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Major Dundee
Twilight Time
Savant Blu-ray Review

Major Dundee
Twilight Time
1965 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 135 + 123 min. / Street Date April 9, 2013 / available through Screen Archives Entertainment / 34.95
Starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger, Jim Hutton, Michael Anderson Jr., Brock Peters, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, R.G. Armstrong, Dub Taylor, Michael Pate, Karl Swenson, Begonia Palacios, Aurora Clavell
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
Art Direction
Al Ybarra
Second Unit Director Cliff Lyons
Film Editors William A. Lyon, Don Starling, Howard Kunin
Original Music Daniele Amfitheatrof (1965) Christopher Caliendo (2005)
Written by Oscar Saul, Harry Julian Fink & Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Jerry Bresler
Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Review - Essay by Glenn Erickson

Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee has been a special film for this reviewer ever since professor Jim Kitses screened it in his western genre class at the UCLA film school in 1973. I've reviewed it twice, as a theatrical presentation and as a 2005 Sony DVD, probably saying too much and not enough in the struggle to express its special appeal. I've tried to clear up a lot of misinformation about the show, some of which has come from the cult of Peckinpah itself. The new Blu-ray release is highly problematic, at least for this (admittedly over-interested) fan, so I'll be getting into that too. The review here is really an essay -- a lengthy essay -- for confirmed Peckinpah addicts. Scroll down below -- far below -- to get the lowdown on Twilight Time's new Blu-ray.

There is no Peckinpah version of Major Dundee to be discovered, unearthed, or restored. Let me first direct interested readers to a page I've put together, that explains the discrepancies between the script, the release version before last-minute cuts were made, and the old standard release version. The full synopsis you'll find on this Versions Comparison page uses color-coding to distinguish material that is only in the script, from footage in the two versions that now exist (and are present on this two-disc Blu-ray edition).

Major Dundee according to DVD Savant:

Film history would have us believe that Sam Peckinpah was a genius betrayed on all sides by evil studio suits and a particularly awful producer. From what his actor associates and some of his writing collaborators have to say, one would think he was the most creative writer and director ever born. Charlton Heston's famous action, kicking back his salary to keep Peckinpah at the helm, is less an endorsement than evidence of Heston's steadfast loyalty to his directors, which include Orson Welles. The director had talent but was selective in the charisma department -- he made most of his creative partners and anybody who loved him miserable. The stories I've heard from industry professionals are practically unrepeatable. Having myself only seen Peckinpah once in public, I prefer to set aside sentimental odes to the man, and instead admire the impressive movies he made, before his early collapse into embarrassing hackwork.

Mangled though it is, Major Dundee is Peckinpah's true magnum opus. It's the remains of what should be a masterpiece, like a fantastic Rodin sculpture that was self-sabotaged and then vandalized from without. All the pieces are there to see what was intended... but intentions don't make great movies or win awards. Many scenes in Dundee are brilliant. Just as many are wholly inadequate. All those millions to film for months in Mexico, and the dailies show characters talking against blank skies, angles that could have been filmed in a Hollywood parking lot.

Enough with this Captain Ahab business.

Actor R.G. Armstrong's quotable remark that Peckinpah was making Moby Dick on horseback has been accepted by some as the last word on Peckinpah's unexpressed intentions. Well, Amos Dundee is nothing like Ahab. His goal is not rescuing children or killing Apaches or defeating the French. What Dundee wants is to become a great conquering warrior, a big shot historical hero. Achieving this means disobeying his orders and running wild in a 'personal war'. The western hero most like Captain Ahab is John Wayne's Tom Dunson in Red River. Both Peckinpah's screenplay and his direction of Charlton Heston point to a purposeful intention to critique the actor's 'noble hero' persona. I believe that Peckinpah hoped to pull off this coup without even Heston knowing what he was up to. Heston's Amos Dundee is a martinet and a selfish S.O.B., not an obsessed Melville figure. Dundee is at heart more of a career opportunist, the dark side of military ambition. His strategy includes setting up a Mexican village to be wiped out by the French. It's no matter as long as it serves his purpose.

Parallel Scenes in Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch.

