"Major Dundee" is a forgotten, much underrated masterpiece, though
admittedly affected by many defects. Indeed, here the director Peckinpah is
(almost) as much innovative as in his undisputed best work "The Wild Bunch".
The realism of many scenes, like that of the camp-hospital, with the
badly-wounded bleeding soldiers lying on the ground, was stark new at the
time the film was made. The action scenes are fantastic. In particular, look
at the furious violence of the final brief battle on the river, note that a
pool of blood spreads out on the water where the horses are hit: never seen
such stuff before!
The story is exciting. The photography is wonderful: the beauty of the
Mexican locations is definitely stunning. The work of the whole cast is very
The clash between Major Dundee (Charlton Heston) and the Confederate
war-prisoner Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris) is somewhat conventional, but
the character of Dundee can be placed among the best depicted and most
interesting in the history of western movies. This frustrated soldier, a
typical born-to-fight fellow, has finally his chance to make war, pursuing
the cruel Apache Sierra Charriba. And he fights, kills, makes war against
everybody and everything (the Apaches, the French army in Mexico, his own
soldiers if necessary). Then, suddenly, something goes to pieces inside him.
He feels a mortal tiredness; he sinks into drunkenness, dirt, brutish
dejection. Then the Apaches reappear, and Dundee finds the strength to exit
from his self-built nightmare... and he restarts to fight, fight, fight...
This fellow has really no other choice: either to be an assassin, or to be a
brute. Strikingly original character!
It's true the movie have several faults. It is too long and often
slow-paced. The martinet officer played by Jim Hutton is out of place: this
comic character could be appropriate in a John Ford's movie, but he grates
much with Peckinpah's tragic vision. The scout played by James Coburn and
some other minor characters are uninteresting. And, of course, Senta Berger
is completely pointless: but she's so lovely that we can easily forgive her
I learn from other comments that "Major Dundee" was badly butchered by the
producers. I saw it twice at the theaters, and some other times on the TV. I
can say that the television version is very bad with respect to what I saw
on the wide screen. Many interesting details and subtleties have been cut.
And by no means we can forgive that two magnificent scenes are ruined: the
ambush on the creek and the carnage at the Apache camp in the wide-screen
version happen over-night! But in the TV version it seems that it's full
light! This leaves a feeling of annoying nonsense on the viewer (are the
Apaches sleeping during day?). Too bad!
Luckily enough, for all his misfortunes and troubles "Major Dundee" is a
great, magnificent, innovative movie.