Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Mangled Masterpiece’ gets a new lease on life with this Austrian import, which corrects all the things that bugged me about Twilight Time’s impressive Blu-ray back in 2013. This is the first time that the original uncut Preview-International version of Major Dundee has come to Blu-ray with its original soundtrack intact. The Two-Disc set includes a longform making-of docu from the prolific producer Mike Siegel, and the other extras make an extensive raid of our combined Dundee photo archives.
Major Dundee (Sierra Charriba)
Region-Free Blu-ray Mediabook
Explosive Media GmbH
1965 / Color/ 2:35 widescreen / 136, 121 min. / Sierra Charriba / Street Date December 12, 2019 / available at Amazon.de / 21,99 €
Starring: Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Senta Berger, Jim Hutton, Michael Anderson Jr., Brock Peters, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, R.G. Armstrong, Dub Taylor, Michael Pate, Karl Swenson, Begonia Palacios, Aurora Clavell.
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Film Editors: William A. Lyon, Don Starling, Howard Kunin
Art Direction: Al Ybarra
Second Unit Director: Cliff Lyons
Original Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof (1965) Christopher Caliendo (2005)
Written by Oscar Saul, Harry Julian Fink & Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Jerry Bresler
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
A happy bit of serendipity occurred about ten months ago. I told Austrian disc producer Ulrich Bruckner that his company ought to license Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee from Sony-Columbia, because I wanted to contribute to the extras. Ulrich replied that he’d just made the deal, and allowed me to help him organize the presentation to best appeal to import disc buyers. Ulrich knows well his German-language market, which has its particular tastes and desires. He’s a Spaghetti Western expert extraordinaire, and I think we bonded over his Blu-ray of the Sergio Corbucci/Lee Van Cleef/Ennio Morricone oater La resa dei conti (The Big Gundown). His superb presentation straightened out that film’s tangle of multiple versions. Ulrich created a full-length English language cut by defaulting to Italo audio and English subtitles for scenes lacking English dialogue. Just watching the disc is an education in creative editorial.
I of course was excited about doing a commentary for my favorite movie. What I most wanted to correct in the otherwise handsome Twilight Time disc, was some fudging with versions. TT offered two cuts but favored Sony’s revised version with the new Christopher Calliendo music score. The original music score was relegated to the truncated American theatrical release cut, which is now better forgotten. TT repeated Sony’s line of publicity that the 2005 restoration of the preview cut ‘restored Peckinpah’s intentions.’ It was simply the Preview cut finished by producer Jerry Bresler in 1965. It played in a number of foreign countries before Columbia chopped out 13 more minutes.
I’ll continue that discussion down in the disc assessment section. I need to shout the Disclaimer that I’m reviewing a disc that I myself worked on. I hadn’t seen the final disc until yesterday, and I’m very happy with it. It’s a worthy candidate for import. The only drawback are a couple of extras that aren’t fully accessible to non-German speakers. And for one of them, I have a quick fix for CineSavant readers.
For a basic overview of Major Dundee, not this specific disc, I offer this link to my 2005 DVD review.
We should be grateful that the producer didn’t really recut it.
The new commentary encouraged me to nail down my thoughts about Major Dundee. After a studying the film and shooting script more intently, my attitude changed significantly. The movie’s flaws seem less destructive when one understands the scenes that were thrown away by Columbia. After re-reading all the Peckinpah bios and going through my own research, I’ve come to believe that producer Bresler definitely did bear ill will toward Sam Peckinpah, but that his chop-down and cheap finish for Dundee was motivated simply by a desire to spend a little money as possible, to impress the generals in Washington his supervisors at Columbia.
Columbia wanted a movie not much longer than two hours in duration. If Bresler had been an aggressively creative producer, he could have whittled Peckinpah’s ‘auteur’ epic to the bone, cutting out the remaining character depth and turning in an acceptable simple action film. An editorial ‘movie doctor’ could have been turned loose on the movie, the way MGM’s Irving Thalberg sometimes did back in the 1930s. A few replacement lines of dialogue and judicious bits of exposition would eliminate Peckinpah’s complex plot and abbreviate the running time. The now-confusing mentions of the mostly unseen Lieutenant Brannin, Beth Rostes, and the Apache scout Riago could have been dropped. The massacre could have been alluded to via a flashback montage or two.
