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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Revenge > Drama > Civil War > Genocide > Comedy > TV > Major Dundee (1965/Columbia/Sony/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Maverick: The Complete Second Season (1958 – 1959/Warner DVDs)

Major Dundee (1965/Columbia/Sony/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Maverick: The Complete Second Season (1958 – 1959/Warner DVDs)


Picture: B/C+     Sound: B-/C+     Extras: B/D     Main Programs: B/B-



PLEASE NOTE:  The Major Dundee Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies and is available exclusively at the Screen Archives website which can be reached at the link at the end of this review.



The 1960s was the last big decade for the Western and not just because of changing times, The Civil Rights movement, The Space Age and other entertainment trends.  The fact is that the genre became a victim of its own success, the lies it was often built on were starting its collapse and its proliferation eventually played it out and wore it out.  The arrival of the Spaghetti Western in the 1960s helped, but it too played against the Hollywood Western and exposed its problems further.


At the same time, the Revenge Western was coming to an end as The Professional Western (we’re in it for the money and only that) was starting to kick in along with more realism and more naturalistic production values.  One such film was Sam Peckinpah’s feature film Major Dundee (1965) with Charlton Heston in the title role as Amos Dundee, tracking down a murderous Apache off-shoot group with a rag tag group of fighters he is forced to use because the manpower and resources are just not there.


It is towards the end of The Civil War and Dundee lands up taking on criminals, defectors, outcasts and even Confederate Soldiers.  As a next step in realism after John Ford’s The Searchers (1956, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), the film was headed for becomes a groundbreaking classic of at least the genre when Columbia Pictures took the film out of Peckinpah’s hands and re-cut it, scored it to be more comical and ruined it.  The studio was doing this often at this time, including with Arthur Penn’s even more groundbreaking The Chase (1966) which has yet to be restored to his original vision.


Both Penn and Peckinpah would be at the forefront of the American New Wave with their films Bonnie & Clyde and The Wild Bunch (both on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) at rival Warner Bros. meaning Columbia missed the boat on that one.  In 2005, Sony (the current owner of Columbia) issued a restored version of the film with a new more fitting music score, as much of the missing footage restored back into the shorter studio cut-down as possible and both versions are now here on Blu-ray from Twilight Time as one of their Limited Edition Blu-ray releases.  This is their first-ever double set.


After many Biblical Epics and historical epics, Heston was on a roll and gives one of his most underrated performances in the title role, fearlessly digging into the character and the screenplay by the great Harry Julian Fink (Ice Station Zebra, the underrated TV series T.H.E. Cat, Dirty Harry), Oscar Saul and Peckinpah takes the long, even dirty way in introducing the ugly situation, the characters, the set-up, then the film kicks in and the result is a very special Western that is sometimes about much more and though I think the longer version is much better, it still is a long film (136 minutes vs. 122 for the whittled down studio version) though watching again, I wondered what the 152 minutes version would do to help the film.


Of course, it also boasts an amazing cast of actors including James Coburn, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, L.Q. Jones, Brock Peters, Michael Anderson Jr., Mario Adorf, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens, Karl Swenson, Michael Pate, Dub Taylor, Enrique Lucero, Aurora Clavel and Senta Berger among them.  That is one of the greatest cats sin any Western I can think of and a stunning one for any film overall.


Though a few parts of the film have dated and a few moments do not work, most of it does, Peckinpah was going for a big epic and succeeded, even cut down this was a major event film and it is a must see film for any serious film fan whether you like Westerns or not.


Sony previous issued both cuts of the film on DVD, but this is their Blu-ray debut. Hard to believe there will only be 3,000 copies pressed of this one, but that’s how Sony has decided to handle it.  The film has never looked or sounded better and it is a nearly lost classic that not enough people have seen.


