Sam Peckinpah's first big-budget film was also the first to be taken away and released in a shortened version. But now, 40 years later, most of the missing footage has been located and reinserted with the entire soundtrack remixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and a completely new score composed. The new scenes complete the electrifying depiction of an oppressive Union officer who leads a squad of Rebel prisoners, ex-slaves, and criminals into Mexico to hunt down a band of murdering Apaches which raises the question: who represents a greater threat?
This restoration of Sam Peckinpah's 1965 western Major Dundee is nothing short of magnificent, a noble attempt at restoring a famously wrecked masterpiece. When Peckinpah went over budget and over schedule during the Mexico shoot, unshot scenes were cancelled and the footage rudely cut by the studio. The director disowned the results. In 2005, surviving footage was patched back in, and a new musical soundtrack commissioned to replace the score Peckinpah hated. This raises some legitimate questions about interpreting a director's intentions, and about messing with film history, but Major Dundee--The Extended Version is such a rousing, mysterious experience, one feels grateful.
Major Dundee (Charlton Heston) is a vainglorious officer busted to the decidedly inglorious job of overseeing prisoners in a fort in New Mexico. An abduction gives him the excuse to mount an expedition into Mexico, chasing the perpetrators and perhaps a shot at greatness. His ragtag posse includes Confederate POWs, notably one Captain Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris), whose intense former friendship with Dundee is tainted with a sense of betrayal on both sides. (Heston and Harris, two actors not known for subtlety, are splendid.) Part Ahab, part Alexander the Great, Dundee leads the expedition away from its purpose and into a near-mythic kind of wandering.
Peckinpah gets everything right--the landscapes, the sneaky humour, the code of men. He also takes time to distinguish the supporting characters, such as Jim Hutton's awkward young officer and Senta Berger's stranded widow. The Peckinpah stock company of amazing character actors is in place, too, including James Coburn, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones, and Slim Pickens. It will never be exactly what Peckinpah envisioned, but now Major Dundee rides suspiciously close to greatness. --Robert Horton