it is never dull, and often arresting, especially as it gives Heston one of his broadest acting canvases. Dundee would be unsympathetic in almost anyone else's hands, but Heston gives him a humanity that draws him closer, and makes his foibles more real to us, even to some degree shared, as we watch every other character in the film round on him sooner or later and find ourselves pulling for Dundee even when he's wrong.
However lacking in discipline "Dundee" is, you can watch it over and over and come away entertained and with a different feeling each time, which shows something was working. A problem picture, yes, but one with a lot of heart, soul, and vision, a failed experiment but one worth experiencing all the same.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this