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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Major Dundee (1965)

In 1864 as the Civil War is nearing its end, a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) leads a motley crew of soldiers including Confederate prisoners and civilian mercenaries into Mexico to pursue Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate) and his men in retaliation for the massacre of civilians and soldiers. Originally 2 hours and 26 minutes long before being cut by the studio (Columbia), Sam Peckinpah's ambitious sprawling epic western seemed cursed from the beginning. Peckinpah reworked the original script by Harry Julian Fink into a more complex western than it originally was with a conscious nod to Melville's MOBY DICK. Reputedly, Peckinpah drank heavily during the filming and was abusive to both cast and crew and Columbia wanted to replace him until Heston gave up his salary to keep him on the picture. When the initial reaction was negative, the studio cut the film against Peckinpah's objections. Would it ever have been a great picture if it had stuck to Peckinpah's vision? Who knows? But what remains (and I saw the extended cut which restores 14 minutes to the film) is more than good enough to suggest it might have been. As it stands, it's an engrossing look at a military martinet whose obsession and single mindedness result in a costly and unnecessary loss. The large cast includes Richard Harris, James Coburn, Jim Hutton, Senta Berger, Warren Oates, Mario Adorf, Ben Johnson, Brock Peters and Michael Anderson Jr.

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