Heston said that in The Wild Bunch Peckinpah had a chance to "do Dundee over again." In the 1969 movie, Peckinpah even has Pike Bishop say, "This time we're gonna do it right." Many writers have echoed this idea, but none go far enough. The Wild Bunch reshuffles and reworks Major Dundee in all respects, from its story structure to dialogue to characters to individual incidents within scenes. It goes way beyond the idea of armed men going into Mexico and fighting battles. The Wild Bunch reorganizes Dundee on a smaller, more controllable scale, but with bigger and more extravagant action scenes.

Far too many elements and events are similar in both movies, that this can't be unintentional. The second movie is actually a transmogrified remake of the first.

Roughly speaking, Sierra Charriba and his Apache warriors = Pike Bishop and his Wild Bunch. Major Dundee's motley cavalry troop = Railroad detective Pat Harrigan's band of deputies, led by Deke Thornton. This schema holds true for most of the film's events.

I could detail the entire movie, but here are some of the 'correspondences' in the first scene of both movies. The Wild Bunch begins with a massacre in the streets of Starbuck, a Texas border town. Dundee's first scene, cut from the final film, is a massacre at the Rostes Ranch. I'll put the Dundee material in italics.

At the Rostes Ranch, the Apache Sierra Charriba uses a Halloween party as cover for attack. In Starbuck, the Bunch use a temperance parade as cover for their escape. The Apaches sneak in undetected because the drunken soldiers confuse them with the Rostes children, some of whom are costumed as Apaches. Pike Bishop's bandits are able to sneak in disguised as soldiers.

The Rostes children are relative innocents pretending to be savages, play-acting the conflict between Indians and settlers. The kids in the streets of Starbuck are little monsters. They play-reenact the slaughter they've just seen.

The cute 16-year-old Beth Rostes is introduced when Bugler Tim Ryan plays the gentleman and asks to kiss her. After the massacre, she's singled out as a bloody corpse. Bandit Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine) extends his arm to help a lady across the street in Starbuck. Trampled under a horse during the massacre, she's left unconscious and broken in the street.

One of the last images of the Rostes massacre is of Sierra Charriba preparing to roast Lt. Brannin over a fire. One of the last images of the Starbuck massacre is of kids torturing ants and a scorpion in a fire pit.

Lt. Brannin and Dundee suspect that the attack at the Rostes Ranch was a setup arranged between the Indian scout Riago and his old chief, Sierra Charriba. Dundee's suspicion hangs on Riago's mysterious escape from the massacre, when he was bound and shackled. In Starbuck, Railroad detective Pat Harrigan suspects that Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) wants to rejoin Pike, his old outlaw partner (William Holden). Harrigan's suspicion hangs on Deke's seeming aid in Pike's escape: "Why didn't you shoot him when you had the chance?"

Note: A cut scene, not restored: after boasting that mules make the best mounts, Dundee has trouble riding an uncooperative one.

Harrigan calls Thornton a 'Judas Goat'. Dundee calls Riago a 'camp dog.' Both are despised and distrusted by men they try to serve. Therefore, Riago = Deke Thornton. Later on, The Riago connection migrates to the Mexican member of the Bunch, Angel (Jaime Sanchez). Both are figuratively crucified.

The Apaches terrorize the encroaching American ranchers because 'It's their land, all of it', even though they know they cannot win. Bitter and worn out, Sierra Charriba takes what comfort he can in defiantly embellishing his own legend: "Who will you send against me now?" The Bunch's robberies have degenerated into a personal vendetta against the railroad and its hired killers. The Bunch persists in raiding almost on existential principle -- there's certainly little profit and no future in it. Pike Bishop takes comfort in his own fatalistic pose, saying, "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Charriba leaves behind a suicide assassin at the Rostes Ranch. The apparently fanatically loyal Indian makes an attempt on Dundee's life by pretending to be dead, and then springing back to life in an ambush. Pike Bishop accidentally leaves one of the Bunch behind in Starbuck, a bloodthirsty moron called Crazy Lee (Bo Hopkins). Pike may have purposely abandoned the loyal but unstable Lee, who is shot down after springing back to life at an unguarded moment.

I could go on forever with these comparisons. Yes, many events in one show have no mirrored event in the other, but more than enough flesh out the thesis. My favorite is the repeated concept of a three-way clash between armed groups unclear who exactly they are fighting. In Dundee it happens as the Major's expedition crosses over into Mexico, just as a troop of enemy Confederates is spotted. In the script, these Confederates ride right up a bluff overlooking the river, and prepare to fire downward at Dundee's men as they ford across. Just at that moment, another group of Union soldiers approaches the rebels from behind. It's Captain Waller and General Carlton and a few riders, come to arrest Dundee for exceeding his orders. Peckinpah writes this as an absurdly comic mix-up, the kind that happens often enough in real combat. When they see the Confederates, Waller and Carlton turn and run like hell. The Confederates panic as well. Thinking that they've been surrounded, they break off their attack and run for safety. Dundee's men slip into Mexico unmolested.

