Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Major Dundee" Wanders Too Often From the Trail
Cleveland Press April 16, 1965
"Major Dundee" is well above the average western adventure yarns that fill the screens. That it isn't one of the best is due to a terribly complicated plot that tries to take in too much, ends by dulling its main points.
Maj. Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston) takes it upon himself to pursue an Apache tribe that has massacred an entire cavalry post and has kidnaped several children.
Since the Army can't spare many men, and the major has no authorization anyway, he recruits soldiers from the federal prison of which he is in charge.
Right here the script begins to create contrived conflicts, a practice that continues throughout the movie. In addition to thieves and renegades there are Confederate prisoners (it is the last year of the Civil War) and among them is an old West Point buddy (Richard Harris) whom Dundee helped cashier out of the service.
THERE ARE SIX Negro soldiers in the Union Army and another cause for conflict because of the Confederate soldiers serving with them.
The Army illegally chases the Indians into Mexico. That country is occupied by France and Dundee and his boys are in trouble with the French army as well as the Apaches.
Early in the film the captured children are returned so there is no reason for pursuit except Dundee's personal feeling or vengeance. But Dundee pushes on, takes over a Mexican town occupied by the French, engages in a romance with a buxom German widow (Senta Berger).
HE PLEDGES her his loyalty, betrays her with another woman, seeks self - psychoanalysis in a whisky bottle, gets holed up in another Mexican town and has to be rescued by his Confederate enemy.
About this time the audience may have forgotten the Indians, but the script writers remember them in time for a bang-up battle. But, hang on, it's not the end.
There's still that French army surrounding them on all sides.
HESTON GIVES a strong portrayal as a vengeance-seeking, tough, mean soldier. Any doubt in the characterization is the fault of the script not his.
Richard Harris is a southern officer with an Irish accent and his presence and the feud with Dundee is a cliche borrowed from a hundred other movies.
Director Sam Peckinpah has a feeling for panoramic outdoor scenes, an eye for detail. He has grimy soldiers chasing grimy Indians and his people and places are realistic things. It's the script that betrays him too.