Editorial changes could be subtle, or radical. Dundee and Tyreen’s lengthy debates could be trimmed, easily. Warren Oates’ desertion subplot could go away, if desired — Tyreen could swear to kill Dundee out of general dissent and disgust. If one wanted to clip the show down to ninety minutes, Dundee wouldn’t even have to get shot in the leg — he and Senta Berger might take their secret swim during the daytime fiesta, when nobody is looking. All that would be needed is some voiceover to cover the time jump, to explain where Dundee’s beard came from.
The finished Major Dundee instead follows Peckinpah’s screenplay very closely, but with scenes and pieces of scenes missing. That’s the value in this new commentary — instead of reading lists of actors’ credits or repeating others’ research verbatim, I use the time to explain what’s missing from the film, and how the picture would be different with it.
What might Dundee have become, had the production not been a battlefield?
As you can imagine, I’ve been thinking about that problem for a long time. Had Columbia kept their end of the bargain and let Peckinpah shoot his film properly, Dundee could have been a major Road Show hit, with an intermission. This time through the script I noted that two kinds of scenes were the first to go.
One set of missing scenes continues the criticism of Dundee and his ‘private war’ to satisfy personal ambitions. Although he mocks Lt. Graham for idolizing Napoleon, Dundee shares Napoleon’s hunger for glory. Charlton Heston loved the complex, un-heroic Dundee, perhaps because the Major consistently fails at everything — being a lousy leader of men, getting ambushed, getting himself wounded under humiliating conditions. In studying the script all this time, I’m convinced that Peckinpah thought he could sneak an unwritten theme past everybody — criticizing a military adventurer but also criticizing the ‘Charlton Heston epic hero,’ behind Heston’s back, even. Peckinpah’s dialogue includes a swipe at Heston’s acting pretensions: In Durango, James Coburn’s army scout tells Amos, “You make an unlikely-looking Mexican,” an in-joke reference to Heston’s Miguel Vargas in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
The second takeaway from the uncut screenplay is that many of the scenes Jerry Bresler dropped were comic in nature, improvements on John Ford’s ‘drunken Irish sergeants-‘ type humor. In the final film, the scenes with Jim Hutton’s Lt. Graham playing a buffoon are now isolated, but discarded material with a mule, with a camp toast and other breaks in tone would have spread the humor around the rest of the cast, enlivening the film’s middle section. As written, the missing Rostes Halloween party has comic elements. The missing fiesta knife fight between Potts, Gomez and Tyreen may have been meant to be dangerous-funny, as opposed to dangerous-crazy. In the screenplay, Dundee’s rescue from Durango reads like a comedy of errors, especially with Potts and Gomez sitting the whole thing out with a couple of women, in a room above the cantina.
The screenplay certainly doesn’t explain everything. Papers in the Sam Peckinpah Collection at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library make clear the import of the controversial ‘blood in the bucket’ scene that helped producer Jerry Bresler justify Peckinpah’s firing from the film. Peckinpah’s pleas to be reinstated show that he was in denial about the limits of his directorial authority. Columbia locked him out, ignored his Guild-mandated preview screenings and reshaped the film without him.
My opinion is that Jerry Bresler finished Dundee like a company man covering his tail. There was no career upside for the producer in making Peckinpah look good. Had his recut invented anything new, or taken the time to alter the storyline, then Bresler could be held responsible for the result. By making sure that his cut-down stuck closely to the letter of the screenplay, he could blame everything on Peckinpah.
Bresler didn’t fully carry out his editorial cut-and-slash mission: from an estimated 160 minutes, his cut of Dundee came in at 134.5 minutes. That’s the longer Preview-International cut seen here. Columbia simply hacked it down again, with additional crude cuts. What we saw in the U.S. was somewhere between 121 and 123 minutes, Columbia’s target duration for double bill use. Peckinpah’s career eventually recovered, but he never again darkened the doors of Columbia Pictures. Jerry Bresler went on to do another big movie for Columbia, but in terms of organization it became an even bigger mess: 1967’s Casino Royale.
I hope that fans that want to fully understand Major Dundee give my commentary a listen … I think it might convince some that Peckinpah’s flawed epic, had things gone differently, could have been as much of a classic as The Wild Bunch. This story of military adventurism is certainly comparable on the scale of ambition and audacity.
Explosive Media’s Region-Free Mediabook Blu-ray of Major Dundee presents the 1965 film in a bright, colorful encoding. To my eye, the transfer seems identical to the excellent Twilight Time disc — colorful, plenty of chroma, very sharp. The many so-so Day For Night sequences are still on the dark side. Although the long Preview cut can be seen with both the original 1965 and the revised 2005 soundtracks, the title sequence remains the simplified-text version from the 2005 re-do, that bears a music credit for Christopher Calliendo.