Peckinpah repurposes this scene for The Wild Bunch as a three-way bloodbath during the escape after the train robbery. The absurd content is reduced to a couple of grisly details. Pike's wagon gets stuck crossing the bridge to Mexico, while Deke Thornton and the Bounty Hunters fire on them from a good position on the U.S. side. That's when the green Army recruits arrive. In the mistaken belief that the Bounty Hunters have robbed the train, they begin shooting at them from higher up the hill. The Bounty Hunters fire back. In the general mayhem, the Bunch are able to get their wagon moving and across the bridge to safety.

Peckinpah apparently liked this kind of "squeeze play" dynamic. At the end of Dundee the troop is fleeing back to Texas when they're caught at the river between two groups of French lancers. After all the guerilla combat, they're forced to fight a "real war" on European terms.

What I Learned at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Library.

The Peckinpah Collection at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provides evidence that confirms that Columbia took over the cutting of Major Dundee and locked Peckinpah out of the studio. But it also confirms that the producer-director conflicts began even before filming began, while documenting Peckinpah's lack of diplomacy, to put it kindly. The problems started in the writing stage, when the director was completely in charge. Pre-shoot correspondence between Peckinpah and Columbia executives indicates that story and structural faults in the final cut were known and debated from the very beginning. Memos suggest that the opening massacre be eliminated along with the burial scene. "The recruitment scenes are too long, and the movie loses focus after the kidnapped children are returned", the notes mention.

Bresler's memoranda indicate that he's totally at odds with Peckinpah's ideas for the movie. He continually focuses on the need to make a censor-proof picture to maximize Columbia's box office return, especially overseas. Throughout the preserved correspondence, Bresler objects to Peckinpah's fixation on violence and blood. After filming was completed, an improvised scene with the wounded Bugle Boy Tim Ryan became a serious bone of contention:

After the Christmas Eve ambush, Tim Ryan draws a drink of river water with a ladle. It comes up red, and he realizes that the river is still choked with blood from the battle.

Jerry Bresler considered this the height of terrible taste and vowed never to allow it in the movie. A similar scene with bloody visuals had appeared in the John Ford section of How the West Was Won, a family film, in 1962.

The Academy collection includes the often-quoted Peckinpah letters written after the director was barred from the Columbia lot, when he realized that producer Jerry Bresler had taken control. Now on the outside, aware that his movie is being editorially disemboweled, Peckinpah changes his tune. His notes contain assurances that he wishes only what's best for a great film and that Bresler should allow him to finish it properly: "It's a damn fine picture -- put away the axe and use tender loving care, and I'll help." But after seeing the mutilated Dundee five months later Peckinpah's reasoned arguments give way to venomous spite; the most memorable blaming Bresler as a treacherous 'well poisoner.'

Bresler was clearly a pain in the tail, but Peckinpah's response was to throw acid. In his notes Peckinpah reminds all that Bresler's vaunted claim to fame were a string of vapid Gidget movies. This was after the director had been fired off The Cincinatti Kid. He probably had nothing to lose -- "the word" had circulated that he was unemployable. Think of it -- even Orson Welles had been studiously polite in his Universal correspondence, trying not to lose control of Touch of Evil. What's better, a well-poisoner or a bridge-burner? Peckinpah's main defenders were a group of English and French film critics that included Robert Benayoun, Jacques Rivette, Enno Patalas and Ian Cameron. The Gidget movies made piles of moolah for Columbia. Of course they were gutless. Bresler believed they generated maximum rentals because he had scrubbed them of anything offensive, so that they'd sail through the censor offices of all those foreign markets.

All of Major Dundee's real problems can be traced to a script that Peckinpah never said was completed, and that the studio never liked. Researchers expecting to find a miracle masterpiece in the film's full shooting script are soundly disappointed. The one I've accessed is a Revised Final Draft, December 4, 1963, by Oscar Saul and Sam Peckinpah. The main discovery in the script's missing scenes is that Peckinpah intended to emphasize that Dundee's reckless mission as blatantly illegal. The script takes a much more critical view of Amos Dundee. Otherwise, the script's story structure is almost as muddled as that in the final film.

