Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah, 1965)


(Yodlaf Peterson) #21

Is it a different cut of the film of just a longer version?

That’s the reason I ask, if it is just a case of it being longer of course that’s what I’d put on but that’s not always the case. As it’s a Peckinpah I haven’t seen (At least I don’t think so, I may have done as a kid as some images seem familiar to me) I’d like to know that I put the “right” one on.


(Yodlaf Peterson) #22

Here’s the cover btw, nice isn’t it.


(scherpschutter) #23

If I’m not mistaken there are two versions on the Blu-ray, one with a running time of 136 minutes, one with a running-time of 122 minutes (approx).

This is the part of my review about the different versions:

[i]= The Different Versions =

When Major Dundee went into post-production, Peckinpah was very busy courting one of his actresses, Begonia Palacios, in the movie the young Mexican girl who has an overnight affair with Tim Ryan. The girl’s family was against it, but Sam was madly in love and pushed through. He would indeed marry her the next year. In the meantime Columbia had hired three editors - William Lyon, Don Starling and Howard Kunin - to look at the 40,000 feet of film Sam had shot in Mexico. Peckinpah joined the group but almost immediately fell out with them. According to Ericsson, this is the moment that Sam ‘lost his movie’: he should have tried to win the studio for his way of thinking, but instead he infuriated everybody with his unwillingness to compromise.

However, the contract guaranteed him the right to make a first cut of the movie and to screen it in two try-outs. According to Webble, Peckinpah pruned the film down to 2 hours, 41 minutes (161 minutes), but then wanted to put 7-10 minutes (he had previously cut) back into it (which would make his ‘final cut’ 168-171 minutes long). Other sources mention a version of 156 minutes. But Sam didn’t get his screenings; instead Bresler took the film to New York and showed it to a group of exhibitors (owners of theatre chains). When he came back he told the film was too long and that he, Bresler, and his editors would cut down the film to acceptable length. Sam was denied access to the studio and without him the Bresler team brought the film’s running time back to about 136 minutes.

The studio still wasn’t satisfied, and cut the movie further down to 122 minutes, breaking its narrative backbone and creating a lot of inconsistencies.[/i]

Second quote:

The version that finally hit theaters (122 mns), was dreadful, fragmented and incoherent. The extended version, released on DVD in 2005, is a major improvement. It runs for about 136 minutes and must be close to what Bresler and his editors concocted in 1965, before the studio ordered to cut the movie down to two hours.

So the 136 mns is the best available of the movie (longer versions are lost)

The 122 mns version is a disgrace.

Conclusion: Do as Stanton says and watch the longer version.


(Yodlaf Peterson) #24

Cheers. Looking foreward to it’s arrival.


(ENNIOO) #25

Good idea on the dvd which Stanton mentioned where you can choose which score you want. Always been fine with the original score myself. There is some detailed info here re the score :

http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=95265&forumID=7&archive=0


(Stanton) #26

Thanks for the link Ennio. I always thought the long version was completely scored in 1965.

Funnily all books always mentioned the 136 min runtime for the film, while it seems that Major Dundee was released everywhere only with the 122 min. On the other hand at least the last scene with the Indian scout was not unknown. It must have been released at least in 16 mm prints or in TV versions.

The 136 min version is not a DC, but the producer’s cut. It is better for adding more material which gives the film’s themes and characters more depth. Only the early scene of the capturing of the confederates does not work cause it was cut down to the bare plot informations, and the cut parts were replaced by the voice over who has to explain what happens.

Even for this 136 min lenght the film would have been different if cut by Peckinpah.
And I’m sure that he would have made the slo mo shots working (at least partly working) if he could have worked with an editor of his choice. I’m also sure that the main editor of Dundee, a 60 year old Hollywood veteran, would have capitulated too if had he had to edit the slo mo shots of The Wild Bunch.

Instead of composing a new score I would have preferred it to re-score Major Dundee by using the original score. Which is quite good, only that it was used sometimes too conventional, that it was used in a classic Hollywood way, and for that sometimes clashes with Peckinpah’s anti-Hollywood attitude. They simply should have used the score more subtle, less obtrusive.
Of course the sung march over the titles is terrible.


(scherpschutter) #27

Bresler and his team made a 136 minutes version first. On Wiki and in several reference works, it is said that this version was first shown in theaters, but panned by critics, which made the studio quickly decide to remove another 14 minutes. Bresler was against this. I have found no confirmation of this theatrical release of the 136 mns version, maybe it’s a rumor that has become, in the course of the years, an urban myth.

