review for Major Dundee on AllMovie

Major Dundee (1965)
by Bruce Eder review

In 2005, Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) was recut and extended, using previously deleted footage (which had been cut by the producer prior to release), and completely rescored, essentially creating a significantly different, and magnificent new version of what had been considered up to that point to be a flawed potential masterpiece. The restored footage, which mostly expands and fills out scenes that were already partly represented in the original release, offers the viewer a fuller account of characters' motivations, many of which seemed vague and undefined in the original release, and explanations for dialogue and incidents that previously seemed obscure. More than that, it turns what had seemed at times to be a loosely constructed story (and it was, the film having gone into production with the script unfinished) and, at times, confusing narrative, into a much more cohesive, seductive, and compelling whole, with a great deal of visual lyricism to be found amidst its violence and fierce dramatic passions. Charlton Heston's Major Amos Dundee is still unknowable (mostly because, as Heston has admitted, he never fully understood the character), but it is much easier to get past that problem in this version of the movie because everything else in it works so much better now. Indeed, Richard Harris emerges as something of a hero in this version, not only in terms of his character -- who finds an unexpected genuine nobility, and a cause bigger and better than the Confederacy that is worth dying for -- but also as an actor, for holding the whole piece together dramatically. The other major new feature is the music by Christopher Caliendo, which supplants the original edition's music by Daniele Amfitheatrof (of which Peckinpah never approved). Caliendo has written a bold, memorably melodic and expansive, expressive Western score with martial elements, of the kind that Alfred Newman might have turned in 50 years before; it's one of the best orchestral scores heard in movies in decades, and is, by itself, reason enough to partake of Major Dundee: The Extended Version. In fact, it and the restored, reconstituted image make this a movie that one should see at least once in a theater, on a big screen; it's no accident that Columbia Pictures saw fit to release this to theaters in 2005, rather than taking it directly to DVD.