Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 132: Major Dundee (1965) - Rank 3.5/5


After "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," I was in the mood for some more Peckinpah and, more importantly, more R.G. Armstrong. So I took in another one of Peckinpah's westerns, though western is a loose term here. The film could be considered a war picture as much as a western. Set in the final years of the Civil War, the story follows the disgraced Major Dundee (Charlton Heston) as he is given what might be an unachievable assignment: to stop a hoard of renegade Apache Indians that have been roaming the countryside, headed by the nefarious Apache leader Chariba, leaving countless dead in their wake. Worse yet, he lacks the necessary forces to carry out the mission, so he finds himself recruiting out of a nearby Union prison. As a result, he ends up with a ragtag team built of Union soldiers too eccentric to ever achieve high ranks, Confederate soldiers who see the expedition as an angle for revenge or escape, as well as drunks, horse thieves and town citizens. R.G. Armstrong plays his usual role for Peckinpah - a preacher with a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other, who, when asked why he wishes to join, responds: "Those who destroyeth my flock, shall so be destroyed!" Kickass!

Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris), a former Confederate officer, works extremely well as a foil to Major Dundee and his other senior officer, Lieutenant Graham (Jim Hutton). James Coburn also adds a little heat as the Indian scout Samuel Potts, who doesn't necessarily agree with all of Dundee's decisions. There's plenty of action, be it battles on the field or battles of wit, to keep anyone engaged. Regrettably, the film slows considerably during the third act after Major Dundee is injured and he's sent to a nearby town to recover. There he wallows in self-pity, pain, regret and booze to the point that I began to feel like I was watching another film altogether. Pathos at that point seems both a little late, as well as a little excessive for me. Still, plenty of guns, guts and R.G. Armstrong to see me through.

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