What is also not clear, is how they made this 136 version in 1965. Bresler took a copy of Peckinpah’s rough cut (160-170 mns) to New York and denied Peckinpah his public screenings (he said, according to Webble: We had them, in New York). Did the Bresler team use Sam’s cut (seem more logical to me) or did they start all over again. I haven’t been able to find conclusive evidence.

I watched the film twice last week, first with the new score, than with the old score. I find neither of the two really impressive, but if I had to choose, I’d go for the old one.


(El Topo) #28

it was one of the films I always kept in mind when I watched as a youth, it was strage for my simple history knowledge what the hell the French were doing in a cowboys film,
Anyway quite a surprise the presence of European non British actors (without Hollywood experience) in all USA production, I’ve read somewhere that Mario Adorf came out a real diva in the european sets after doing Major Dundee in Hollywood


(Stanton) #29

All this here made me re-watch Major Dundee today.

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.”

It always worked well for me in the about 119 min fullscreen version I watched on VHS in the early 80s. Every single min which was added (at first via a British VHS with the 122 min version instead of the expected 134 min) only improved the film’s quality. I have to correct my comment about the editing. The editing is very well done, even if not completely supervised by Peckinpah. The loss of more violence is a pity and I can easily imagine a cautious including of inter-cut slo mo shots (I always felt that at certain points there could be slo mo in this film even before I read about it).

The well made battle scene at the end has an epic grandeur which reminded me of Griffith or Demille, but done in a different context. But all the violence and action is well done here.

Several things I see very different than Scherp.
Like Kitses I never saw any plot holes, only some of the secondary characters weren’t brought to an end in the shorter version. But even in the longer version a few disappear towards the end. And I think that the second half works as well as the first.
Also I think that the anti-climatic killing of the Apaches is exactly what the film needs. The film is about Dundee and his desire for glory or a career. The Apaches are only a chance for Dundee (but a risky one) to get this. 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 he has lost before it starts for what he went 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.
Btw there was maybe 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.


(Stanton) #30

What I don’t like are some too meaningful dialogues, which are sometimes a bit too pretentious. This is also present in the weakest scene of the film in which Dundee talks to Teresa about the war and goes swimming with her. But apart of the dialogues and the ultra-conventional swimming scene this is a very important (and otherwise well made) scene for the film. Dundee violates his own rules and the Apaches “punish” him for that with the shot in the leg. Interestingly Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch is punished by a similar leg wound he got from the husband of the only woman he ever loved. not the only obvious similarity between both films.

And apart from that scene I also have no problems with Senta Berger’s role. It is only a small one anyway, and it is well integrated in the film’s narrative.


(scherpschutter) #31

Well, I can live with the statement that the power and meaning are still there, for me that’s also the case and I thought I expressed that in my review. The rest of the comments seem a little fanboy-ish, as somebody called this tendancy of Peckinpah-fans to find all kind of excuses for the failures of their idol. But okay, every director has the right to his own fans, and every fan has the right to his own opinion.

The editing is indeed fairly well done. Personally I think the team took the Peckinpah rough cut of about 170 mns and cut it down to a length of 135 mns or so. This would imply that some of the editing was done by Peckinpah (contrary to what’s generally believed)

Of course the cutting of some of the violence hurts the battle sequence, but I don’t think it would be on the same level as the two great ‘battle’ sequences in The Wild Bunch. Somehow Peckinpah found what he had been looking for when making that movie. Personally I think the first half of Dundee is better than The Wild Bunch, but The Wild Bunch is the better movie, it’s more consistent, it has its flaws, but they’re less damaging, and it has a great opening and ending, plus the dead walk, three sequences that everybody remembers afterwards. Most important for a movie (unless it is studied in detail) is what people remember afterwards, not what they think while watching it (that’s probably the reason why the second half is usually called the more important half of the movie: people remember it better).

But I planned to do the Peckinpahs chronologically (for Ford that’s an unworkable script), so The Wild Bunch will be next. We’ll have plenty to talk about it then.


(Stanton) #32

What exactly is fan-boyish?

Actually I think that people who like Peckinpah are also very critical towards him (definitely in all the books about him). On the other hand his films are often overly criticised for things which in other director’s films are easily overlooked.

And especially Major Dundee is slaughtered by critics more than by the producers. :wink:


(Wild The Hunchback) #33

I obtained the 136 minute extended version recently and watched it last week. Great movie with great action.


(Stanton) #34

Here is again the link to the “complete” film, to everything which was written for the film, to the complete stuff of the screenplay:

http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s1632dun.html

I doubt that, after the budget was shortened by a third, everything was filmed, especially as this would have become easily a 4 hours film, and even the original plan was only a 3 hours one.

