Major Dundee

1965, Movie, NR, 124 mins

Review

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An offbeat and sometimes jumbled western adventure film sees Heston as a Union officer in charge of a jail in the Southwest. Among the prisoners is his boyhood friend, Harris, who has killed a Union guard and is scheduled to hang, along with Johnson, Oates, and others. Renegade Apaches attack another Army outpost, killing everyone. Heston decides to lead an expedition against them and asks for volunteers to follow the Indians into Mexico and track them down, killing or capturing them. Realizing he needs seasoned troops, Heston revokes the execution order for Harris and his men, and they join a motley group of outcasts, misfits, and some Union troops. Harris and Heston battle all the way, especially after attacking a French garrison in a small Mexican village and taking along a voluptuous refugee, Berger, over whom they compete for affection. Heston is wounded by an Indian arrow while he enjoys a swim with the raven-haired Berger, and he must be doctored in a village controlled by the French who are looking for the Americans. He recovers, and the Americans skirmish with the renegade Apaches and collect their white hostage children, whom they send home under escort. The ragged volunteers move back toward the US, followed hotly by a powerful French force of emperor Maximilian (later executed by Mexican patriots under the command of liberator Benito Juarez). Just as the Americans cross the river into the US, Harris, having nothing really to live for now that the Confederacy is smashed (at least that's the rationale), wheels his horse about and leads a solo charge into the French ranks and is killed. Heston and seven others return to the fort.

The action here is hot and heavy, with violence and gore galore (director Peckinpah's specialty). The film seems to have been put together with director's paste and jumps about erratically, tearing the plot at the seams. But the leads are strong and convincing, and solid character actors--Johnson, Oates, Taylor--do journeyman work. Coburn rides along as a one-armed scout, taking Heston's orders with a maniacal grin. Heston later regretted this film, complaining that production began without a completed script. The entire film was shot on location in Mexico. leave a comment

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