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A few words about...™ Major Dundee -- in Blu-ray

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#21 of 37 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted April 27 2013 - 02:44 PM

Well this is where we differ beyond the music, because frankly I wish Peckinpah had dialed back this obsession with making Dundee more flawed then he needed to be depicted.   The things he added to further skew the film in this direction, the whole pointlessness of Senta Berger, the over-emphasis on the French rather than the Apache menace, the drunken despair scene, are the film's biggest flaws from a narrative standpoint.     And given that Peckinpah didn't even give us an ending of them returning to clarify what happens to Dundee, I'm wholly unconvinced that another 25 minutes of more down time in the village (as one lost scene was, showing a knife fight between Gomez and Potts) or showing battle scenes in slow-mo would have helped the narrative.    The long cut fixes the film's worst narrative problem the theatrical cut left us with regarding the fate of Riago and the matter of the strategy they are now employing against the Apache to defeat them.      Other than that, the only narrative problems that remain for me would be showing more of the Rostes massacre at the beginning and giving us a scene at the end back at the fort tying things up (and making note of the fact that the war ends by the time they have returned, which is a detail this film cried out to address).    Since neither was shot, the film is unfixable even with a phantom long cut of the "Peckinpah vision" from my standpoint.


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#22 of 37 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted May 01 2013 - 05:49 AM

I like the flaws in the Dundee character because I think they help explain why he would set off on such an outrageous mission...so I think that aspect improves the story and also creates a dynamic between Dundee and Tyreen that fuels the conflicts that take place. 

 

I can't argue with you about the Senta Berger portion of the film and the fact that it brings the proceedings to a halt. While I enjoy seeing Senta going for a swim I'm not sure that in any way fits with what is going on in the film. Not to mention it is a little hard to figure out why she would have an interest in Dundee at all being that his actions set off a series of events that are a disaster for her. 

 

The only thing I could really come up with in regards to the romance with Teresa is it was a way to show whatever Dundee touches he destroys through his arrogance.

 

I also agree that last third of the film is sort of a mess and to me feels rushed. I sort of felt it played like "Ok, we're out of money so wrap this thing up." 

 

It does feel incomplete but I have to say all the things Peckinpah brings to the picture really made me love it even with the faults it has. I don't know what would have happened if Sam had the chance to shoot and include everything he wanted to but I do get the sense watching the film that you had people pulling in two opposite directions and they did not have the same vision for what this film was going to or was supposed to be. 


Edited by Reggie W, May 01 2013 - 04:19 PM.


#23 of 37 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 01 2013 - 10:21 AM

In his detailed book "If They Move .. Kill 'Em", biographer David Weddle gives an account of the making of Major Dundee that clears up a lot of confusion about who is responsible for what. Peckinpah started out with more time and more money than he ended up with. Columbia sent Peckinpah a 37-page treatment by Harry Julian Fink. After consultations with the director, Fink wrote a 163 page script that fell short of the author's promises. Not only did he write a routine, juvenile Hollywood western, unfinished with a stalled second act, no third act at an overlong 163 pages, but he delivered it at the 11th hour. Peckinpah and his team knew they had time to write while prepping in Mexico, and proceeded on that basis until the studio threw a monkey wrench into their efforts. Columbia abruptly reduced the budget and shortened the schedule -- a very unprofessional thing to do and which would have destabilized any director. Peckinpah and his team did the best they could to pull the script together while filming, but they started out at a disadvantage, and the film is flawed because of it.

The theatrical version released in 1965 plays out like a rough draft with all the elements in place but out of balance. The script needed work. After watching it last night and then rewatching it with the commentary channel on, the compromised theatrical cut turns out to be a much better film than I realized. For all its flaws, there is a narrative structure and a depth to the characters that rings true to the time and place in which the story is set. In other words the film has historical intelligence, and Sam Peckinpah put it there. It also has a third act which, though truncated, Peckinpah appears be responsible for putting there, too. Sure there are narrative and motivational problems, but in the end, the goal stated at the outset -- to recover the kidnapped children and to destroy the Apache marauders led by the barbarous Chariba -- is delineated. I also like what the character of Theresa brings to the story; she has no illusions, and her assurances to the Major that there is no food left for his soldiers to steal in her starving village is a refreshing reality-check in a Hollywood western. With its emphasis on character development -- such as Amos Dundee's good intentions, his fall from grace and redemption -- and historical sensibility combined with a realistic depiction of frontier violence and cultural conflict Major Dundee is a soulful bounding leap in the maturation of the western.