But the following scenes were always named as the ones which were cut by the studio:

  1. The original opening scene: The Rostes Ranch, New Mexico Territory, the morning of October 31, 1864. Cowboys and shepherds watch the 37 mounted men of B Troop climb the hill and approach the Rostes compound. Some of the locals know the soldiers and trade jokes with them as they ride in.

B Troop’s leader is 1st Lt. Brannin, an “Eastern book soldier” having a bad day. His exhausted men have been unable to track the renegade Apache raider Sierra Charriba. Bugle Boy Tim Ryan is eager to see the Rostes’ teenaged daughter Beth. Tim has been in uniform almost a year and has never heard a shot fired in anger. He’s also never kissed a girl.

A big Hallowe’en party is soon underway. The children of John and Mary Rostes and their neighbors the Romeros play in the yard dressed as ghosts and fierce Indians. The soldiers and cowpokes are drinking and carousing. Inside, Lt. Brannin angrily asserts that he’s certain that his Indian Scout Riago has purposely led the troop on a wild goose chase. Riago sits shackled by the campfire, under arrest. Brannin wants Riago tried and hanged when they return to their fort.

  1. Ryan catches up with Beth in the cornfield. She’s costumed in a sheet as a ghost. They watch as the cowboys rope the outhouse and drag it off its foundation, and then Beth wanders back toward the main house with Ryan following. He gets his big chance and asks her for a kiss. A montage follows of cowboys and soldiers getting rowdy, inter-cut with the children yelling and screaming as they play ghost and wild Indian. Then we see a kid with very convincing Indian war paint aiming an arrow. It’s a real Apache. In a quick succession of shots, Sierra Charriba’s warriors attack and kill the sentries before an alarm can be raised. By the time anyone realizes what is happening, a massacre is in full swing. Riago is seen leaping to his feet amid the confusion. Trooper Jurgenson protectively throws Tim onto a horse and shouts for him to flee to Fort Benlin. Beth reaches for Ryan but is cut down by arrows. Ryan escapes alone.

  2. On the way back to Ft. Benlin, Sgt. Gomez tells Dundee he’ll be going along on the mission against Charriba. As a boy Gomez was captured by the Apache and rode with them for two years.

  3. Dundee orders Lt. Graham to distribute whiskey as a reward for the safe river crossing. Sgt. Chillum drinks to the Confederacy. Dundee tries to be diplomatic by directing his toast only to the mission. In response, Wiley mutters, “Hell, I drink to whiskey.”
    (this scene is described differently otherwise: “Sgt. Chillum makes a toast to the confederacy, Reverend Dahlstrom one to the Union, which results in the whole command spilling their whiskey except for the mule packer Wiley”.)

  4. After the river ambush: The miserable company prepares to move out but the Major cannot get the mule he now must ride to budge. He’s finally thrown on his rear. The entire command breaks up in laughter, but silently.

  5. At the fiesta: By themselves, Dundee and Tyreen remember better West Point days with talk about breaking curfew and admiration for their commandant, Robert E. Lee.

  6. At the fiesta: (Sam Potts smiles at a woman, who snubs him.) Feeling lonely and mean, the drunken scout sees a girl he likes and picks a knife fight with her young man, Armando. The young Mexican is no match for Potts, so Gomez steps in to take his place. The two feint and nick one another with the crowd naturally favoring Gomez. Dundee doesn’t realize that the fight has become an affectionate contest, and tries to stop it at gunpoint. Gomez tells him off. Potts brandishes his knife again. before Dundee can act, Tyreen now takes up the challenge. Then Potts smiles, throws his knife down and dances away with Gomez, laughing. In a few moments Gomez, Potts and Armando are drinking and laughing together. Amos is the outsider, who “doesn’t get it”.
    (this scene is in an uncomplete form as bonus on the DVD, the beginning with Potts and the woman (in brackets above) is in the long version)

  7. In Durango: Delirious, Dundee experiences a thought-montage of previous events: The massacre, the exit from the fort, Teresa, Melinche, the river battle, the dance. A woman he presumes to be Teresa is revealed to be Melinche. The waking nightmare ends with a vision of Lt. Brannin roasting over the fire.

Peckinpah’s 156 min or 164 min version must contain all these stuff except the 2 opening scenes. and probaly this short scene too:

4b. After the river ambush: Hobbling from his wound, Tim Ryan dips a ladle into the river and finds he’s drawn a cupful of blood. Sickened, he must find a clear patch of water to take a drink.

With the opening scene the film’s runtime would be around the originally intended 180 min. Looks all very promising …


(Stanton) #35

Glen Erickson has revíewed the new Dundee Blu:

http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4150dund.html

And he has put an interview online which reveals that the complete opening scene with the Halloween party and the following attack of the Apaches was indeed filmed:

http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4155sam.html

Boy, how I wish they would found one day the whole Dundee footage somewhere!


