Sunday, December 25, 2005

Day 38: "Major Dundee"

Director: Sam Peckinpah 1965
The day "The Wild Bunch" opened in 1969, a friend and I drove into The City (as we in Queens called Manhattan) to see it. This was before movies debuted in 2,500 theaters, before the homogenization of the multiplex. It was exciting to see a movie in The City, something that lifted us out of the mundane routine of life in Flushing. I remember heading into The City to see "Operation Petticoat" (at Radio City Music Hall, no less), "The Guns of Navarone," "Judgment at Nuremberg," "Goldfinger," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Ice Station Zebra" (hey, no one said they were all classics). The "Wild Bunch" review in that morning's New York Times described a movie I had to see right away. Maybe it's because I'm 54, but I just don't experience the same rush with movies today. Do I really need to see a three-hour video-game version of "King Kong" when the original remains a spectacular achievement that can still bring a tear to my eye?
"The Wild Bunch" didn't make me cry, but it stunned me. A brilliant film. If you've never seen it, please do so (you might want to wait post holidays. "It's a Wonderful Life" it's not). I've seen many Peckinpah films since, but never "Major Dundee," a movie Peckinpah disowned when released because of studio interference. This new DVD is an extended version with a much-needed new score and restored scenes. It's as close to Peckinpah's vision as we'll ever get.
"Dundee" may not be a classic, but it's now a fine movie. It's easy to forget how good Charlton Heston could be--and how often he was willing to play angry, flawed men (only Kirk Douglas comes to mind as an actor more willing to appear unsympathetic). Richard Harris is terrific as a Confederate officer--and former friend of Dundee--who serves with his fellow POWs under the Union flag as Dundee obsessively tracks Apaches. Peckinpah's command of the wide screen is in full evidence here, and there are many incredible shots. Plus a fine Peckinpahian supporting cast that includes two true greats: James Coburn and Warren Oates.


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