Viewing choices and Interpreting the Menu. Finding one’s way around the German-language menu is easy, but I’m spelling it out here anyway.
The first disc labeled ‘Erweiterte-Fassung’ (Extended Version) has the cut to watch, the extended Preview-International version restored in 2005. One must first go into the Setup menu to choose an English-friendly version. It can be viewed in six ways:
Choose Intertitel (subtitles) on the right in the Setup menu: Englisch or Deutsch. Aus means ‘none.’
Choose the Sprach (Language) on the left in the Setup menu:
— Deutsch is German audio, presumably a track from 1965. Columbia didn’t retain a full-length German dialogue version. When the longer Preview-version scenes come up, the show reverts to English audio with German subtitles. It’s the same trick by which Explosive Media presented full versions in several language tracks for their disc of The Big Gundown.
— Englische Neue Musik is the 2005 5.1 Stereo remixed soundtrack, with composer Christopher Calliendo’s replacement music score. Calliendo also re-scored ‘mariachi source music’ for the fiesta scenes, a major improvement on Columbia’s old compositions.
— Englisch Original Musik is the original English soundtrack from 1965. This has Daniele Amphitheatrof’s original score, recorded and finished for the full Preview cut. Here’s where you’ll hear Mitch Miller’s Major Dundee March and the electronic ‘door chime’ music sting that’s taken me fifty years to become accustomed to.
On the right in the Bonus menu, is
— Musiktonspur, which will give you an Isolated Music Track featuring Christopher Calliendo’s 2005 music score.
In the middle of the Bonus menu is
Audiokommentare, (Audio Commentaries):
— Kommentar: Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons und David Weddle. It’s the 2005 Sony audio commentary with the great Peckinpah biographers, moderated by the late filmmaker and music producer Nick Redman. This was on the 2005 DVD and was carried over to the OOP 2013 Twilight Time Blu-ray.
— Exclusiv Kommentar Glenn Erickson. Exclusive to this disc is a new 2019 audio commentary by me. In addition to my ‘telling the story’ of the missing Dundee scenes, as taken from the original shooting screenplay, the commentary presents a short production history, and includes excerpts from Dick Dinman’s DVD Classics Corner on the Air interview with star Michael Anderson Jr., recorded in 2005. I’ve already found one mistake in my commentary. I won’t say what it is but the proof of my flub happens at 2:06:20.
Other extras in the Bonus menu:
— Trailer Erweiterte Fassung 2005. This (extended version trailer) was put together, I believe, by Michael Schlesinger. It uses new voiceover narration by L.Q. Jones.
— Erweiterte Entfallene Szenen are five ‘missing scenes,’ the same as seen on the 2005 disc, but with the addition of a new commentary by me and a music cut I put together. The first three raw-take scenes survived because they were kept as optical negative for a promo made for a 1965 sales reel. I believe that the last two scenes we see are provisional cuts assembled for the sales reel, not actual excised feature cuts.
— Bildergalerien (Picture Galleries): three separate galleries of scene photos, advertising photos and character portraits, from the extensive archives of Mike Siegel, and my own collection, a group of color transparencies purchased from Eddie Brandt in 1979. They were digitally optimized by Craig Reardon.
The second disc labeled ‘Kino-Fassung’ (Theatrical Version) has a short-version feature and additional extras, including Mike Siegel’s feature-length documentary.
The encoded feature appears to be the cut shown in West Germany in 1965. As it bears the same Major Dundee title in English, I’ll bet that new video has been conformed to an existing German audio track. For some reason, the Apache Sierra Charriba’s first line over the bleeding Lt. Brannin has been cut out. I also heard at least one other dialogue line that was left in English. Is this cut included for German audiences? How many remember the original experience? Although it initially played with the title Sierra Charriba, in West Germany Dundee may have been the same cut version we saw. Darren Gross confirmed that the long Preview cut was the version distributed in France and Finland.
This Theatrical Version can also be screened in ‘Englisch,’ with German or English subtitles; original Daniele Amfitheatrof music track only.
In the Bonus menu we have
— Three trailers from 1965, U.S., U.K. and West German. The U.K. and West German prints are from Mike Siegel’s collection. The German trailer carries the Sierra Charriba title treatment.