Again, the Academy special collection shows the source of the problem. Dundee was written from a treatment by Harry Julian Fink that sketches a tight narrative for the first third of the film.  1 Dundee's 'three orders of march' are there, along with the one-armed scout Sam Potts and the suicide warrior left behind at the massacre. Apache scout "Reago" was expelled by Charriba and uses his new Christian faith as an excuse to hunt down his old chief. The treatment also includes this full piece of opening dialogue from Sierra Charriba:

"I am Sierra Charriba! I am Apache! I have murdered your men, raped your women, stolen your children! I have defeated your warriors and cut off their noses and cut off their manhood, all that you have sent against me! Your hordes against my few. What can you do about it, white man!?" (to the sky) "Who shall you send against me now?!"

Charriba is given a cryptic line with which to describe himself: "And then came a tiger." The phrase was the film's suggested first title. A remnant of the idea survives in Teresa's dialogue line asking Dundee, "Are you the tiger that prowls these mountains?"

Fink's treatment is no gem. It's only thirty or forty pages long, and it abruptly ceases just about the time that the troops are leaving Fort Benlin. At that point the screenwriter interrupts and apologizes to his agent for missing his deadline. In just a few pages, Fink then offers a ragged outline for the balance of the show, a disorganized series of massive battles involving Juarista armies and an escape from a French Royalist prison, all with little or no character detail. It's roughly the story that can be read in Richard Wormser's paperback novelization of Dundee, published by Gold Medal Pocketbooks in 1965. At 128 pages the novelization is shorter than the film's final screenplay (!) and bears little similarity to it.

"Eclectic" hackwork.

After studying the 1963 dated script credited to Oscar Saul and Sam Peckinpah, it's tempting to conclude that it too was written under time constraints. Critics often credit Peckinpah for the idea of the "binary hero" that had worked so well in Ride the High Country, forgetting that the High Country screenplay is credited to N.B. Stone Jr., not Peckinpah.  2 The director never fully authored an original feature film script, but instead imposed his personal brand on them through expert dialogue rewrites. Despite its brilliant themes and strong characters the second half of the Dundee screenplay is very poorly constructed, a literal hack job.

Anybody conversant with John Ford pictures can see that Major Dundee is appropriating and commenting on them, just as does The Wild Bunch -- you know, "Shall We Gather at the River" sung at a funeral rudely interrupted by the hero, that sort of thing. I believe that the scriptwriters took a short cut to a final script structure, or the illusion of a structure, by borrowing elements wholesale from a previous Columbia epic about a daring mission in enemy territory: Carl Foreman's The Guns of Navarone. The parallels are clear. Dundee's main character conflict centers on the notion that Ben Tyreen takes an oath to kill Dundee after their mission is finished. In Navarone, the Greek Colonel Stavros (Anthony Quinn) has vowed to kill Gregory Peck's commando Mallory when the war is over.

Some of Dundee's major plot turns are also from the earlier war movie. In Navarone Mallory doubts his leadership judgment and is 'comforted' by the mysterious female commando Anna. Amos Dundee weakens under the strain of leadership and is comforted by Senta Berger and Aurora Clavel. Both dalliances prove to be mistakes. In Navarone, Anthony Quayle's commando leader Roy Franklin breaks his leg and can no longer lead the mission. To receive proper medical attention Franklin must be left in the hands of the Germans, who torture him for information about his compatriots. Amos Dundee is wounded in the leg and must leave his command for the same reason. While recuperating in Durango, Dundee's French enemies watch his movements, hoping he'll lead them to the American insurgents.

In Navarone Mallory's commandos seek shelter in a friendly Greek village. After they leave, the Germans burn it in reprisal. The exact same thing happens in Dundee when the French Lancers take revenge on Teresa's little village after Dundee's troops leave. Finally, Mallory reluctantly decides that he must execute a female traitor. Before he can do so, the woman's own best friend does the job with a pistol at point blank range. In Dundee the Major decides that a deserter (Warren Oates) will be shot. Before that can happen, the deserter's friend Ben Tyreen shoots him instead. Dundee even copies the Navarone editing pattern, with an identical surprise reveal of the unexpected executioner. Both of these 'intimate' execution scenes pale before the emotional complexity of a scene in Robert Bolt and David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, another Columbia epic. Peter O'Toole's Lawrence executes a dear friend to prevent his Arab force from splitting along tribal lines.

