Film / Major Dundee
is a 1965 Western
film directed by Sam Peckinpah
and starring Charlton Heston
, Richard Harris
, Jim Hutton
, and James Coburn
The title character, Union cavalry officer Major Amos Dundee (Heston), is relieved of his command for an unspecified tactical error at the Battle of Gettysburg and sent to head a prisoner-of-war camp in the New Mexico Territory. When a family of ranchers and a relief column of cavalry are massacred by an Apache war chief named Sierra Charriba, Dundee seizes the opportunity for glory, raising a contentious troop of Union regulars (black and white), Confederate prisoners, several Indian scouts, and a gang of civilian mercenaries on an expedition into Mexico to destroy the Apaches.
- The Alcoholic: Wiley. Dundee in the extended version.
- The American Civil War: Although the main period setting of the story, much of the action takes place in the New Mexico Territory and Mexico.
- Bad Ass Baritone: Dundee himself, seeing as how he's played by Charlton Heston. Sam Potts and Aesop as well, as they're played by James Coburn and Brock Peters.
- Badass Preacher: Reverend Dahlstrom
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Early in the film Dundee threatens to have Tyreen "hanged from the same tree" as Sierra Charibba when they lock horns over the conditions for having the Confederate prisoners serve. At the end of the film Dundee can only watch in horror as a wounded Tyreen sacrifices himself to buy time for Dundee and the others by going up against another battalion of French by himself.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: the Apache are killed but most of Dundee's men including Tyreen are killed in the final battle with the French soldiers they pissed off earlier in the film, leaving Dundee to return to the States with less than a quarter of the men he set out with. Could also be seen as a Downer Ending.
- California Doubling: Averted. The movie was actually filmed in Mexico.
- Dangerous Deserter: Confederate O.W. Hadley and his execution by Captain Tyreen (Harris).
- Deconstruction: The film plays out as a deconstruction of the old "Cavalry Vs. Indians" formula that dominated so many westerns, taking many of the genre's familiar archetypes and trying to turn them on their heads. The main character is at best an anti-hero (and an extremely arrogant one at that), his friend turned enemy is often shown to be a better man than him, his unit is a study in dysfunction, Dundee not only does not get Teresa, he actually alienates her by cheating on her, and the final battles with the Apache and the French Lancers are far from glorious. Dundee doesn't even kill Charibba in the end, instead Charibba is killed by Tim Ryan the Bugle Boy, leaving Dundee to kick Charibba's body down a slope in an attempt to feel that he actually did something to him.
- And like most Sam Peckinpah films the film plays as a deconstruction of all things Rated M for Manly.
- Dark and Troubled Past: neither Dundee nor Tyreen have much detail explained about their pasts, but what little we do know paints a fascinating picture:
- Dundee is a Southern born career minded officer who nonetheless stayed loyal to the North during the Civil War, and made some kind of tactical mistake at Gettysburg, leading to his reassignment.
- Tyreen is an Irish immigrant who killed a fellow cavalryman in a duel and lost his commission (with Dundee casting the last vote in his court martial) and wound up serving the South.
- Duel to the Death: The reason for the grudging relationship between Dundee and Tyreen, as, prior to the war, Dundee cast the deciding vote in Tyreen's court-martial from the U.S. Army for participating in a duel.
- Enemy Mine: The Confederate prisoners led by Captain Tyreen.
- Glory Hound: Major Dundee's reason for going after Sierra Charriba. It is also implied that it is what caused his tactical error at Gettysburg.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Tyreen is fatally shot, but rides off to singlehandedly delay a second detachment of French cavalry while allowing the others to escape. Dundee is visibly grief stricken by the sight of his former friend's heroic yet gruesome death.
- I Gave My Word: Tyreen, having given his word of honor, binds himself and his men to serve loyally to Dundee, but only until Charriba has been dispatched and resettle their dispute with Dundee.
- The Lancer: Sergeant Gomez to Dundee, Sergeant Chillum to Tyreen.
- Leitmotif: The original score has the Major Dundee March for the title character and a goofy electronic sting for Sierra Charriba's appearances.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The film is practically a who's who of Hollywood tough guys and familiar western character actors.
- Modern Major General: Lieutenant Graham comes off as one of these at first, able to quote Napoleon from memory but clueless about actual warfare. He gradually proves himself, though.
- Nice Guy: Lieutenant Graham. He may be a little stiff and out of place but the poor guy's doing the best he can and even though he's clearly in way over his head going along with Dundee he's still mostly respectful to others and well meaning within his limited experience. One of the best examples of this is the fact that he wanted to intervene when Confederate Jimmy Lee was harassing black Union volunteer Aesop and would have had Dundee not stopped him in order to force Tyreen himself to intervene when tensions between the Confederates and the Union soldiers was escalating.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Captain Tyreen. Perhaps best demonstrated by the way he compliments a black soldier whom one of his Confederates has been antagonizing.
- Only Sane Man: Potts the scout constantly calls out Dundee's questionable behavior and notes the expedition's growing tensions.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Dundee could be seen as this, due to his arrogance being disproportionately larger than his actual abilities.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Jimmy Lee Benteen, who calls Aesop a "nigger" and nearly starts a confrontation among Dundee's troops. Even his fellow Confederates view Benteen as a loud-mouthed Jerkass.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: An arrogant military commander who's been Reassigned to Antarctica, leading an army that's composed of Yankee cavalry, including African Americans, Confederate cavalry, drunks and horse-thieves, a Badass Preacher, and a one armed scout and two Apache scouts. The external antagonism of Sierra Charriba has nothing on the internal antagonism of the group itself.
- Reality Ensues: Dundee gets shot in the leg with an arrow at one point. Though Dundee tries to shrug it off with the usual "Just a flesh wound" response of most invincible action heroes so he can stay with the command, he actually needs to go get surgery for it and it takes about two weeks for him to recover, despite his stubborn alpha male pride boasting otherwise.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Captain Tyreen condescend on Dundee, twice, for his poor judgment and arrogance and, to Tyreen's better judgement, should give up soldiering altogether.
- Dundee also chastised Tyreen, claiming Tyreen brought his own misfortunes upon himself through his own untamed passions and lack of foresight.
- Romancing the Widow: Dundee and Teresa Santiago, but doesn't last very long after Teresa found Dundee bedded with a pretty Mexican.
- The opening scene at the Rostes Ranch and the funeral after the first skirmish with the Apaches were inspired by scenes from The Searchers.
- When Dundee's troop exits Fort Benlin, each faction of the command singing its own distinct song, it is a deliberate parody of an equivalent scene in Fort Apache.
- Sam Potts (James Coburn) warns Dundee to stay off the streets, saying he'd make "an unlikely looking Mexican", in reference to Heston's role as a Mexican narcotics officer (sans accent) in Touch of Evil.
- South of the Border
- We Used to Be Friends: The back story for Dundee and Tyreen
- Fridge Brilliance: Ben-Hur, for which Heston won his only Oscar for Best Actor, had previously featured old Chuck in a story of two friends who betrayed each other, only in this film it was Chuck's character who did the betraying, at least that's how Harris's Tyreen sees it.