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

Jack P

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Reggie W said:
People who don´t like what we have done can always watch the original version. The 1965 version is still as it was, in mono, we did not stereorize it or anything and offer the new score only for the new, lengthened english version. I know and expected it to be controversial, but the issue is clearly worth discussing it.
But what people *can't* do on Blu-Ray which they could do on DVD is watch the original preview cut (which is what the long version is) with its original score. That is the one point that unfortunately Mr. Crisp never could understand and its why having used the Blu-Ray only to rip the Amfitheatrof score to CD, it will not be watched by me again. The old DVD which gave the viewer the "freedom of choice" with the longer cut (which is a better narrative) was the solution that should have been retained.


Daniele Amfitheatrof has for too long been made a scapegoat for the shortcomings of a film that failed more because its director couldn't come up with a coherent narrative for the final third of the movie.
 

Reggie W

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I presented Mr. Crisp's comments because I felt he had thoughtfully explained how they came to add a new score to the longer cut. I thought it was interesting to have his comments here because he was in charge of the restoration and specifically addressed an issue that was much debated here.


I don't think that Daniele Amfitheatrof is being scapegoated for the shortcomings of the film, I think it was just clearly expressed that Peckinpah felt the music on the theatrical release was damaging to the film...and really the "fall in behind the major" lyrics are ridiculous in light of where the film is going and who the characters are. Amfitheatrof was not responsible for those lyrics and was not responsible for how his score was used in the film and based on comments we've seen attributed to Amfitheatrof he also was unhappy about these things. So, I'd say the producers were responsible for any shortcomings in the film as they took it away from Peckinpah, chopped time and money from the budget, banned him from the studio, hired the Mitch Miller singers, added those lyrics and that ridiculous song, and purposed Amfitheatrof's score in ways he was not comfortable with.


Maybe there could have been a better compromise when Mr. Crisp was doing the restoration and they could have dumped the song and reworked parts of the original score into the longer cut of the film that better suited where the story was going. I still think that the blu-ray set and the work Mr. Crisp and his team did was outstanding and went way beyond what most would have done to restore Peckinpah's vision. I also greatly appreciate that as well as presenting the longer version of the film, which I think is the definitive cut of the film at this point and under these circumstances, that Crisp thought to keep the theatrical version completely intact.


I still think the big issue with the film is nothing that Peckinpah or Amfitheatrof did but rather that the producers either failed to understand or just plain did not like that the central character, Major Dundee, was not a hero but more a reckless disaster of a man and attempted to "fix" this by cutting the film, adding that crazy song, and using the music and sound to attempt to paint a different picture of what is really going on in the story.
 
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Billy Batson

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I remember enjoying this when I saw it at the cinema, but I can't make it to the end these days, too much talk & not enough action, & then the whole thing becomes a complete mess. In his biography of Peckinpah (If They Move...Kill 'Em!) David Weddle writes that after the success Of The Wild Bunch, Columbia offered to let his restore Dundee, but Peckinpah declined. As the author puts it - "Dundee was more useful as a lost masterpiece than a rediscovered failure". I always liked the Amfitheatrof music score.
 

David_B_K

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Reggie W said:
I still think the big issue with the film is nothing that Peckinpah or Amfitheatrof did but rather that the producers either failed to understand or just plain did not like that the central character, Major Dundee, was not a hero but more a reckless disaster of a man and attempted to "fix" this by cutting the film, adding that crazy song, and using the music and sound to attempt to paint a different picture of what is really going on in the story.
I put the blame with the problems with Major Dundee on Peckinpah for not knowing where he was taking the character. I cannot blame Amphitheatrof for being confused. A lot of posts talk about the Dundee character the way Reggie does above. Many complain about how the entire mission to get Charriba character and free the boys is entirely wrong because "Dundee exceeded his authority". This might be a fair assessment if the story were to occur today, and Dundee has caused a war to break out and you're watching him give congressional testimony on TV.

