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
Sam Peckinpah fired at least two dozen crew members in screaming fits of rage, drank all night, and patronized local brothels, paid for out of the film's budget. See more »
When Ryan and Linda are talking to Tyreen and Dundee in the village, she has a bright red shawl wrapped completely round her. However, in the shot as she and Ryan walk away, the shawl has dropped off her shoulders and is held around her upper arms. 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.
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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 »
Three major scenes (and some minor ones) were added to the restored version, along with a new score by Christopher Caliendo. The major scenes added are:
Captain Tyreen and his men are captured by Dundee in a mountain stream as they attempt to escape the prison;
Dundee spends more time recovering in Durango, falling in love with Melinche (Aurora Clavell), a Mexican girl who nurses his wounds;
A scene where Dundee, Tyreen, a several of their officers - Samuel Potts (James Coburn), Sergeant Gomez (Mario Adorf), and Lieutenant Graham (Jim Hutton) - find a marker left for them by Charriba (Michael Pate) and discuss strategy on how to fight him. At the end of the scene, we learn the fate of the Indian scout Riago (Jose Carlos Ruiz), who has been crucified in a tree by Charriba's men. In the original version, his character simply disappears without a trace.
Various smaller shots are added, including a burial of corpses after the opening massacre, children watching the activities in Fort Benlin, Potts struggling to find a partner during the fiesta at the Mexican village, and a slightly longer version of the Apache river ambush.
Also available as extras on the DVD are a slightly longer version of the interlude at the river between Dundee and Teresa (Senta Berger), and a knife fight between Potts and Gomez in the Mexican village.
A textbook example of how a penny-pinching producer can ruin a potentially great movie by basically sandbagging its (admittedly truculent) director, MAJOR DUNDEE nevertheless works as an answer of thoughts to the glorious Cavalry westerns of John Ford. Sam Peckinpah, on his third film overall and first one with a large-scale budget, was somehow able to pull a good film out of his controversial hat, thanks in no small part to his cast.
Heston plays an ambitious, ego-driven warden of a prison outpost in New Mexico in the closing months of the Civil War. When a rampaging band of Apache slaughter a family at a nearby ranch and then take apart a regiment he sends out to destroy them, Heston sees his way to get out of his routine job and get promoted. But to do this, he must form a garrison of troopers comprised of civilians, blacks, and Confederate prisoners. One of the latter is Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), who had once been his friend but is now his worst enemy. Furthermore, his pursuit of the Apache, once it starts, will take the troopers across the Rio Grande into French-occupied northern Mexico. Now, they'll not only have to worry about hunting down the Apache and keeping the peace amongst themselves, they also have to worry about French lancers.
Despite the film being butchered so maliciously to the point where many critics rightly complained about its incoherence, plus a marital music score that Peckinpah detested royally (he could have used Jerry Goldsmith here), MAJOR DUNDEE succeeds by pulling out as many stops as it can. It benefits from being shot almost exclusively on location in Mexico (under truly ghastly conditions, which would have happened even without studio interference). The photography by Sam Leavitt is also quite good (though, in another case where the producer overrode the director, Peckinpah couldn't use his favorite cameraman Lucien Ballard on the shoot). And there are those moments of violence and bloodshed that predate, though in a more 'PG-13' fashion, Peckinpah's next film, the far more violent 1969 epic THE WILD BUNCH.
Heston is as good as ever in the title role. But surprisingly, he is nearly matched on screen by Harris, who plays his role as an Irish supporter of the Confederacy with great dash and insight. James Coburn also does good journeyman work as the one-armed scout Sam Potts. Peckinpah rounds out the cast with his Usual Suspects: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, John Davis Chandler, Slim Pickens, and Dub Taylor.
In spite of all its flaws, MAJOR DUNDEE is still quite viewable, which is why I rank it an 8 out of 10.
NOTE: In 2005, for its 40th anniversary re-release, Sony Pictures released an extended version of MAJOR DUNDEE on DVD, with twelve minutes of footage once thought irretrievably lost placed back in; and they've replaced the original marital music score in favor of one by Christopher Caliendo. It is closer to what Peckinpah had in mind, but with thirty minutes of additional footage irretrievably lost, there's no telling whatsoever how much better this film might have been had Peckinpah not been sandbagged. Nevertheless, it still stands as a slightly flawed but never dull Civil War western.
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