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Major Dundee (2-Disc Limited Edition)
Set towards the end of the American Civil War, Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee is not the director's finest moment but despite its many and obvious flaws it remains an interesting picture in and amongst other entries in a decidedly interesting filmography. The storyline follows the titular character, Major Amos Charles Dundee (Charlton Heston), an ambitious Union officer who decides that he and his men will venture into the wilderness to take back some boys that were captured by the Apache Indians after a raid on a fort that left countless dead. He figures if he can save the boys and bring in the Apache's notorious leader, Charriba (Michael Pate), it'll do wonders for what's left of his reputation.
As he sets out to accomplish his goal regardless of the dangers involved, he and his troops contend with the presence of his once and former friend, Confederate Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris). They form an uneasy truce in order to bring Charriba in, but make no promises as to what will happen once that's over and done with. Along for the ride is a scout named Samuel Potts (James Coburn) and together they all head into Mexico, fairly unaware of what fate holds in store for them.
Major Dundee was a notoriously damned production. Peckinpah, being Peckinpah, wanted to create a truly epic western but wound up going over budget and wreaking havoc with his shooting schedule. Charlton Heston notoriously charged at him on the set and the director more or less put his men through the Hell that their characters would travel through in the movie. In its theatrical form, the movie is almost a complete mess, a disjointed picture that introduces characters who are never seen again and which throws out various plot threads that don't even come close to a proper resolution. And yet there are those moments that show just how damn good a filmmaker Peckinpah could be when the stars aligned properly. The cast is excellent and Heston's great as the grizzled tough guy lead. This is the type of role he was born for and the camera loves him. Harris is also great, he and Heston have a complicated relationship that borders on obsessive at times, while supporting efforts from the likes of James Coburn, Michael Pate, Jim Hutton, Mario Adorf and the mighty Warren Oates only serve to round things out in the best way possible. Throw in the beautiful Senta Berger as eye candy (she isn't a well-defined character at all) and the amount of talent that appears in front of the camera is remarkable.
The theatrical version is trumped by the 2005 restoration (and for the record this Blu-ray from Arrow Video, like the 2-disc DVD set from Columbia and the Blu-ray from Twilight Time that preceded it, includes both versions) but it's still far from a perfect film. As so much of the picture was taken out of Peckinpah's hands and as he is no longer with us there's no way for the definitive director's cut to actually ever exist. The restoration team did the best with what they had and this newer version fills in some blanks here and there. It's a better and more complete film and an obvious precursor to what Peckinpah would accomplish with this next picture, The Wild Bunch. There are plenty of similarities between the two pictures that link them as cinematic siblings, and they explore many of the same themes and ideas (at their simplest, both films both follow a gang of hardened men into Mexico on a mission that they may not come back from).
There's really so much potential here for the movie to have been a legitimate classic that watching the movie in either form is almost tragic. Maybe Peckinpah overextended his reach, maybe he wasn't ready to take on a project of this magnitude and technical/logistical complexity but when it works, when Major Dundee feels like Peckinpah's work and not like a recut atrocity completely buggered up by studio executives, it's gold. Granted, you've got to sit through a lot of obvious misfires, mistakes and completely baffling editing choices to find those nuggets, but they're there and worth looking for.
Both cuts of Major Dundee debut on two 50GB Blu-rays from Arrow Video in rock solid AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentations framed properly at 2.35.1 widescreen. The extended cut on disc one runs 2:15:50 and takes up 32.3GBs of space. Taken from a new 4K scan of unspecified elements (it's possible this would have been covered in the insert booklet for this release but it wasn't sent for review) by Sony Pictures, this transfer is very impressive. Colors look great, detail is always impressive and the presentation is a nice, gritty, filmic quality to it from start to finish. The frequent use of long shots in the film really benefit from the better picture quality here but so too do the close ups. Texture is strong throughout as well. Skin tones look great and there are no noticeable issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement issues.
Disc two contains the 2:02:18 original theatrical cut of the film, giving it 32.6GBs of space and taken from a 2K scan of unspecified elements. Not surprisingly, it doesn't look as nice as the extended cut of the film, but it's still a pretty nice transfer. Colors are a bit more flat looking here and detail isn't quite as strong but it's obviously important that this set include this cut of the film and it's given a very respectable presentation, generally looking very clean and quite strong.
Audio options for the extended cut include a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound track with the new score by Christopher Caliendo as well as the original mono option and its original score from Daniele Amfitheatrof in 24-bit LPCM Mono format. The 5.1 track sounds nice and some will certainly appreciate the new score as it is quite good. Things are opened up nicely here with some good surround usage with the score's placement and with some of the effects work, mostly noticeable during the battle sequences. Dialogue stays clean and clear and the track is balanced. Purists will opt for the mono mix and it too is of very nice quality, offering a clean and balanced listening experience that is, if less flashy, much closer to the original theatrical experience. For the theatrical cut, the only option is the original mono track in 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 format. It also sounds fine, with good balance and depth and clear dialogue. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for both cuts.