A new standard for authenticity in western costuming and props is established. There are no bad performances. Indeed the actors seem to be living their roles. The different landscapes with the changing terrain, the centuries-old Spanish architecture crumbling on its adobe materials, lend pictorial value, and were worth the time, effort and money that Peckinpah invested in them because they tell the story in purely visual terms. The film is beautifully photographed and expertly edited. On a shot-by-shot basis this is high-calibre work. Contrary to popular misconception, the river battles are expertly choreographed. The story Peckinpah sets out to tell in these two fights does in fact get told; hardly the chaos that some naysayers describe. I can't think of any other western prior to 1965 that looks and feels like Major Dundee. The earthy, tactile aesthetics would become Peckinpah's signature style.

 

Incidentally, everybody knows how to ride in Major Dundee. Nobody bounces up and down in the saddle like actors do today. It is a pleasure to see spirited horses put through rugged paces instead of being reduced to standing still in the background and making simple entrances and exits, which is all recent westerns require of horses.

 

A director always takes the heat, but instead of criticizing Peckinpah for the film's imperfections, he should be commended for pulling Major Dundee together and for investing the film with an individual vision of the west that had never been seen before.

 

I won't comment any further on the score, except to say it is an act of sabotage.


Edited by Richard--W, May 01 2013 - 02:43 PM.

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#24 of 37 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 01 2013 - 02:22 PM

We're leaving out the matter of Peckinpah's lack of professionalism during the shoot which is ably documented in Heston's journal and his autobiography, and since Heston is the one who went to the mat for Peckinpah to keep him from getting fired, it utimately advances the reason for why the clash as a case of Peckinpah-good vs. Studio-evil doesn't hold water.    He specifically faulted Peckinpah for wasting time by picking locations that required too much set-up time and also for being routinely late every morning to the point of being "eccentrically unreliable" so that after just two weeks of shooting he had "alienated the producer and the cameraman."    It's frankly small wonder that the studio developed a low opinion of him under those circumstances.     Not that Peckinpah wasn't wronged by the studio in some areas, it's just that the story of Dundee is more a case of where the blame has to go around to all parties, and that includes Sam Peckinpah.    This is why I've never sympathized with the perspective that only he knew how to do things right on this film, because that to me is taking the concept of auteurism to an even higher level than I ever would accord it.



#25 of 37 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 01 2013 - 02:53 PM

Yes, I'm leaving that out because it doesn't matter. I'm more interested in what Peckinpah achieved rather than what he didn't. Let's credit him with all the virtues he brings to this film. He is responsible for everything that is unique and special about Major Dundee. He is responsible for all its strengths. No one else could have made this movie.



#26 of 37 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 01 2013 - 03:48 PM

Whether that matters or not is a purely subjective take for the individual but the information should be made available if we're going to evalute fairly this movie's production history and make assertions about how "unprofessional" the studio was to advance one perspective on the production.   In my case, the information Heston reveals has a lot to do with the reason why I don't have any instinctive sympathy for the idea that this film deserves to be seen exclusively through the eyes of how Peckinpah would have done it.      If he's responsible for all the film's strengths, then he's also the one who deserves all the blame for why the studio wasn't going to fork over any more money to him and also for why the script is an incoherent mess in its final third.      And the fact that the film isn't as satisfying as it should be in telling its story matters a lot more to me than whether or not he got the costuming and props right.



#27 of 37 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 01 2013 - 04:34 PM

I reject the equation "If he's responsible for all the film's strengths, then he's also the one who deserves all the blame for why the studio wasn't going to fork over any more money to him and also for why the script is an incoherent mess in its final third." The incoherencies start in the second act. There would not be a third act if Peckinpah hadn't written one with Oscar Saul on the set doing the best they could under adverse circumstances caused by Fink and the studio. I disagree that the third act is incoherent. The plot points are resolved in the clear text of the third act. The character development never got sorted out but one can see the outlines and possibilities. In the end Columbia wound up paying for more shooting time and a longer schedule anyhow. According to his biographer, when Peckinpah went over schedule and over budget he wasn't fired because Columbia was so impressed with the footage he was sending them. Of course, if Fink had delivered a completed script, and if Columbia had NOT reduced the budget and shortened Peckinpah's schedule after he had started principle photography, the situation would not have got out of hand in the first place.


Edited by Richard--W, May 01 2013 - 04:39 PM.


#28 of 37 OFFLINE   John Hermes

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Posted May 01 2013 - 04:41 PM

I reject the equation "If he's responsible for all the film's strengths, then he's also the one who deserves all the blame for why the studio wasn't going to fork over any more money to him and also for why the script is an incoherent mess in its final third." The incoherencies start in the second act. There would not be a third act if Peckinpah hadn't written one with Oscar Saul on the set doing the best they could under adverse circumstances caused by Fink and the studio. I disagree that the third act is incoherent. The plot points are resolved in the clear text of the third act. The character development never got sorted out but one can see the outlines and possibilities. In the end Columbia wound up paying for more shooting time and a longer schedule anyhow. According to his biographer, when Peckinpah went over schedule and over budget he wasn't fired because Columbia was so impressed with the footage he was sending them. Of course, if Fink had delivered a completed script, and if Columbia had NOT reduced the budget and shortened Peckinpah's schedule after he had started principle photography, the situation would not have got out of hand in the first place.