Twilight Time has added three new extras to what was on the old DVD set in isolated music scores for both films and another fine illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and an essay by Julie Kirgo.  The previous extras are split between the two versions of the film.  The restored longer cut includes a great feature length audio commentary track by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle who are big fans and big film scholars, thoroughly covering the film’s history, the cuts made, what was restored and what might still be missing, plus we also get the 2005 Re-release Theatrical Trailer.  The shortened “Original Theatrical Cut” has Extended Silent Outtakes, Trailer Artwork Outtakes, Exhibitor Promo Reel Excerpt, an Extended Scene (“Major Dundee & Teresa”), Deleted Scene (“Knife Fight”) and Original Theatrical Trailer.  Those repeats are in standard definition, but this is a great set worth getting while supplies last.


The new score by Christopher Caliendo brings back the serious intent of the narrative and mature adult storyline that the shorter cut infantilizes with Daniele Amfitheatrof’s sometimes bizarrely upbeat score (no fault of his own, he did a ton of movie work he never actually got credited for in his career, including on some major films) and the especially obnoxious Mitch Miller song in the credits.  What was Columbia thinking?


Well, they wanted a commercial, friendly Western and this was not really it, but that did not stop them from cutting away.  They were also trying to follow the money by following the state of the genre to that point.  With Spaghetti Westerns just coming into hit prominence, one influence was the TV Western.  You had your serious dramas (Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel), dramas with a bit of comedy (Bonanza), satires (F-Troop) and shows aimed at children (Lone Ranger, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, etc.) and then there was a new sense of comedy in the genre on TV with Maverick.


James Garner was still making big screen films when he took on the role in 1957 and as a card paying con man, great gun fighter and (when possible) womanizer was like nothing we had seen in the genre, even on the big screen.  The show was a hit on the climb when Maverick: The Complete Second Season (1958 – 1959) arrived on the small screen and with Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Garner’s Bret Maverick continued his uniquely winning ways in the ratings.  It was one of the prime shows that used comedy to keep the genre going and would continue to do so even when Garner missed some episodes in a contract dispute (Roger Moore would fill in as his British cousin Beau and shows up in this season) and created the fanboy base of “yup, here we are the Old West and isn’t it fun?” that went beyond kids shows.


This new DVD set has all 26 episodes are here over 6 DVDs and the show holds up well enough, certainly playing better than the several attempted revivals (including the inexplicably hit Mel Gibson/Jodie Foster film) and guest turns include Dan Blocker of Bonanza, Louise Fletcher, Martin Landau, Robert Conrad and even Clint Eastwood.  The writing is not bad, but I was never the biggest fan of the show because it was too broad and obvious, yet the early years were at least something new, different and ambitious, albeit commercial.  It is this trend that Columbia butchered Dundee over and that as a mistake.  Maverick was the way it was because of the limits of TV censorship and Dundee did not have to be turned into a TV movie to work.  It is this disconnect that helped undermine Westerns and eventually helped engineer their fall, even if no one knew it yet.


There are surprisingly no extras.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Dundee looks as good as it is going to on either version, but the longer version is better even when some of the new footage is not as sharp or as clear as we might want it to be.  As if to have a new kind of naturalism, the film was shot on Eastman Kodak 35mm and then processed by the Pathe labs.  That gives it a different look that is not bad, but not either dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor or straight out Kodak color.  It gives it some age, but also a unique look that is almost surreal.  Director of Photography Sam Leavitt, A.S.C. (A Star Is Born (1954), Carmen Jones, The Defiant Ones, Anatomy Of A Murder, the original 1962 Cape Fear) uses the very widescreen frame to its fullest extent and shot this in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision.  He gives the unique color format nuance and some darkness you cannot see as well on the DVD edition.


The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the various episodes of Maverick look pretty good for standard definition, though the monochrome is different from that of Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and other such TV Westerns by virtue of Warner’s black and white having a different look.  The prints are general in good shape, though a few shots have crushed blacks.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on the restored Dundee sounds pretty good, but dialogue is too much in the center channel for me and the optical monophonic theatrical release can only offer so much sound so we get much sound otherwise towards the front speakers.  That leaves the music and some sound effects in stereo.  The cut down theatrical version is in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 lossless sound only, but the isolated music scores are in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless presentations.


The lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono on all Maverick episodes are good for their age and never too compressed, but nothing sonically surprising either.



As noted above, Major Dundee can be ordered while supplies last at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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