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John Davis Chandler

The Beautiful and the Damned: Major Dundee

Sam Peckinpah’s much-messed-with 1965 film Major Dundee has just come out on Blu-ray from the boutique label Twilight Time. The two-disc set features both the 2005 reissue based on a preview version of the movie and the version released theatrically 48 years ago. Both are worth having, as the following Queen Anne & Magnolia News article from 2005 suggests. – RTJ

[Originally published in the Queen Anne News, April 11, 2005]

Sam Peckinpah was one of our great modern filmmakers, but for many his name summons up such a fearsome Hollywood legend, of blighted career, outrageous excess and epic self-destructiveness, that remembering the great films becomes secondary.

Richard Harris and Charlton Heston keep the flag aloft
Richard Harris and Charlton Heston keep the flag aloft

The legend began to lock into place with his third feature film, the 1965 Major Dundee—though it’s worth noting that even his universally admired second film, the elegiac Ride the High Country (1962), was nearly thrown away by its parent studio, only to be hailed as “the best American film of the year” by Newsweek magazine. Ride the High Country was a small film—a program picture, really—featuring two over-the-hill cowboy stars (Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott). Major Dundee would be, by mid-’60s terms, an epic, with a $4.5-million budget, two recently Oscared or Oscar-nominated stars—Charlton Heston and Richard Harris—and an international cast with more color and flair than, perhaps, any one motion picture could accommodate. It was also to be a film of vast and complex thematic ambitions, a dual character study that sought to refract not only the historical tensions of the Civil War–era frontier but also the fractious America of a century later, astir with the civil-rights movement and the beginnings of what we would come to know as the Vietnam era.

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Review: Scorchy

[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]

Things break fast in Seattle. The light, for instance. A fellow can come home to his rooftop pad, take a sniff of midafternoon air, follow that up with a quick shower, and drift into the livingroom to find it invaded by not only a ski-masked burglar but also the mellow gold of sunset. The apartment looks lovely at just that moment, right out of an ad for Northwest living; one is reminded that cameraman Laszlo Pal more frequently occupies himself hymning the Weyerhaeuser Corporation and otherwise shooting commercials. But, to pay quickly what compliments can be paid in connection with Scorchy, our latest made-righcheer-in-town movie, much of Pal’s color camerawork is more attractive and expensive-looking than what we are accustomed to see in grindhouse actioners—which, anywhere except its home shooting base, is the category Scorchy will fall into. Presumably he cannot be blamed for the absence of any coherent directorial notion of where the camera should be put, no more than ace Aldrich editor Michael Luciano can do much about a series of one-shots which, when spliced together, suggest interlocutor A was facing due west while interlocutor B kept his gaze rigidly focused south-southeast.

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