— ‘Riding for a Fall’, Mike Siegel’s 8mm color copy of the film’s promotional featurette. (I loaned my 16mm B&W print of ‘Riding for a Fall’ to Sony in 2005, and never got it back!) We see BTS shots setting up the final battle scene, and some of the action. The very last shot shows a group of French lancers mobbing Captain Tyreen’s horse and pulling him down, further convincing us that Tyreen’s death was meant to be longer and more gruesome. It’s possible that the reason some of the troopers lack individual ‘dying scenes,’ is that Jerry Bresler thought they were too gory.
— Musiktonspur is an Isolated Music Track of the Daniele Amfitheatrof score, on this short version.
— Passion & Poetry – The Dundee Odyssey (2019), an exclusive to this disc, is Mike Siegel’s new 76-minute interview documentary, collecting his sessions with L.Q. Jones, James Coburn, Mario Adorf, Senta Berger, R.G. Armstrong, Gordon Dawson, Lupita Peckinpah and Chalo Gonzalez. All come forward with impressive anecdotes and perhaps a few tall tales — you can bet that L.Q. Jones gets in some zingers. It’s a new cut, longer than earlier pieces Siegel has put together for other Peckinpah discs. It’s all good, but Senta Berger and Mario Adorf speak only in un-subtitled German. Those two German actors seem to be saying more interesting things than the usual ‘Crazy Sam’ stories, too. But it’s Senta Berger — just hearing her talk is pleasant.
The Mediabook format holds the two Blu-ray discs in plastic holders, in a book-like folder with a 24-page insert booklet packed with color images and a rewrite of my essay from 2005. The text is in German only, and very precisely translated from my English. If any purchasers so desire, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the title of the article as written in German, and I’ll return an email with a .pdf in English. And hey, please tell me what you think about Major Dundee too… especially if you’re hiding the missing work print in your basement.
The disc is primarily intended for a German audience, so it’s gratifying that it’s Region-free. The producer had to translate all of my English text into German, and even more amazingly, all of the audio of both English-language commentaries. That’s basically translating and formatting two books. It was so much work that I’m surprised Ulrich is still speaking to me. I’m grateful that he didn’t just say that a second commentary was too much trouble. But he wanted this Blu-ray edition to be as desirable as possible, too. It’s funny to see my words simo-subtitled in German — what I’m saying suddenly sounds more important.
Peckinpah fans: it’s the long version and it has a full choice of tracks. So far, it’s the only Blu-ray that has the full original show, with the original audio.
In the final analysis, one just wants to kick Sam Peckinpah in the pants for not pursuing his career in even a minimally diplomatic or marginally pragmatic way. Dundee was a dream opportunity, with a dream cast of cowboy greats. Charlton Heston’s role forced him to stretch his style beyond heroic posing. Peckinpah’s response to adversity was to behave so horribly that the studio, even without Jerry Bresler’s urging, surely waited for the first opportunity to pull the rug out from under him.
I admire Sam Peckinpah without idolizing him — I believe he was the author of his own problems. I frequently contrast him with director Stanley Kubrick. The ex-photographer cultivated his career beautifully. Kubrick added to his reputation with every movie he made — for doing more with less, and for turning out quality films that garnered major attention. Until he earned the power to do whatever he wanted, he made sure to get along with demanding bosses and egotistical collaborators. Peckinpah was a creative dynamo, but he made enemies left and right. His fortunes soared when he had a friend at court, battling on his behalf. But the reputation he accrued was for not playing well with anybody. He terrorized crews and alienated executives, and abused more than one producer that went out on a limb for him. Peckinpah’s talent was great, but it’s a miracle that he made the three or four fine movies that he did, before he completely self-destructed.
‘The story goes’ that when Straw Dogs became a big hit, Columbia offered to let Sam Peckinpah come back and re-edit Dundee his way, and that he turned them down because he was too busy. That does sound true to Sam’s character as a hater: he’d refuse out of spite, just for the satisfaction of vengeful payback. But it could also very well be apocryphal. If the offer were true, Sam could easily have assigned a couple of his faithful, trusted editors to the job and supervised from afar…
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Region-Free Blu-ray rates:
Supplements: two audio commentaries, 76-minute documentary, outtake scenes with commentary, picture galleries, trailers, Isolated Music Tracks (see above).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English, German (feature only)
Packaging: 2 Blu-rays in Keep case
Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Text © Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson
Here’s Michael Schlesinger on Major Dundee: