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June 6, 2013

Movie Review: Major Dundee (1965, Two-Disc Extended Edition Blu-ray)

There really aren't too many directors that can compare to Sam Peckinpah when it comes to his complexity as a man and all-around filmmaking talent. The director was a true visionary and did something to the Western genre that even took the violence of the Old West to a level that even the Italian Spaghetti Westerns didn't portray. Major Dundee is one of those fine examples (along with The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) that tries to do something a little unique by adding the element of the Civil War to a Western film. It's available now on Blu-ray in collector's edition two-disc set from Twilight Time and it begs for attention if you love all things Peckinpah.

Major Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston, The Ten Commandments, and Soylent Green) is a man on a mission to track the vicious Apaches who slaughtered dozens of folks in a village. As determined as Dundee may be, he can’t do it with a small gang; he needs an army, so he enlists the talents of a variety of soldiers, cowboys, drunks and misfits to take the journey. With the help of a war prisoner named Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris, A Man Called Horse) the men go forth on what becomes a dangerous undertaking by tracking and hopefully killing the Apaches.  As you’d expect much of the signature Peckinpah violence on display, just not near as gratuitous as The Wild Bunch. With that said, the carnage on screen is still very effective.

Several of Peckinpah’s regular’s pop up for brief or more crucial roles – Warren Oates, L.Q Jones, James Coburn, Ben Johnson and R.G Armstrong round the cast of all-star talent. The lovely Senta Berger adds some excellent scenery as (one of) Dundee’s love interests. I will say that, of the supporting cast, R.G Armstrong is a personal favorite as the crusty Reverend Dahlstrom. Watching him throw around a racist southerner who harassed a young black soldier around a blazing campfire is a thing of beauty.

Major Dundee is really a gorgeous film, with its sprawling landscapes and authentic Western background. A lot of credit for the amazing visuals on display in Major Dundee go to director of photography, Sean Leavitt (Cape Fear, Pork Chop Hill), who really shines in what really is an epic film.
Twilight Time has provided a treasure trove of special features in this limited edition release of Major Dundee that's as ample as Senta Berger's glorious bust-line  You can of course choose between watching the theatrical version and the extended cut (Both on separate disc. The extended cut is really the way to go and doesn't seem to drag or add anything useless to the story-line.

On the set we get numerous outtakes, an “Exhibitor Promo Reel Excerpt” an Extended Scene: "Major Dundee and Teresa" and incomplete deleted scene called "Knife Fight". Both are cool scenes, plus in “Knife Fight” you get to see a one-armed Coburn showing of his knife skills. Isolated tracks and theatrical trailers are also included among the extra features.

In addition, we get an excellent audio commentary with film historians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. These guys do a fine job sewing some loose ends together and bring up some interesting points about the cast and production. One observation brought up that struck me was how the grandiose scope of some scenes - such as a shot showing groups of men on horses coming over the hills in the distance - would likely be CGI nowadays. Some cool behind-the-scenes information is also brought to light such as how the climatic water battle at the conclusion was filmed on platforms. Definitely a great listen overall.

Major Dundee is easily one of the best films Peckinpah had to offer during his career and looks fantastic remastered by Twilight Time in this extended cut release. Only 3,000 pressed for this title so grab it before it sells out!  Highly Recommended.

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