Extras: Disc One: Extended Version Carried over from previous editions, we get a commentary track from Peckinpah experts Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle in which the participants banter back and forth about the convoluted history of the movie and offer up some interesting and often times very different interpretations of certain scenes. The disc also contains an audio commentary by historian and critics Glenn Erickson and Alan K. Rode and a third commentary where Glenn Erickson flies solo. Both of these tracks are also very strong. Understandably, there's some crossover between the three talks about Erickson and Rode have a good chemistry on their track together and Erickson's solo track also proves quite worthwhile as the guy is just a wealth of knowledge about this particular film. Moby Dick On Horseback is a brand new visual essay by David Cairns that clocks in at twenty-nine-minutes in length. In this piece, he goes over the history of the film's producer and screenwriter and, of course, Peckinpah's career as well. As the talk continues over various clips and stills we learn about the film's themes and ideas, how it presents conflict, some of the connections that existed between the different players before the movie was made, Peckinpah's blaming the studio for Dundee's failure, how the film is in so many ways a remake of Moby Dick and comparisons between this picture and Melville's novel and lots more. It's a smart piece, well-thought out and quite interesting. It even connects Major Dundee to the Gidget movies! The disc also includes a Passion & Poetry: The Dundee Odyssey
Disc One: Extended Version
Carried over from previous editions, we get a commentary track from Peckinpah experts Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle in which the participants banter back and forth about the convoluted history of the movie and offer up some interesting and often times very different interpretations of certain scenes. The disc also contains an audio commentary by historian and critics Glenn Erickson and Alan K. Rode and a third commentary where Glenn Erickson flies solo. Both of these tracks are also very strong. Understandably, there's some crossover between the three talks about Erickson and Rode have a good chemistry on their track together and Erickson's solo track also proves quite worthwhile as the guy is just a wealth of knowledge about this particular film.
Moby Dick On Horseback is a brand new visual essay by David Cairns that clocks in at twenty-nine-minutes in length. In this piece, he goes over the history of the film's producer and screenwriter and, of course, Peckinpah's career as well. As the talk continues over various clips and stills we learn about the film's themes and ideas, how it presents conflict, some of the connections that existed between the different players before the movie was made, Peckinpah's blaming the studio for Dundee's failure, how the film is in so many ways a remake of Moby Dick and comparisons between this picture and Melville's novel and lots more. It's a smart piece, well-thought out and quite interesting. It even connects Major Dundee to the Gidget movies!
The disc also includes a
Passion & Poetry: The Dundee Odyssey, a feature length, seventy-five-minute documentary about the making of Major Dundee by Mike Siegel, featuring James Coburn, Senta Berger, Mario Adorf, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Gordon Dawson. Other segments from Siegel's Passion & Poetry documentary have appeared on Blu-ray releases specific to the film covered and they've been excellent. This one is no exception, as it goes into a load of detail about where Peckinpah's career was at this point, his head-butting competitions with the studio, what it was like on set and loads more. It's also loaded with a wealth of fantastic archival material. Consider this piece essential.
Passion & Poetry: Peckinpah Anecdotes: Nine Actors Talk About Working With Legendary Director Sam Peckinpah is made up of interviews with Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, James Coburn, David Warner, Ali MacGraw, L.Q. Jones, Bo Hopkins, R.G. Armstrong and Isela Vega and it runs twenty-six-minutes in length. It's interesting stuff, lots of great firsthand accounts here of what he was like to work with and hang around with and be with. It gives a very personal slant to Peckinpah's life and times. Like Borgnine says… "He was human after all…. The bastard!"
Mike Siegel: About The Passion & Poetry Project is a forty-four-minutes piece in which filmmaker Mike Siegel talks about how he got into Sam Peckinpah's work and why he decided to make the insanely in-depth Passion & Poetry documentary which has been excised on this release and others. He opens by talking about when he learned of Peckinpah's death and goes from there to explain how he got into his work, more or less became obsessed with him and deemed it important to create such a comprehensive look at the man's life and times.
The first disc also includes an extensive collection of still galleries, featuring rare on set, the 2005 re-release trailer, menus and chapter selection.
Disc Two: Theatrical Version (limited edition exclusive)
Riding For A Fall is a seven-minute a vintage behind the scenes featurette that shows some interesting on set footage showing how one of the stunt men workong on the film was able to fall and roll off of a horse. From here, we see what it was like on set, how the stunt men prepare for some of their scenes and more.
The disc also includes three Extended/deleted scenes: Major Dundee And Teresa's Swimming Scene (0:40), Knife Fight (3:38) and Silent Outtakes (4:20). You can also check out just under seven-minutes of compiled scenes with optional commentary by Erickson that offer some very welcome context as to what Peckinpah's original intentions were with this material.
Finishing up the extras on the second disc are original US, UK, UK uncropped and German theatrical trailers, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.
As to the packaging, Arrow has done a really nice job putting this set together. Each disc get sits own separate case that fits inside a sturdy cardboard slip featuring some great artwork from Tony Stella on the front. Also included inside is a full color collector's booklet that contains credits for the movie and for the Blu-ray release as well as new writing on the film from Farran Nehme, Roderick Heath and Jeremy Carr. A fold out poster featuring the aforementioned Stella artwork is also found inside. It's a very nice looking package.
While few would regard Major Dundee as Peckinpah's finest work, it's an interesting step in his career and while it's absolutely got its share of problems, so too does it have some truly excellent moments. If nothing else, it's a chance to watch a great cast do some fine work and while the studio meddling and production problems obviously hurt the picture, it's still very much a movie worth seeing. Arrow Video loads this release with extras and presents it all in excellent shape. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.