Trivia / Major Dundee

  • Awesome, Dear Boy: Charlton Heston was eager to work with Sam Peckinpah, having been a big fan of his debut, Ride the High Country.
  • Creator Backlash: Sam Peckinpah hated the score the studio added.
  • Dawson Casting: Then 37-year old Warren Oates played O.W. Hadley, who is referred to as a "boy" despite the fact that he's clearly anything but (he was actually two years older than Richard Harris, who played his Confederate commanding officer). Borders on Narm when he dies and everyone continually refers to him as a "boy" despite the fact that he was clearly in his late 30s.
  • Doing It for the Art: Charlton Heston put up his salary in order to get the film finished and so that Sam Peckinpah wouldn't be fired.
  • Executive Meddling: A legendarily notorious example in the annals of Hollywood, studio heads at Columbia abruptly cut short the film's shooting schedule and kept reducing the running time from over four hours to 156 minutes, 136 minutes at its initial release, and finally 123 minutes. As might be expected, director Sam Peckinpah wasn't pleased with these changes. Supposedly The Wild Bunch was his attempt at a semi-remake. According to Charlton Heston the film suffered a lot of this (see What Could Have Been below). Among other problems Heston cited that Major Dundee began filming without a properly finished script and that none of the major parties involved had agreed on what the film was truly supposed to be: Heston said he saw the film as being about life after the Civil War, the studio just wanted a standard issue "Cavalry Vs. Indians" picture and Peckinpah, according to Heston, saw it as The Wild Bunch, which would become his most famous and iconic film a few years later.
  • Prima Donna Director: Sam Peckinpah fired at least two dozen crew members in screaming fits of rage, drank all night and patronized local brothels, paid for out of the film's budget.
    • At the end of principal photography, James Coburn said to Peckinpah, "Goodbye, you rotten motherfucker". And they were friends!
  • Romance on the Set: Sam Peckinpah fell for actress Begoña Palacios and spent much of his time courting her rather than directing.
  • Scully Box: While he was not a short man by any means - he stood a little over 6-foot even - Richard Harris was not happy to learn that he would be standing next to considerably taller men (Charlton Heston, James Coburn, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and R.G. Armstrong all stood around 6'2" or 6'3" while Jim Hutton stood 6'5"), so Harris jacked up his boots so he would appear taller (see below).
  • Troubled Production: Sam Peckinpah reworked Harry Julian Fink's script from a basic Western adventure story to a Moby-Dick-esque study of the title character, a US Cavalry officer who would do anything for glory. Everyone who read the final version thought he had another masterpiece in the pipeline—including Charlton Heston, who eagerly accepted the title role. With him attached, filming began in Mexico.
    • And that's where things began to fall apart. Columbia kept changing things—the shooting schedule, the budget, the film's final running time — much to Peckinpah's chagrin. To accommodate the changes, the script was again rewritten, this time by Oscar Saul; it was still being reworked throughout filming, which accounts in part for the finished film's choppiness. One of the more egregious additions was the romance plot with Senta Berger's Teresa. (Some idea of what Fink and Peckinpah's original script looked like can be gleaned from a novelization published in 1965, which adds several scenes and whole subplots, while changing the fates of several characters. The romance is completely absent.)
    • So Peckinpah started drinking. Heavily, even by his standards. And then showing up this way on set. He began firing people for the most insignificant things, and threatening everyone else to the point that Heston frequently had to pull his costume's cavalry sabre on the director repeatedly. Peckinpah fell for actress Begonia Palacios, who played a minor character in the film,note and spent much of his time courting her rather than directing.
    • It didn't help either that Heston and costar Richard Harris hated each other. They'd worked together previously, on The Wreck Of The Mary Deare, and their antipathy carried over into Dundee: Heston called Harris a "professional Irishman" while Harris labeled Heston a "holy Joe." Senta Berger recounted the two engaging in macho posturing, like Harris hiking his boots up to seem taller than Heston. Heston was so annoyed by Harris's general behavior (he frequently showed up late on set, and argued with Peckinpah and his costars) that he lodged a formal complaint with producer Jerry Bresler.
    • Word of this got back to the studio, which aggravated matters by moving the wrap date up a full month. They were reportedly going to fire Peckinpah as well until Heston saved his friend's job by making the ultimate sacrifice—he said he would forego his salary and do the whole film for free. Even so, Peckinpah's drinking got even worse. This time he often wandered away from the set, and Heston reportedly directed much of the later scenes.
    • When principal photography was finally over, Columbia broke its contract with Peckinpah and hired editors itself to put the film together. The film was cut from a reported 155 minute run time to 121 minutes, with a poorly-matched musical score (featuring a title march by Mitch Miller and his Sing-Along Gang) added. Critics regarded the finished film as an interesting failure; however, stories of Peckinpah's difficult behavior percolated throughout Hollywood. He was fired from his next film, Film The Cincinnati Kid, and spent several years blackballed by Hollywood studios.
    • Peckinpah eventually recouped his reputation with a TV production of Noon Wine, then made ''The Wild Bunch, which is sort of a semi-remake of this film. For years there was a debate as to how much the released version represented what Peckinpah had really wanted to do, and only in 2005, two decades after his death, was a version released that tried to be true to his original vision. This version runs 138 minutes, 17 minutes longer than the original studio cut, and adds a complete new score and sound mix.
  • Wag the Director: Charlton Heston and Richard Harris both argued with Sam Peckinpah. Eventually, the director left the set and drove into the hills at night, declaring that he'd rather sleep with the scorpions that with his actors.
    • The normally mild-mannered Heston was so enraged by Peckinpah's behaviour that he threatened to run him through with his cavalry sabre.
  • What Could Have Been: Reportedly the film was originally intended to be four hours long, described as a kind of "Moby Dick In The Old West" with Dundee as Captain Ahab and the Apache as the collective whale, but countless scenes went un-filmed due to Executive Meddling.
    • Legendary Hollywood western director John Ford was offered the chance to direct the film before Sam Peckinpah got involved, but he was busy with other projects and at any rate he just wasn't interested.
    • Lee Marvin was Peckinpah's initial choice for the role of Samuel Potts, but he wanted too much money.
    • The role of Capt. Tyreen was intended for Anthony Quinn, who pulled out.
    • The original treatment written by Harry Julian Fink contained a great deal of violence and profanity, including the uses of "shit" and "fuck", which would have been forbidden in any screenplay for a film made during the mid-'60s.
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