(scherpschutter) #36

Well, the interview seems to prove that at least some filming was done, not that the entire sequence was filmed. The actress doesn’t remember things very well (she apparently had a crush on Michael Anderson Jr. and therefore remembers him above all other things). She mentions one shooting day (maybe a second), and I can’t imagine such a long scene was shot on one day. They might have continued filming without her, of course, but there’s no evidence for that. But okay, if it was filmed, we still have this problem why it was left out of the finished movie. Such a long action scene, completely cut? I can hardly imagine it.

My idea is is that some filming was done (there are photos of the attack, see an above post), but filming was never completed and the sequence was not properly edited. They must have concluded that the movie worked better without the rough material and with the actual “sudden” opening (which is, like I’ve said, very effective)

I would like to see this rough material though.


(Stanton) #37

The filming of the whole scene was already mentioned in some of the books. Apparently Peckinpah filmed it against the will of the producer, who did not wanted this scenes for 2 reasons:
The reduced budget and the fact that with this scene the stars did not appear in the first 20 min.

But this interview is the first real proof that it was indeed filmed. Actually the shot of the cavalry unit riding towards the ranch, which is in the bonus and can be watched partly in the first sec of the film, also indicated that there always was a good chance for this scenes being shot.
And the Rostes ranch was build as a set, so everything was there for Peckinpah to do it. There isn’t much sense in shooting the scenes with this girl (which includes parts of the Halloween scene and of the attack) unless everything else was also shot.
If the point of view was that of Ryan, than the attack must not have been filmed in its entirety, but maybe only to the point where Ryan escapes.

Actually the description of this scene alone makes it look great.

Too bad Peckinpah refused to make his own cut which Columbia offered him after The Wild Bunch. He also refused a similar offer from MGM to re-cut Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.


(Stanton) #38

Btw Scherp you got one name wrong in your review: the name of the writer of the biography is Weddle, not Webble.

And I’m still interested what you mean exactly with you fan-boy remark?


(scherpschutter) #39

It’s indeed Weddle, never noticed that. Good book, btw.

Fanboy comes from the link Ennioo gave. In the discussion one author uses the term, in an adequate way, I must say.

Peckinpah is one of those directors with a small group of fans who are ready to applaud virtually everything he did, even if it’s not good, or really bad. And if it’s undefendable, they blame it on others (that’s one of the reasons why I like Weddle’s book: he doesn’t idolize Peckinpah, remains as objective as possible in his comments). This Genius-versus-Studio story is a good example. The studio bosses weren’t nice people, no, and they brought down the budget and eventually took the movie away from Peckinpah. But he basically blew things himself, by not finishing the script before shooting started, by going over budget almost immediately and seeking trouble with his producers, by refusing to compromize with the editors and the studio, and finally - like you mention - by refusing to make his own cut when he was offered the chance. His behavior is unpardonable: he was still a rather unknown director, called talented by various people, but not a big name: like Erickson says in one of his articles: he should have tried to persuade the studio bosses & the editors, try to convince them to see things his way. But no, instead of trying to earn the right to the final cut, he thought he already owned the right to it. That is simply asking for trouble. Of course Ressler and the studio made mistakes too, in these situations everybody sooner or later starts getting angry and unreasonable.

About a possible longer version: if the filmed material will be found some day, it must be possible to find somebody to edit it into the existing 136 version.


(Stanton) #40

I have a different look at this. I don’t think that fans are blind to the failings of their “idols”. They are often the first to be disappointed if their “Idol” doesn’t deliver the usual quality. Actually half of the books about Peckinpah also think that MD would have been a flawed film even in a complete version. Others (like me) think that it could have become a masterpiece.
Btw the audio commentary on the MD DVD by 4 authors of Peckinpah books and documentaries is often very negative about the film. Weddle’s views are far from being untypical.

Peckinpah’s official reason not to re-cut Major Dundee was that he did not have the time as he was after TWB always busy preparing new films in a self destroying speed. But many think that he maybe was happy with the unfinished status of MD as it made him a victim of the film industry. And that he knew that it would not really work in a long version either.

And they are not uncritical towards Peckinpah and his behaviour. It is very obvious that he was always looking for trouble, that all the quarrels and fights he had were also his fault, and that he could have achieved more if he would have been a more diplomatic guy. But then he would have been a different person, and then his films would have been different too. Probably less powerful, cause the struggles he fought directly influenced his style.

There is probably some cult about Peckinpah (just like on Leone and many others), but it surely is not an “blind on both eyes” one. Especially Convoy is blamed by most (not by me, I think it is an often excellent film), as are some of his other later films (Killer Elite, Osterman Weekend) are mostly called inferior compared to his earlier work.