Major Dundee


Major Dundee

Critics Consensus

Major Dundee is a Western-type with big war scenes, shot with bombast typical of Sam Peckinpah.



Total Count: 32


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,473
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Movie Info

Sam Peckinpah's 1965 feature Major Dundee was recut and rescored for re-release theatrically in 2005, 40 years after its original release. The "Extended Version," as it is known officially, tells essentially the same story as the original but with clearer motivations for the characters (which often seemed vague or obscure in the 1965 edition) and much greater effectiveness. Major Amos Charles Dundee (Charlton Heston) is a West Point graduate who somehow -- it's not clear -- exceeded his orders while serving in the Battle of Gettysburg and, as punishment, has been taken out of combat and put in charge of a Union prison in New Mexico. He then gets word that marauding Apaches under Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate) have raided an American settlement, slaughtering the troops who were pursuing them and kidnapping three young boys, whom they've taken to their lair south of the Rio Grande (and if this sounds a lot like the plot of John Ford's Rio Grande, it's because they used the same story as inspiration). Dundee assumes responsibility for capturing or destroying the raiders and rescuing the captives, but because he has far too few men, he's forced to recruit prisoners, including his one-time friend, Confederate Captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris), and other "gentlemen of the South," to fill out his ranks. Tyreen and his men despise Dundee, but agree to serve on this mission in exchange for the chance for possible pardon of commutation of sentence (Tyreen and some of his men are facing the rope, for killing a guard in an escape attempt). The mission takes them deep into Mexico, where they free the children but now find themselves being stalked by the very Apaches that they were hunting, as well as having to fight off the French troops stationed there. And as they quickly see, the French troops, though white and supposedly "civilized" like themselves, treat the native Mexicans in ways that make the Apaches look almost saintly. In the end, this ragtag group of soldiers, malcontents, deserters, traitors, and criminals finds a larger cause in their quest -- bigger even than their own survival -- as they discover something uniquely fine and honorable in being an American, and in American ideals. It takes the sacrifice and deaths of many to get to that point, but the movie -- in this version -- gets us there convincingly, if in decidedly grim and bittersweet fashion. Though based on fiction and shot under incredibly (indeed, legendarily) chaotic conditions, the movie ultimately proves to be a rousingly disturbing examination of what it means to be an American, and the meaning of American ideals. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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Charlton Heston
as Maj. Amos Charles Dundee
Richard Harris
as Capt. Benjamin Tyreen
Jim Hutton
as Lieutenant Graham
James Coburn
as Samuel Potts
Senta Berger
as Teresa Santiago
Mario Adorf
as Sgt. Gomez
Warren Oates
as O.W. Hadley
Ben Johnson
as Sgt. Chillum
R.G. Armstrong
as Rev. Dhalstrom
L.Q. Jones
as Arthur Hadley
Karl Swenson
as Capt. Waller
Michael Pate
as Sierra Charriba
John Davis Chandler
as Jimmy Lee Benteen
Albert Carrier
as Capt. Jacques Tremaine
Aurora Clavel
as Melinche
Enrique Lucero
as Dr. Aguilar
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Critic Reviews for Major Dundee

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (16)

Audience Reviews for Major Dundee

  • Jun 20, 2014
    Sam Peckinpah's story set in the Civil War tells the story of Major Amos Charles Dundee who exceeded his orders while serving in the Battle of Gettysburg and, as punishment, has been taken out of combat and put in charge of a Union prison in New Mexico. Simultaneously, groups of Apaches have been raiding U.S. bases in Texas. Dundee, therefore, proceeds to lead a divisive troop of Army regulars, Confederate prisoners, and scouts on an expedition to destroy the band of Apaches, facing internal and external turmoil in the process. Since <i>Ride the High Country</i> (1962), Sam Peckinpah's scope has grown to be more confident, interestingly more graphically violent, confirming the Western genre to be his area of both expertise and development. The cinematography shows itself as more confident as his directorial capabilities keep evolving, most noticeably in the Director's Cut of the film, which surely shows the motivations of the characters as clear and complimentary to the plot's advancement. Nevertheless, the maximization of the scope came up with a price: Peckinpah's intentions are unclear. Is it a historical account? Most probably not. Accuracy is not a concern here. Social criticism? A commentary on racism? A collective character study on race prejudices? All or some of the above? Or just an action film set in the 19th Century with Mexico's folklore as a stylish excuse? It is true that the film could have been better and is a waste of valuable potential, but given Peckinpah's status in 1965, he couldn't have been better. It was the necessary step upwards to be taken before perfecting his style, his vision, his passion for Mexican shooting locations, the proper character balance and the proper micro and macro conflicts in his Western masterpiece <i>The Wild Bunch</i> (1969). Nevertheless, the film is well accomplished from a technical point of view, with a badass leading performance by Charlton Heston and a decent effort from the ensemble cast. These are the positive aspects if one can look beyond the romantic clichés and the predominantly stereotypical representations of the rural Mexico, which the film presents as generalizations, instead of peculiarities. 75/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Jan 20, 2009
    I don't know what Sam Peckinpah intended but I'm pretty sure this 'studio edited' discombobulation isn't it. This is a good film that could have been a great one. High on the Richter scale of missed opportunity and unfulfilled potential. *If you have a choice, watch the 'extended version'. It's still not the film Peckinpah intended us to see but it's a damn sight closer than anything previously available.
    Randy T Super Reviewer
  • Dec 22, 2008
    Sam Peckinpah?s early, flawed, epic about a Union Major running a prison camp in the New Mexican front late in the civil war, who enlists Confederate prisoners in order to go after a renegade Apache. The film fell victim to immense studio tampering, it had its budget cut in half from the beginning, they gave Peckinpah pressure throughout the production, and they took the whole film away from him during the editing. As such we?re left with a Magnificent Ambersons situation of a movie with extensive lost footage; the full vision of what it could have been is unknown. The cut on DVD right now has been restored as much as possible, but it?s still not complete. What remains is a film that feels fractured and held together by a tacked on voice over. The film is still watchable, and the underlying concept of Union and confederate soldiers working together is quite interesting, one can see a story about a fractured America forced to unify somewhere below the surface. That said, not all of the movie?s problems can be pinned on the studio. The film?s visual style, while perfectly competent, is not anywhere near the heights achieved by Peckinpah?s other works, and the occasional night scenes are poorly lit making it hard to make out what?s going on.
    MJS M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 13, 2008
    a bit of a peckinpah failiure if you ask me. tons of great actors to utilise yet wasted in a film where the romance scenes were drawn out, not captivating in the slightest, and with the action sequences poorly orchestrated and filmed it's gotta be my least favourite peckinpah film
    Sanity Assassin ! Super Reviewer

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