14. Major Dundee (Peckinpah, 1965)
One could argue that this is as much a war film as it is a western, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. However I consider this film to be a member of the genre, and I’m thankful that despite the studio’s efforts in the 1960s which resulted in the film being butchered that TCM showed the restored copy a couple years ago, which is also available on DVD and probably Blu Ray as well. Featuring an excellent cast ranging from Charlton Heston, Richard Harris to Peckinpah regulars Ben Johnson, James Corburn, L.Q. Jones and Warren Oates, this movie fits in well with what else I’ve seen from Peckinpah (which isn’t much, sadly).
Namely the ideals of loyalty, honor, in addition to discipline here. Despite the fact that Heston’s Dundee is at times rash and foolish, he has courage and never wavers from his duty. Harris proves to be a fine rival and former friend, and their fight scene is one of the highlights of the film simply because its rugged, violent, and properly represents their harsh relationship by the film’s middle. The concept of a bunch of Confederates and Union soldiers fighting their own private war in Mexico against the Native Americans and the French can be mirrored in The Wild Bunch and even to a lesser extent in Ride The High Country. After all, both films conclude with people forced to not only fight the elements, but also wrestle with enemies that appear due to circumstances perhaps beyond their control, in a way.
Having revisited this film a second time last year, I also marveled at how magnificent this entire movie is. Peckinpah does not glorify war, even though he does present his characters as brave men with their backs against the wall in a unique situation. Considering that my last entry was also a western featuring the Civil War in some fashion, it should be somewhat unsurprising since that terrible conflict helped shape the west.
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