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Posted April 22, 2005


"Major Dundee: The Extended Version"


Rick Mitchell

American film history is littered with stories of films ruined by the insensitivity of untalented producers and/or ignorant studio executives. In some instances, it has been possible to restore them to a facsimile of their director's intent, such as Rick Schmidlin's reconstruction of Orson Welles' "Touch Of Evil" or Richard Schickel's recent superb reconstruction of Samuel Fuller's "The Big Red One."

In the case of Sam Peckinpah's "Major Dundee," though the work print of the director's original 160-minute cut apparently was not preserved, nor were any negative outs after that was cut, apparently a 136-minute version was dubbed, negative cut, and had protective separations made before being recut down to the 124 minute version released in 1965. Grover Crisp's discovery of these separations and this track became the foundation of the just released "Extended Version."

The additional 12 minutes enrich the film very much and leave one further lamenting the loss of the original cut. Like his predecessors Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock, Stevens, et. al., Peckinpah was basically a storyteller, one who could easily adapt the story he wanted to tell to the form in which he wanted to tell it, in this case the predominately visual medium of film. Thus, much of the essence of Peckinpah is not as much in his choice of words, but in his selection of images: the bits of character illuminating business, the looks characters exchange, or that he shows the audience but not other characters, etc. This is pure cinema and because it takes time, it's the time of thing that's often quickest to get cut, particularly by insensitive executives who get bored with such things after seeing a film numerous times and forgetting that they may be fresh and illuminating for audiences seeing the film for the first time. (As an editor, that's the type of thing I look for to help make bring a scene to life, and fight to keep (most often successfully, I'm proud to say) when producers want to cut them.

In "Major Dundee: The Extended Version," the additional 12 minutes are spread throughout the film, further focusing the animosity between the Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners as well as the wounded Dundee's previously badly cut "dark night of his soul" in the Mexican village, though this cut also appears to have been something of a compromise. This may still be the version of Jerry Bresler, by all accounts the kind of no-talent hack Selznick/Thalberg wannabee that gives a bad name among creative people, but it's also closer to Peckinpah's intent.

As to the controversial new score by Christopher Caliendo, it is actually quite good, more along the lines of the type of western scores that were being done in the mid-Sixties (after Bernstein, before Morricone) with a Mexican flavor. Those overly familiar with the original score may have trouble accepting it at first, but it's not as bad as Allied Artists' replacing Richard La Salle's score for "Blood On The Arrow" (1965) with cues from Andre Previn's score for the contemporary thriller "Dead Ringer." And for Ben Burtt and other sound effects geeks, the original Columbia gunshots, body falls, horse whinny's, and other familiar effects have been retained in this excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 redub.

Rick Mitchell is a film editor, film director, and film historian.  He lives in Los Angeles.

2005 Rick Mitchell.  All rights reserved




Copyright 2005 From Script To DVD.  All rights reserved.


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