The movie definitely starts going downhill after the halfway point.



#29 of 37 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted May 01 2013 - 04:59 PM

I find it straying off course before the halfway point. Without getting too technical, to simplify, the second act is traditionally the longest part of a film, encompassing the middle of the story, is about an hour long and is divided into two parts. A longer film like MAJOR DUNDEE has a second act lasting over 90 minutes. I'll diagram the structure for you if I must. The problems in MAJOR DUNDEE start during the transition out of the first act and into the second act, and grow progressively worse. I wish the third act were stronger, but it's not where the problems lie. Yet, what's there is so rich in texture, in ideas and in visual metaphor, that the film rewards repeated viewing even though it's flawed.


Edited by Richard--W, May 01 2013 - 05:03 PM.


#30 of 37 OFFLINE   John Hermes

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Posted May 01 2013 - 05:04 PM

Without getting too technical, to simplify, the second act is traditionally the longest part of a film, encompassing the middle of the story, is about an hour long and is divided into two parts. A longer film like MAJOR DUNDEE has a second act lasting over 90 minutes. I'll diagram the structure for you if I must. The problems in MAJOR DUNDEE start during the transition out of the first act and into the second act, and grow progressively worse. I wish the third act were stronger, but it's not where the problems lie. Yet, what's there is so rich in texture, in ideas and in visual metaphor, that the film rewards repeated viewing even though it's flawed.

 "I'll diagram the structure for you if I must."  

Geeze, are you condescending or what?  Why don't you try lightening up a bit...for once.


Edited by John Hermes, May 01 2013 - 09:14 PM.


#31 of 37 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 01 2013 - 05:25 PM

I reject the equation "If he's responsible for all the film's strengths, then he's also the one who deserves all the blame for why the studio wasn't going to fork over any more money to him and also for why the script is an incoherent mess in its final third." The incoherencies start in the second act. There would not be a third act if Peckinpah hadn't written one with Oscar Saul on the set doing the best they could under adverse circumstances caused by Fink and the studio. I disagree that the third act is incoherent. The plot points are resolved in the clear text of the third act. The character development never got sorted out but one can see the outlines and possibilities. In the end Columbia wound up paying for more shooting time and a longer schedule anyhow. According to his biographer, when Peckinpah went over schedule and over budget he wasn't fired because Columbia was so impressed with the footage he was sending them. Of course, if Fink had delivered a completed script, and if Columbia had NOT reduced the budget and shortened Peckinpah's schedule after he had started principle photography, the situation would not have got out of hand in the first place.

 

I'm not sure I get why Peckinpah should be let off the hook for the fact that he didn't write a final act of the script that is logically coherent.     It seems to me that he could have found a lot more time to write a better end of the script if he'd followed Heston's advice and chosen locations that weren't so far away from the home base and which subjected his cast and crew to a lot of additional misery in the process.    And with all due respect the plot points are *not* resolved in the final act because Peckinpah didn't even think it necessary to give us a final scene of Dundee and the survivors returning to the fort.    This script should *tell* us what happened to Dundee.    Is he a hero for "mission accomplished" or does he get a dressing-down from his superiors?    Heck, even if you want to view Dundee as not much of a hero, you could have him return and be recognized as one but him thinking inside he doesn't deserve it.    At least then, we'd have some simple resolution of a point raised at the beginning by Dundee's deputy before he goes off.     And how can you have a bunch of Unions and Confederates who are acting out the whole Civil War in microcosm along the way (like in the brilliant scene of the one Confederate taunting Brock Peters; this is one of the elements I give Peckinpah praise for) and then not address the fact that the chronology has them returning at the *same time* that the Civil War itself is ending?     It's the failure to address these points that has always infuriated me the most about the film because it just stops cold right then and there.      

 

And the reason I dislike the whole sequence of Dundee gets drunk in the town and they must rescue him business is that coming on the heels of the earlier lengthy "down time" we saw in the village, this manages to throw the whole narrative of the film off completely where it seems like the original focus of the mission, the Apache is getting lost in the shuffle.   Personally, this is why I like the fact that the "stinger" Amfitheatrof used for the Apache is there in the score because since a whole half hour goes by without hearing this, it manages to serve for me as the voice of the audience wanting to ask, "Hey, what happened to the Apache?   Remember them?    Why all this down time with nothing happening there?"      The French IMO should only have been seen at the very end of the film for the final battle of getting back home, after being an unspoken threat all this time as the kind of "unpleasant fact we're putting off to the last moment".    But this change you have to blame Peckinpah for, because if the paperback novelization is an indication of what the original Fink draft was, the French indeed in that earlier version weren't seen at all until the final battle (and interestingly, Tyreen is *not* killed in that version).


