Review: Major Dundee

The stubborn, somewhat egotistical cavalry officer of the title (Charlton Heston) must lead a ragtag bunch of criminals, African-American soldiers, and drunkards (hello Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor!) into battle with nasty apaches. James Coburn is Dundee’s trusted one-armed Indian scout, Richard Harris (having a helluva time, in one of his best-ever parts) is Heston’s antagonist; an Irish confederate prisoner who has served under Heston before and is doing so again, but much more bitterly. Michael Anderson Jr. is the token green soldier, and the film’s narrator, with Jim Hutton’s bumbling Lieutenant, also a little useless in battle. Warren Oates (well-cast) plays a weaselly deserter, R.G. Armstrong excellent as a gun-totin’ preacher who gets on the nerves of Sgt. Chillum (Ben Johnson) for intervening in a tense standoff with the African-American soldiers (led by stoic Brock Peters).

Somewhat unwieldy but entertaining 1965 Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”, “Straw Dogs”) film is considered one of his lesser efforts, or at least one of his mistreated masterpieces, due to studio interference. Action scenes are well done, however the best thing is the cast, despite there being too many characters. The well-cast Heston has one of his best-ever roles, Harris and Coburn continually steal scenes, as do Slim Pickens (when doesn’t he?), Warren Oates, and especially R.G. Armstrong in unfortunately tiny roles. Others not served well by the script include Peters, Dub Taylor, and L.Q. Jones. Aussie-born Michael Pate, meanwhile, is a bit hard to take as an Apache baddie (though it’s not the only time he played one), and Senta Berger isn’t much chop as the token female in a few scenes that really aren’t necessary or terribly credible. I’d cut these scenes out, actually. Scripted by Harry Julian Fink (“Dirty Harry”), Oscar Saul (“The Helen Morgan Story”), and Peckinpah, from a story by Fink it’s entertaining and still worth a look, flawed or not.

Rating: B-


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