But this is a freakin' western movie! Seriously, who wants to watch a western about an officer who fails to avenge the slaughter of his men and the Rostes family and get back the missing boys? Going off on his own private war is exactly what we'd expect from a western movie hero. In fact, the idea is basically what Gen. Sheridan orders Col Yorke to do in John Ford’s Rio Grande. For about the first half of the film, Dundee is not a "reckless disaster". When he shows up at the site of the massacre, he seems to be thoroughly in command. His strategy of putting together a disparate force of Union soldiers, confederates, scouts, etc. is a brilliant one, and I think at that point of the film, we are supposed to see it that way. Far from appearing to be a disaster, Dundee comes off (to me) as an in charge officer who has the respect of his men. I love the moment when he orders Lt. Graham to fire on the French garrison in the village. We, the viewers are distracted, but Dundee is calculating all the while the moment to give the order. The fly in the ointment with the expedition is the whiney British/confederate Tyreen, who lets his personal dislike of Dundee color his opinion of everything.

If Peckinpah had intended this movie to be the story of a disastrous expedition led by a flawed character, he should have started the film that way and laid some groundwork. The movie seems to me to be a movie based on two screenplays. The first one was a more conventional western. Peckinpah apparently conceived of a new story somewhere along the line, but did not implement it in time to make it work. I know the film is compared to Moby Dick because of Dundee’s obsession with getting Charriba. Maybe Peckinpah wanted to adhere more closely to Moby Dick and wanted to show that Dundee’s obsession (like Ahab’s) would cost the lives of his men; so he had to show a breaksdown in Dundee? In any case, I don’t think the Dundee breakdown works in the film. Heston had not played his character that way. Heston comes off as entirely competent, but with a touch of cynicism, which was a trait Heston brought to many characters in his career. He does not come off IMO like a martinet, but rather a swaggering cavalry officer as one would expect from Charlton Heston. Maybe Peckinpah should not have cast Heston? Maybe he should have inserted some scenes of Dundee alone taking a drink to steady his shaky nerves, or looking in a mirror and saying “all those people who said I’d never amount to anything were wrong! This time I’ll show them!” He does none of this. I am sure the movie went into production with the intention of being a heroic Heston blockbuster along the lines of some of his previous films.

Heston said in his autobiography that he felt Peckinpah got what he was after with Dundee when he made The Wild Bunch. I think this is a fair assessment. From the start, Peckinpah shows the Wild Bunch as men who are rapidly becoming out of place in the modern world, and their story moves on to its inexorable unhappy finish. I think he tried to impose that sort of vision of doom on Major Dundee and failed to make it work. Either the studio didn’t want it, or he simply bit off more than he could chew; but it was not going to work unless Peckinpah re-wrote and re-shot the film. I think many here are such Peckinpah worshippers that can’t help but turn Major Dundee into Peckinpah’s Magnificent Ambersons. I’m not a big Peckinpah fan or detractor. I quite like some of his films. Some I don’t care for. I think he got a little too ambitious with Major Dundee. I still enjoy the film as a flawed, but entertaining movie. I think the first half is quite good, but it gets lost after Dundee gets shot with the arrow, and meanders along the rest of the way. However, just because something is flawed, it isn’t a disaster. I liken it to a symphony with a poor movement, or an opera with a bad act, or an album with a couple of poor cuts. I can still enjoy the parts I like while mildly suffering through the parts that don’t (IMO) work.
 

Jack P

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To me, the best compromise for the Blu-Ray would have been to give us *all* versions of the film, and that means letting us see the preview cut (I am not going to refer to it as the extended cut because I think there is a misleading impression that this new footage was found and put back into the film to create a cut that had never seen the light of day before) with its original score as some audiences did in 1965. This option was made available on DVD and I felt at the time it was the best of all possible worlds because it meant I could appreciate the new scenes that clear up two important gaps in the narrative (what happened to Riago and where does this strategy for defeating the Apache at last come from) without having to subject myself to a fan-created score which is the only thing I can call Caliendo's work. If the alternate score were something composed *at the time* like Herrmann's rejected score for "Torn Curtain" that would have been different. I'm not about to give Caliendo the kind of respect I wouldn't give for Mark Heyes' music replacement on "The Fugitve" episodes because both represent the same kind of tamperings that should never happen to a film or TV episode, period IMO. (that said, I find it extremely ironic how when others will defend the presence of the Overture/Entr'acte on the "1776" laser disc, even though it comes from music composed at the time and was based on memos and cue sheets prepared by the original arranger, Ray Heindorf, some of the people who are so quick to defend what was done on "Dundee" will weigh in about 'tampering' etc. and the alleged illegitimacy of the Overture as some pure fan-boy edit) The bottom line is that to say I have to go back to the original cut of the film to hear the right score with these two critical gaps in the narrative and should be satisfied with that when after five years or so the preview cut had become my preferred viewing option is not an acceptable solution IMO in terms of what it is I'm going to watch in the future.


