Another alleged addition that might qualify as major would be the graphic revelation of the fate of the Indian scout, Riago, but I seriously dispute that this has never before been seen. I swear I've seen it. (Did Dundee, like The Wild Bunch, get cut further after its initial release?) On the other hand, I thought I detected, unless my ears blinked, one inexplicable deletion. When the assembled troop rides out of Fort Benlin, the Rebs break into a full-throated "Dixie," and the Blue Bellies respond with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but the civilians are then supposed to chime in-- as they certainly did in the shorter version -- with "My Darling Clementine," to complete the cacophony of the company. And one bit of footage that should have been cut, from both versions, is the repeated shot, the recycled shot -- at widely separated points in the film -- of the Apache chief eyeing his prey from the crest of a hill. In the second instance it's completely unnecessary: we know that the Indians who appear on the horizon are Sierra Charriba's; we don't need to see the chief himself.
An alteration, undeniably major, which seems to me not just debatable, but utterly deplorable, is the substitution of a brand-new musical score by Christopher Caliendo for the original one by Daniele Amfitheatrof. The latter may be no one's idea of one of the great Hollywood composers, but he wrote, among other worthies, the score for what I have long cited as my all-time favorite Western, From Hell to Texas -- or at any rate my favorite till it finally comes out on DVD and I see my error. Even now, without having seen it in decades, I could hum the opening melody of the wordless male chorus. No doubt the title tune of Major Dundee, sung by Mitch Miller's Sing Along Gang, with its asinine lyrics ("Fall in, behind the Major./ Fall in, and mind the Major./ Fall in, and I will wager/ That the Major brings all of us back"), now sounds quaintly dated, and it ill suits an ornery hombre of Peckinpah's reputation; and some of the neighing and braying comic effects are regrettable. But the overall score is more than competent, with a memorable march theme in supple variations; and Mitch's Gang packs it up after the opening credits, no harm done. The new score, in contrast, is indifferent doodling that never finds a focus, a pattern, a catchy phrase, a whistleable bar. It adds nothing, and for anyone who has seen the film before, it subtracts a lot. And Peckinpah, dead these twenty-plus years, can have had no say in it either way. Apparently he, whose displeasures are legion, is known to have bridled at Amfitheatrof's score, but the restorer's duty is not just to Peckinpah. It is to history. (What's to stop someone, in future, from throwing in bits of slow-motion to bring the movie more in line with Peckinpah's "vision"?) The forthcoming DVD release promises to give the viewer a choice of soundtracks, though of course not a choice of screen sizes. This was our one chance to see it again on a big screen. In the meantime, the Amfitheatrof score and the original two-hour cut, albeit in a cropped TV print, can be had at Kensington Video on VHS. Nothing is altogether ideal.
From this distance in time, after the director's numerous other battles with the brass and after the degeneration of his career into self-parody and impersonal potboilers (The Killer Elite, The Osterman Weekend), it becomes more apparent that the true subject of Major Dundee is not so much, in a line lifted from the daily-diary narration, "a command divided against itself," not even so much a nation divided, as it is a man divided, a man conflicted. The true subject, to come right out with it, is Peckinpah himself. The two principal antagonists -- Maj. Dundee (Heston at his sculptural best), the Union officer fallen out of favor with his superiors and relegated to the role of jailkeeper at a remote New Mexico outpost, and Capt. Tyreen (Harris at his Brando-est), the Confederate turncoat cashiered out of the U.S. Army and now fallen into captivity -- represent two sides of the same coin, former comrades at war with each other in more ways than one, linked by their common Southern backgrounds, by their military demotions, and by the double-E in their surnames. Dundee: the glory-seeker, the self-doubter, the guilty boozer, the headstrong hardliner who can't help but stray from the course, the damn fool. Tyreen: the self-romanticizing rebel, a sophist, a gallant, a dress-up dandy of humble origins, "a fanciful man" who, above all else, "has style."
Together they describe their creator to a T, and their wrangling dialogues can readily be heard as internal. (A complementary companion to Dundee, for its monstrous depiction of military higher-ups on the frontier, and for its romantic rivals among the lower-downs, would be the Peckinpah-scripted The Glory Guys, directed by Arnold Laven: it came out in the same year, 1965, shares some key cast members, Michael Anderson, Jr., Slim Pickens, Senta Berger, and is unjustly neglected simply because Peckinpah didn't direct it.) There is something quite prophetic in the filmmaker's self-characterization, his self-analysis, through these two grapplers. Not just prophetic, to be sure, but diaristic, a direct reflection of his daily reality on the project, roaming the wilds of Mexico on a mission of doubtful outcome, with inadequate support or approval, an uncertain reception awaiting back home. To the extent that this is prophecy, it's the self-fulfilling kind. One of the men says a mouthful when, talking as the pot to the kettle, he says to the other, "When are you going to learn you made all your own troubles?"
The best thing I saw in this year's San Diego Latino Film Festival, Machuca, gets a one-week return engagement at Hazard Center starting Friday, the July selection in the ongoing series, Cinema en Tu Idioma. This Chilean film is a world-class piece of cinema, as I can objectively testify from my recent travels through Zurich and Milan, among other places, where it either was currently playing or had just finished playing. That's one route to renewing our appreciation for this vital monthly supplement to our local film scene.