Restoration dignifies Civil War Western
Several of Sam Peckinpah's movies have had key footage restored, though the new restoration of "Major Dundee" may be unique. This 1965 Civil...
Special to The Seattle Times
Several of Sam Peckinpah's movies have had key footage restored, though the new restoration of "Major Dundee" may be unique. This 1965 Civil War Western, originally released in a studio-shortened form, features an entirely fresh score, composed and recorded last year by Christopher Caliendo, that replaces the tacky Mitch Miller/Daniele Amfitheatrof music that Peckinpah disliked.
All by itself, this elevates the movie and lends it a less dated quality. The well-cast and capable actors, especially Charlton Heston as a Union officer and Richard Harris as his Confederate ex-friend, no longer appear to be competing with music that undermines their characterizations. As they reluctantly join forces to track down a murderous Apache, their love-hate relationship acquires a dramatic validity it never quite had before.
The new "Dundee" can't really be called a "director's cut" because Peckinpah was banished from the project before it was completed, but it does include 12 minutes that were thought to be lost for the past 40 years. As so often happens with Peckinpah restorations, the extra footage brings out shadings in plot and character that were previously invisible.
The movie also looks better than it has in decades (Sam Leavitt's wide-screen cinematography has startling depth), and all the elements seem in place for a stunning film. However, the script still fails to build on the prickly momentum of the early Heston/Harris confrontations and, perhaps worst of all, the story seems to end in mid-sentence.
Much of it plays like a rough draft for Peckinpah's 1969 masterpiece, "The Wild Bunch" — especially the idyllic Mexican village sequence, the crushingly violent battles, the presence of such supporting players as Ben Johnson and Warren Oates (who would both get more to do in "Bunch"). And the Heston/Harris relationship is clearly a forerunner of Robert Ryan and William Holden's curdled friendship in "Bunch."
It's not the same movie it was in 1965. It's richer and more interesting, partly because some motivations have been cleared up, partly because the music isn't a burden and partly because we now can see that this was all leading to the creation of a truly great film four years later.Even in its still-fragmented form, there's more meat on "Dundee's" bones than you'll find in any American movie so far released in 2005.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.