David I think also brilliantly sums up the other problem that has plagued "Dundee" over the years, in that too many Peckinpah fans have been taking an uncritical view of Peckinpah and not realizing that he was trying to impose a vision into the storyline that in many respects simply doesn't work, and too often this leads to a convenient whitewash of Peckinpah's actions that had as much to do with the why the film ended up only a collection of some brilliant parts that didn't add up to a good sum total. Heston didn't approach the movie believing Dundee as a character was this Ahab type. He thought he was making a movie that would go beyond a traditional Western by exploring more the deeper issues of the Civil War in the story and the uncomfortable scene where Brock Peters is taunted by the Confederates is IMO a brilliant example of the kind of movie Heston thought he was doing. Showing the tensions of the war play out in this mission where a disparate group is thrown together to fight for the common good of avenging a brutal massacre and killing a monster, as Chariba is. But what does Peckinpah then do? He throws this movie completely off-kilter with meandering down-time in the village and fixating on the problem of the French and then dragging in Senta Berger into a wildly implausible quickie relationship with Dundee and the whole sideshow of Dundee's wounding and descent into drunken despair in another village. And then, after finally getting things back on track a little bit we don't even get a proper ending of return to the Fort and learning what happened to Dundee. If this was really supposed to be a film about Dundee and a dangerous obsession, then why wasn't Peckinpah bright enough to write an ending showing Dundee getting court-martialed for exceeding his authority or perhaps getting hailed as a hero but he knows in his heart he doesn't really deserve it? Instead, the film just.....stops and for years I always thought that some of the rumored "lost" footage would at least answer that. Turned out it wasn't so. The ending is exactly as Peckinpah scripted it. With that in mind, I seriously doubt that any other missing footage would ever fix this film because all it would likely do is just pad out the bad parts even further.


Peckinpah also has to shoulder the blame for the ridiculous implausibility of Richard Harris' Tyreen character. Tyreen we learn hates Dundee because Dundee "betrayed his kin" by staying loyal to the Union. Why should that matter though to an Irish immigrant like Tyreen who wasn't born in the South? Well, the reason is because Tyreen wasn't scripted originally as an immigrant, he was supposed to be a native Southerner, but as Heston revealed in his diary, Harris couldn't handle a southern accent at all so Peckinpah, rather than admit that perhaps the wrong guy had been cast in the part (frankly Harris comes off as insufferably arrogant to me in this film. I have never bought into the argument that he is the moral hero of the story) instead just make him an Irish immigrant so he can use his own accent and problem solved (and never mind the fact that in the process it totally undermines the credibility of Tyreen and his relationship with Dundee. Not to mention the fact that Irish immigrants who came to America predominantly settled in the North, not the South). This is a classic example of how sometimes, the director is not quite as brilliant as devotees of the auteur school would like to make us think, and its a reason why this obsession with treating the film like "Peckinpah's "Magnificent Ambersons" as David excellently puts it, represents carrying things to an extreme. Peckinpah to be sure was done wrong by the studio in some respects, but he also has to bear his share of the blame for what happened. And in the end, it's not IMO right for a new version of the film to trumpet the fact that it has a brand new score and leave the uninitiated with the impression that a supposedly bad score was responsible for the film's problems.
 

John Hodson

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It's long been argued that Peckinpah was only too aware of the film's problems, and engineered many of the issues simply so that he could lay the blame elsewhere and, instead of having to fix the unfixable, revel in the 'what ifs?' of a film the studio wouldn't let him finish. See also (the superior but similarly flawed) Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid...
 

OliverK

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John Hodson said:
It's long been argued that Peckinpah was only too aware of the film's problems, and engineered many of the issues simply so that he could lay the blame elsewhere and, instead of having to fix the unfixable, revel in the 'what ifs?' of a film the studio wouldn't let him finish. See also (the superior but similarly flawed) Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid...
I think that Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid works better as a movie as it is not as uneven as Major Dundee and I hope that we will be able to see both the short and the two long versions on Blu-ray in the near future. I think I will still prefer the long cut that has been out since the laserdisc days but it is good to have all three versions.
 

Billy Batson

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I think that Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid works better as a movie as it is not as uneven as Major Dundee and I hope that we will be able to see both the short and the two long versions on Blu-ray in the near future. I think I will still prefer the long cut that has been out since the laserdisc days but it is good to have all three versions.
I still have my fingers crossed for a Peckinpah release from Warner this year. As for Pat Garrett, I like what's known as the Turner cut, not the latest one. I'd think Warner will release those two cuts, like they did with the DVD release. Oh for an announcement from Warner!
 

OliverK

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Billy Batson said:
I still have my fingers crossed for a Peckinpah release from Warner this year. As for Pat Garrett, I like what's known as the Turner cut, not the latest one. I'd think Warner will release those two cuts, like they did with the DVD release. Oh for an announcement from Warner!
Ah yes, the Turner cut - that's what it was called. My favorite, too among the three versions. They also seem to have Ride The High Country ready for a release judging by how that movie looks on Amazon.
 

johnmcmasters

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Any thoughts on the German blu-ray mediabook release of "Major Dundee" with both the preview and release versions -- and with the Amfitheatrof score available on the extended, preview, cut of the film?
 

Robin9

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Any thoughts on the German blu-ray mediabook release of "Major Dundee" with both the preview and release versions -- and with the Amfitheatrof score available on the extended, preview, cut of the film?
I watched the preview version today. It's good but not dazzling so and it's a huge upgrade from the DVD. It has an audio commentary from Glenn Erickson ("Cinesavant") plus the old commentary from the usual gang of Peckinpah fanatics. I'm not much for commentaries but I'll give both a try in the next few days.
 

Jack P

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Didn't know about this German release until now. Nice to know that they knew how to do the Blu-Ray release right as opposed to how TT totally dropped the ball when it came to the preview cut. If only I had the player that could accommodate it (though maybe Dundee will one day get a second chance on Blu-Ray like some other Sony/Columbia titles earlier done by TT have like "Bell, Book and Candle").

EDIT-Moments after I learn that Germany has done this title right, I also learn that so too has Australia. I guess the powers that be have finally recognized that those of us who found TT's release unsatisfactory had a legitimate point if they've gone to the trouble to finally have an HD version of the long cut with the original score available for release.
 
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Jack P

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It's been fascinating for me to get caught up on the saga of how this film that has intrigued me so much because of its lost potential, is getting revisited again. This is an interesting Glenn Erickson article on the German Blu-Ray which put the original score back on the extended cut (and paved the way for the similar Australian release which I have now pre-ordered).


I appreciate the fact that in both this and in his 2013 review of the TT Blu-Ray (which is linked in the article) he dispels some nonsense from the testy exchanges of this forum at the time the TT release came out. TT kept saying that the long cut *never* had the original score on it so ergo it was legitimate for them to create from scratch a new score and it was ergo illegitimate for the original score to be on the long cut. That never made any sense to me because their commentary track which they acknowledge was made before the new score was commissioned was done with the old score in place. You can hear it distinctly as they comment. But attempts to raise this question kept getting ignored or shouted down as if the idea that to question the TT spin was sacreligious.

Erickson makes the point that this was a "preview" cut done by the producers at the time which did play in a number of overseas markets and so the argument that the long cut originally did not have the original score was simply not true. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Redman who has now passed away and who did outstanding work in so many TT releases and film score releases we should all be grateful for, but I really feel as if he and the TT people were so attached to the new score that they engaged in some deliberate fudging of the true facts of this film's history to justify suppressing the original Bresler approved preview cut with its original score as it played in many theatrical venues. I'm glad that Erickson, whose knowledge of the film is far more extensive has corrected this and that we are seeing proper presentations on Blu-Ray at last. The true archival duty to film history can be served, and simultaneously all those who hate the original score can still listen to the alternate to their heart's content.
 
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