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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Major Dundee: The Extended Edition (1965)

Major Dundee: I hope he was dead when they did that to him.
Sgt. Gomez: If he was dead, they wouldn't have bothered.

- Charlton Heston, Mario Adorf

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 19, 2005

Stars: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, James Coburn, Michael Anderson Jr., Senta Berger
Other Stars: Mario Adorf, Brock Peters, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Michael Pate
Director: Sam Peckinpah

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Some Sensuality
Run Time: 02h:15m:41s
Release Date: September 20, 2005
UPC: 043396049437
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There are numerous examples of studio or producer mischief causing a mess of what would otherwise be a great film. Von Stroheim's Greed and Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil mark just a few. Although crude attempts can sometimes be made at reconstruction of an approximation of the director's intentions, it's pretty rare that such a realization can actually occur. Sam Peckinpah was fired from his third film, Major Dundee, and it was edited by the producer, disregarding Peckinpah's plans substantially and transforming what could have been a seminal Western and war film into a pedestrian and frequently incoherent picture. This extended version restores some twelve minutes of footage, recently remarried to its soundtrack. The result still isn't quite what was intended, but it makes a good deal more sense now at least.

In the waning days of the American Civil War, a band of Apaches led by Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate) is raising havoc in a large portion of New Mexico, massacring a substantial part of the Fifth Cavalry in the process. Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston), disgraced veteran of Gettysburg, is determined to capture Charriba, and to do so he assembles a ragtag force of soldiers, horse thieves, Confederate prisoners and deserters and attempts to forge them into a fighting force capable of ending the threat. In the process, Dundee becomes obsessed with the Apache, taking his troops deep into Mexico and sparking war with the French forces there. His principal foil, Lt. Benjamin Tyreen, is both an unreconstructed Confederate prisoner and an old enemy of Dundee, but the major has little choice but to depend on Tyreen's word that he will faithfully serve in exchange for a release after the Apache has been captured or killed.

Peckinpah is determined to show the grit, filth and bloodiness of cavalry battles, in deep contrast to the antiseptic epics of John Ford. In this way Peckinpah is anticipating the influence of his The Wild Bunch on the Western, with its emphasis on the gritty details of life in the desert. But even so, Peckinpah is far more concerned with the interaction of his characters. The men are in constant conflict: Union against Confederate, Confederate against the black soldiers, Dundee and his personal issues with Tyreen—not to mention a three-way romantic clash between them and Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton) over Mexican doctor Teresa Santiago (Euro-bombshell Senta Berger)—as well as the political situation between America and Mexico and France. He layers the conflicts so thoroughly that they produce almost insoluble Gordian knots of interpersonal conflict. The drama is primarily fueled by Dundee's Ahab-like obsessions; the parallel with the peglegged captain from Moby Dick is probably intentional, for Dundee is injured in the leg and makes a point that he does not want to have it sawed off.

One thing that helps Peckinpah, even without the ability to edit his footage, is that he has a marvelous cast to work with and he gets the most out of him. In particular, he coaxes out one of Heston's most nuanced and convincing performances, giving a brilliant portrait with minimal iconic posturing. Richard Harris is hardly recognizable as the Southern gentleman who bears ill will toward the major for having him cashiered some years earlier; he has a fiery antagonism that is also blended with Irish charm to paint a memorable character. Jim Hutton is a little overbroad at first in portraying Graham's inept enthusiasm, but as the character grows he becomes more plausible and eventually quite appealing. James Coburn delivers a terrific performance as the one-armed scout Samuel Potts, bound up in a Lon Chaney-like harness that's pretty convincing. Warren Oates has a small but important part as deserter O.W. Hadley, who forces Tyreen to make a critical decision as to where he is going to keep his loyalties. The casting of Berger feels a little opportunistic, but she acquits herself well even though she feels a bit extraneous in what is clearly a picture for and about men through and through.

