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Saturday, May 24, 2008

MAJOR DUNDEE (1965)


Irascible helmer Sam Peckinpah lived for conflict, on & off screen, and his second pic set the pattern of editorial butchery for the rest of his career. The ‘extended cut’ DVD retrieves about a reel & a half of footage, but the story problems remain intractable. A big cast (Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Jim Hutton, Senta Berger, Ben Johnson, Brock Peters, the great Warren Oates & a host of familiar faces) all work their hearts out in a Civil War era story about Union soldiers (black & white), Confederate POWs, mercenaries & criminal types, joining forces to capture some renegade Apaches. But the narrative never comes into focus as the Apaches all but disappear on-screen while North & South, black & white, even a French brigade take turns as chief adversary. The restoration has a new score (Christopher Caliendo for Daniele Amphitheatrof) and an anachronistic refined/desaturated palette for Sam Leavitt’s lensing, but it remains a fascinating miss/mess at best. Still, essential viewing for all Peckinpah mavens. (see also THE LAST FRONTIER, an Anthony Mann film with similar problems & similar concerns)

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