Given this Frankenstein approach to screenwriting, we should give Peckinpah even more credit for bringing the film to life with his rich, often politically acute dialogue. It's 1963 and critiques of Yankee adventures South of the border weren't yet considered radical chic.

More Revelations about the "missing opening massacre."

Jim Kitses' revelatory book Horizons West nailed the importance of Major Dundee early in the genre criticism game, positing Sam Peckinpah as the bastard son of John Ford and the successor to Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann, the genre messiah come to redeem the western. At the time, the story was that Columbia pulled the plug on the filming of Dundee, leaving Peckinpah unable to shoot any part of the Prologue at the Rostes Ranch, the one that Bresler had wanted to drop from the beginning. This made sense after the budget and shooting schedule was chopped down just before production began. That's when Peckinpah refused to reshape his proposed three-hour Road Show attraction into an ordinary (but nicely-budgeted) battle epic. According to Horizons West, the massacre was to be filmed last and as a result was not filmed at all.

In 1979 I was working at Columbia Pictures when I glommed onto a file copy of the Major Dundee screenplay. I also found a movie memorabilia store and purchased some quality Kodachrome transparencies from the movie. I saw pictures of two men standing by a fireplace sideboard, much like John Wayne and Ward Bond in The Searchers. As these weren't as exciting as other photos, I passed them by. I now think that they may have been photos of rancher John Rostes (?) and Lt. Brannin (Jody McCrea, son of Joel McCrea) talking about the Indian Riago, just before the Apache sneak attack. There was also another photo, of young Bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.) talking with a teenaged blonde girl wearing a bedsheet appropriate for a Halloween party. She clearly was Beth Rostes. The Rostes ranch house is visible in the background. I was pretty sure these were from the massacre scene that supposedly wasn't filmed.

In 1998 I met film researcher Darren Gross, who was also interested in Major Dundee. We had both approached Sony with a desire to ask what restoration work was being done on the movie, but learned little. This was before all the elements to rebuild what is called the 'extended cut' were located. We asked Robert A. Harris, who expressed interest and generously sent along some documentation of Dundee material he found in a lab. I also ran into a restoration expert at a lab, who told me that he had seen a French print of Dundee with additional scenes. It also had some French censor cuts to minimize slurs to national pride. One of the deletions reportedly was Sam Potts's remark that the French torturers "make the Apache look like missionaries."

Darren contacted foreign archives, and in 2002 found what we were looking for in Finland. An archive there had two long prints of Dundee, subtitled in Finnish but with English audio tracks. If elements for the long version were gone, these might prove valuable. We again contacted Sony but heard nothing back. As it turned out, 2002 was right about when Sony's Grover Crisp said he located the last part of the puzzle needed to create the extended cut, an intact audio master.

The lady in the Halloween Ghost Costume.

But Darren Gross's big Dundee coup came in 2006. Working from studio records, he tracked down and interviewed the actress who played Beth Rostes, who was now, forty years later, an executive with ecological and human development organizations. What she had to say was remarkable: she did the kissing scene with Michael Anderson Jr. and witnessed the filming of the entire opening massacre, including watching as the stuntman doubling her was shot with arrows. I looked at a recent photo of this interesting lady, and she has the exact same smile as the girl in my archive photo!

Darren's full interview is now online: Darren Gross Interviews Helen Samuels, the "star" of the Legendary Deleted Massacre Scene of Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee. As it overturns a basic assumption about the movie, I expect it will get wide attention.

Perhaps other large sections of the script were abandoned, but it appears that at least some of the legendary opening massacre was filmed. It makes total sense, in that the intended opening shot of the film (included as an extra) can be seen during the elaborate "burning page" optical that now opens the movie. In that shot we see Jody McCrea leading the ill-fated scouting patrol, wearing the Custer-like scarf mentioned in the script. Riding behind him in chains is Riago.