Edited by Jack P, May 01 2013 - 05:26 PM.

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#32 of 37 OFFLINE   Moe Dickstein

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Posted May 01 2013 - 05:49 PM

Why do you spend so much time on a film you don't seem to like very much Jack?
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#33 of 37 OFFLINE   Jack P

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Posted May 01 2013 - 06:14 PM

There's a lot I like about the film.    I simply don't hold to the notion that the film's flaws are due to the fact that Sam Peckinpah was done wrong.

 

Now the question I have for you, is why do you post in two threads about a film you've said you never even saw?



#34 of 37 OFFLINE   Moe Dickstein

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Posted May 01 2013 - 08:53 PM

Because I find the posts interesting
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#35 of 37 OFFLINE   haineshisway

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Posted May 01 2013 - 09:00 PM

One must, I think, separate completely the main title music AND the sound effect thing from the rest of Amfitheatrof's score.  His actual dramatic underscoring of the film is fine - he was an extremely talented composer who did a lot of good work.  The main title cue is Mitch Miller and The Gang all the way - the theme is Amfitheatrof, the lyric is not, nor is the arrangement.  The sound effect thing has nothing to do with the composer either.  Blame the studio for that.  Amfitheatrof is not to blame for the shortcomings of the theatrical version.  His dramatic score (sans main title) may not be one for the ages or the equal of Jerry Fielding, but it's no disaster.

 

The Caliendo score just doesn't do it - it doesn't sound organic to the film - that's the first problem - it's just kind of laid on on top of it.  Fielding would have done a great score, I think everyone knows that, but he and Peckinpah had yet to get together.  The film is fascinating and I prefer the shorter version, frankly.  The longer version is what someone today thought that Sam might have wanted, but no one knows what Sam wanted, I'm afraid, or what he would have done if he ultimately had been allowed to finish it all himself.


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#36 of 37 OFFLINE   Grubert

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Posted May 09 2013 - 04:43 AM

Instead of ordering a new score they should probably simply have tried to re-score the film by using the Amfitheatrof one in a more subtle way. Closer to how Music was used in TWB.

 

Apart from the score I think that Major Dundee works fine enough for me even in the 122 min theatrical cut, and for that of course a lot better in the 135 min version. And I'm following Jim Kitses who called Dundee "one of Hollywood's great broken monuments". And "it is clear that the released version is a severely damaged work that Peckinpah could only look back on with pain and misgivings. However, for all this, in my view the power and meaning are still there, the structure and imagery clear, the deeply personal statement of the film undeniable."

 

I have read about an earlier, but then not realisable very daring idea of the Apaches becoming more and more like ghosts or phantoms, which in the film's second half completely disappear while Dundee and his troop gets annihilated by their inner conflicts and in the ongoing skirmishs with the French soldiers. In the light of that it is not a great wonder that the Apaches are less seen in the second half of the film and that their killing is directed in an anti-climactic style. The end of the Apaches is not a glorious battle, nothing to be proud of, only an ambush closer to a slaughter than a battle. In typical Peckinpah manner he does not acclaim the victory over the Apaches but Dundee's final fight with the French, in which Dundee can only save his live, but it is a battle in which, before it actually begins, he has lost what he went for to Mexico. Dundee has lost his game, which he probably had already lost when he crossed the Mexican border, or at least after the early river ambush.

 

I don't think that Dundee has any structural problems. I assume that an 180 min version would have become a truly great film, maybe another masterpiece.



#37 of 37 OFFLINE   JSLasher

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Posted May 12 2013 - 05:12 PM

In respect to Daniele Amfitheatrof's score I should mention that I knew the composer, and visited him many times whenever he travelled to Hollywood, flying over yearly from his home in Italy. We discussed Major Dundee on more than one occasion. It was, as he recalled, an unhappy experience, one which caused him to abandon Hollywood altogether. The Major Dundee March, was an afterthought, instigated by the film's producer, in order to sell records. Amfitheatrof loathed the lyrics. What he originally composed for the opening credits was a dissonant cue, one which featured snippets of the other motifs used during the course of the film. Amfitheatrof also remarked about all of the tinkering by the sound department after the fact. John Towner Williams was a pianist on the recording sessions. It would be great if one were to get his impressions about the score.







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