Major Dundee

Fall in behind the Major! It’s October 1864, three years into the bloody Civil War and Union cavalry officer Major Amos Dundee has been sent in disgrace to the New Mexico Territory to track and kill the rogue Apache war chief Sierra Charriba, but while he wears a uniform rather than animal skins the tactics of Major Dundee are no less questionable, a ruthless man who uses “the burden of command” to justify a great deal and hits the bottle hard every night.

With insufficient men under his command, he has no patience with Lieutenant Graham, treating him as a fool and giving him no support in the unusual circumstances, their forces bolstered with prisoners released on Dundee’s command, “thieves, renegades and deserters,” among them Dundee’s former friend Captain Ben Tyreen who joined the Confederates after the court martial at which Dundee held the deciding vote.

Originally released in 1965, Major Dundee was a complicated production, produced by Jerry Bresler who had no experience with the epic Western format talented, ambitious but troubled director Sam Peckinpah who intended to make his masterpiece despite the script being unfinished and sometimes improvised, shooting sufficient footage in inaccessible locations to construct a rough edit over four hours long, cut substantially by the producer then again by the distributor to a more manageable two hours, resulting in a film that was often more military parade than structured narrative.

In 2005 a new version of the film was constructed, reinstating thirteen minutes of footage and replacing Daniele Amfitheatrof’s anthemic soundtrack of male virility and victory with a more reflective score by Christopher Caliendo, and both versions are presented on Blu-ray from a 4K scan in the new edition from Arrow along with their customary comprehensive supporting features, multiple commentaries, essays and interviews on both the film and the legacy of Peckinpah, war stories from the front line.

A maker of iconic films who himself could be almost impossible to work with, challenging and sometimes threatening cast and crew, those few who came to be his stock company and friends were fiercely loyal, with star Charlton Heston standing up for the director when attempts were made to replace him; swaggering and blustering as hard as he ever has, Major Dundee was a major role for him, and Peckinpah had surrounded him by an ensemble who made up for his shortcomings while allowing him to remain the undisputed leading man.

Starring Our Man Flint’s James Coburn as the wily and cynical tracker Samuel Potts, Hellfighters‘ Jim Hutton as Graham, capable when given the chance, and A Man Called Horse‘s Richard Harris as Tyreen, in many ways more honourable than Dundee, the cast also includes Warren Oates and R G Armstrong who would reunite on Race with the Devil and Deep Space Nine’s Brock Peters while improbably cast Austrian starlet Senta Berger serves as a love interest for both Dundee and Tyreen and Michael Anderson Jr’s voiceover attempts to cover excised plot points in what is an angry but directionless film, at war with the natives, the south, the French, and ultimately itself, much as Peckinpah was himself.

Major Dundee is available on Blu-ray from Arrow now



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