What all this really means is that Sam Peckinpah's Dundee never got a chance to take shape. When Columbia Pictures threw Sam Peckinpah off the lot and Jerry Bresler supervised the edit, many reels of filmed material were probably never even run through a Movieola. We already know that Peckinpah used multiple cameras for each take, but the film as edited generally settles for only a couple of angles per scene. And what about those thousands of feet of slow-motion action we are told were shot? I have a feeling that Bresler invited the stunt director Cliff Lyons to help put together the final battle scene, for it is little more than a series of stunts cut together. Look at the battles in John Wayne's The Conqueror sometime. Cliff Lyons was the stunt coordinator. The action is Mongols vs. Tartars, but the same stunt 'gags' are present, filmed and edited almost identically.

I doubt that the hundreds of thousands of feet of B Negative for Dundee still exist, but I'll bet that the original still photography does. It would be one of my dreams to put together a video or an illustrated book of the continuity of the full Major Dundee. That's what I plan to do in my next life, when I'm reincarnated as the heir to the Sony empire. Major Dundee is not an obsession with me, just an ongoing personal research puzzle. But it's fun to find an excuse to share some of my discoveries.

On to a discussion of the new Blu-ray disc.

The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Major Dundee is a double disc set featuring two versions of Peckinpah's mangled epic. Both are very good for picture and audio. I don't see the occasional grainy shots I remember from the old DVD.

Some explanation is in order. Around 2004-2005 Sony was able to re-integrate missing footage to restore the longest cut known of the film, the 134-minute final cut that was completed in 1965. It was screened in a number of countries around the world. For the United States, because Columbia rushed the film immediately into double bill situations, the movie was shortened to 123 minutes. This happened so fast that the official running time on the books was never changed. All the 1960s 16mm rental catalogs continued to note a 134-minute running time. Technically speaking, the 134-minute cut was not an extended version, but the real final cut of the movie as finished by producer Bresler. There never has been anything than can be called a Sam Peckinpah version.

Long considered a detriment to the picture, the original Daniele Amfitheatrof soundtrack was Jerry Bresler's doing, including its tie-in with Mitch Miller's Sing Along Gang, then an enormously popular TV attraction. As the Rostes Ranch burns during the title sequence, we hear an inappropriately jaunty male chorus singing the main Dundee march. Elsewhere Amfitheatrof's music score ranges from good to really ragged, overstated, or just unnecessary. The worst cues consist of bits of "Dixie" and other songs jammed together practically at random.

Normally, a producer drops music cues that work against the desired mood of a particular scene, reserving the main theme for really important moments, etc. Bresler uses the music like wallpaper, letting it noodle around with busy themes during what should be quiet dialogue scenes. The final capper is an electronic chime-like sound heard behind every single dialogue mention of Apaches or Sierra Charriba, no matter what the context. Very distracting, it cannot be compared to the 'eccentric' whistles and plunks and electronic punctuation that composers like Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone were beginning to work into their soundtrack scores. I believe that Bresler kept loud music over all of the action scenes as a way of avoiding an expensive sound effects job. With the music blaring, there is no need to layer in sound effects that won't be heard anyway.

In 2005 Sony opted to record a new soundtrack score to replace the original Daniele Amfitheatrof music, giving the movie a token theatrical reissue as a 'new extended version'. Most of the publicity around the reissue came from critics and soundtrack experts made uneasy by the idea of vandalizing updating movies by swapping out scores. Some talked about Brian De Palma turning down a proposal to improve his Scarface by replacing its Latin soundtrack with current hip-hop or rap music or some such thing... you know, for kids! Yes, Dundee's original music may bother some Peckinpah fans, but discouraging latter-day meddlers from "revising" movies, for whatever reason remains a good policy.

The risk is that the original version will be suppressed, and the revised copy passed off as the "real" movie. The 2005 DVD used seamless branching to give viewers the choice of seeing the long "extended" cut of Dundee with either the original score or the Christopher Caliendo replacement. A different title sequence played with each version, to credit the correct composer. I was told then that the new Christopher Caliendo-scored version of Major Dundee would never replace the original. But that is basically what is happening, as Sony now treating the Caliendo-scored version as if it were the legit version of Dundee. It is the only version available to cable TV.

Caliendo's replacement score creates as many problems as it solves. On the plus side, the music isn't as distracting. A few scenes are left un-scored, a very good move. The sloppy and repetitive Mexican party music in the village scenes has been greatly improved. On the negative side, the new score isn't as carefully tailored to the film's action. Many new cues just repeat one of the two main themes, practically at random. Where the old track added some flavor, the new composition tends to drone, without a firm connection to the images. Finally, the Caliendo music for the battles is dull. When it goes away, no new sound effects have been added to fill in the vacuum left behind. In other words, I don't think Major Dundee has been saved or improved with the new score.