Even though Dundee and Tyreen are ostensibly the heroes, they're both exposed as men with feet of clay. Wrapped up in his obsession, Dundee dissolves into alcoholism and debauchery; Tyreen, despite his oath of loyalty, quietly betrays it by surreptitiously shooting Union soldiers during a night-time battle. This gives them a depth seldom found in such films. Even though substantial parts of Peckinpah's vision remain AWOL (the entire first reel is still missing, except for a few random shots that survive, and the climactic battle was supposed to be in his signature slow motion), there's still a good deal to appreciate here. The added scenes help clarify quite a few issues, including restoring the introduction of Tyreen's character and resolving what happened to scout Riago, who otherwise just vanished from the film. It's a much more satisfactory film and definitely worth checking out.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For the most part, the anamorphic widescreen picture looks fine. Colors are natural and black levels are pretty good, though occasionally shadow detail is a bit plugged up. The extended scenes are seamlessly reintegrated, and you'd never know which they are just from the visible evidence. The principal issue, as with so many Columbia titles, is excessive ringing, partly from compression artifacts and partly from unnecessary edge enhancement. But it doesn't detract a lot from the beautiful photography that makes excellent use of the wide format.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: One of the attractions of this version is the replacement of the inappropriate and frequently silly score thrust onto it against Peckinpah's wishes, with a brassy but still evocative score by Christopher Caliendo. That score is present on a 5.1 remix, while the original score is present for purists on the mono track. Oddly, the tracks are not switchable on the fly, making direct comparison of the scoring of particular scenes very difficult indeed. This is poor planning on Columbia's part. The 5.1 track sounds quite good, although the separation of dialogue occasionally feels a bit forced. The bass levels are significant, surprisingly so for a film dating from 1965. There's also a French track, although the extended scenes still have English dialogue present.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Korean with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peckinpah historians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:38m:43s

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and still gallery
Extras Review: As befits a release as important as this one, Columbia loads up the disc with extra materials. Four Peckinpah historians get together to discuss the director's history and techniques as well as the history of the film, and it's quite an interesting analysis, including analogies to both Vietnam and Iraq. They don't disagree much, however, so don't expect it to be riveting in and of itself. More of the troubled history of the film is detailed in a lengthy excerpt from Michael Siegel's documentary Passion and Poetry, about Peckinpah's career. This 21m:58s excerpt includes interview materials with many of the cast and crew (though not Heston), as well as old audio interviews with the director himself. It's quite interesting and if you only want to spend time with one extra feature on this disc, this is the one to zero in on. There's a period featurette, Riding for a Fall, a promotional short for the film centering on the stunt men, particularly those called upon to fall of horses. But it's full of behind-the-scenes footage, with fascinating details such as an underwater dolly track. It's presented both in a restored 16mm black and white and an ancient video transfer of a now-useless 8mm color element.

Film writer Glenn Erickson contributes a booklet essay about the mutilation and restoration of the film that's quite interesting. Even though deleted material has been reinstated, there is still some footage that wasn't in shape to put back into the film. The most important of these is a knife fight between Coburn and Sgt. Gomez, which is missing its resolution and thus not useable. There's also a slightly extended version of the love scene between Dundee and Teresa and a series of outtakes from the lost first reel that would have detailed the massacre; as the film opens the slaughter is already substantially over. There's a somewhat sparse gallery of a dozen black & white stills and a handful of poster art designs, as well as some footage of the art that ended up on the poster (resembling a Siquieros mural) that was shot for an abandoned version of the trailer. Finally, there are trailers from both the original release and the 2005 release of the extended version. Unhappily, Columbia has decided not to use anamorphic enhancement even when much of the bonus material is widescreen; the only elements that get the anamorphic treatment are the original trailer and weirdly enough, the still gallery. This lack of enhancement is the only thing keeping this disc from a solid A grade for extras.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Peckinpah's vision is restored to some degree, making this a much better picture. The transfer has some compression issues and edge enhancement, but the extras are both voluminous and exceptional.


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