The objection with the new Blu-ray is this: one cannot watch the long, so-called extended version with the original score. Disc one has the extended cut with the Caliendo score and its revised title sequence, and a bright new Isolated Music Track. Disc two has the original Amfitheatrof score -- but only on the old, short, pre-2005 cut, which we never needed to see on video again. This is called the theatrical version, when it is really the "last-minute chopped" theatrical version foisted on American audiences.

A couple of unfortunate untruths have been circulated on the web about the versions. The original Amfitheatrof music soundtrack does indeed fit the extended version ... it's right there to be heard on the 2005 DVD. What Twilight Time might have meant is that Isolated Amfitheatrof Music tracks do not exist for the original longer version. We've also been told that seamless branching to do the two title sequences was not practical. That and the idea of stacking multiple tracks on one disc seems more a function of Twilight Time's production restraints than anything else.

As soon as Sony restored the original longest theatrical cut, there was no longer any need for a home video release of the film's truncated domestic version. NOBODY protested when it wasn't represented on the first DVD. Someone needs to tell Sony that the Christopher Caliendo revision was an interesting experiment that will soon seem more dated than the film's original music score. This reviewer rushes to promote almost everything associated with Major Dundee, but the lack of a long original-music version on the new Blu-ray is very disappointing.

I'll be pulling this beautiful new Blu-ray set out when I want to sample the film in the best video quality. When I want to watch Major Dundee seriously, I'll have to refer to the older DVD.

Twilight Time has done due diligence presenting as many extras as it can. They all come from the 2005 DVD release. Besides the Isolated Music Scores, the #2 short "theatrical cut" has all the interesting scene fragments and raw outtakes, but not the interesting excerpt from the Mike Siegel documentary on Sam Peckinpah. The original trailer has been improved, and this time is presented in full Panavision instead of popping back and forth between formats.

The #1 disc with the "extended cut" repeats the old commentary hosted by Nick Redman with the venerated "Peckinpah Posse" of biographers: Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle. They spend most of their track time relating positive personal memories of Sam Peckinpah, while being dismissive and negative about the movie. The disc's package art reproduces a beautiful French poster., that far outclasses Columbia's domestic release artwork.

Julie Kirgo's liner notes walk a fine line between acknowledging the film's shortcomings and praising its strengths. She doesn't oversell the movie, which this writer seems to do by automatic reflex. At least Twilight Time has been left free to be candid in its remarks: Sony Home Video insisted on changes to the supposedly independent notes on the 2005 DVD.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Major Dundee Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Subtitles: English, both versions
Supplements: raw-take shots, promo cut of missing knife fight scene, artwork, original trailer; 2005 commentary, 2005 trailer; Isolated Music Scores for both versions.
Packaging: 2 Blu-rays in Keep case
Reviewed: April 18, 2013


1. The Sam Peckinpah Special Collection, The Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. BOX 19 Treatment May 17 '62 Harry Julian Fink.

2. Four of Peckinpah's westerns feature a pair of strong lead characters, that when combined represent a full personality, thus a 'binary' character: Steve Judd and Gil Westrum of Ride the High Country, Dundee and Tyreen, Pike Bishop and Deke Thornton of The Wild Bunch, William Bonney and Pat Garrett of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

3. A welcome note from colleague & author Steve Rubin, 4.21.13:

Glenn, Really enjoyed your monograph on Dundee. Fascinating information. I wish I had known more about this controversy when I interviewed Bresler in '77 for an aborted book on The Historical Films of Charlton Heston. I believe I gave my interview with Bresler to the AFI, it's probably still in their archive for public scrutiny.

I really liked the Amfitheatrof score. I know it was bombastic in parts and Fall in Beside the Major is considered the wrong tone, but it was a full lush score with some very classic beats that are entirely missing in the new score. For instance, I always liked Danielle's signature theme for the French lancers. Gone in the new version. There's that little moment when Tyreen sees the Confederate cavalry coming and we hear a little distant bit of Dixie. Gone in the new version. I agree with you that it seems that the new score doesn't really match the action or the mood of the film. Anyway, thanks for the great essay on one of my favorite guilty pleasure films. All best, Steve Rubin

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson

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