FF99 - Major Dundee

Intro by Adam Pranica

Have you ever had a really bad boss? I think we have all had them at one point or another, but it is safe to say that nobody has had a boss like Sam Peckinpah. The stories about him "directing" Major Dundee are legendary: More often than not Peckinpah arrived drunk on set and continued to drink once there. He was so abusive to the cast and crew, often threatening to fire them over nothing, that the star of the film Charlton Heston had to defend them using a cavalry saber. I am guessing the wrap party was epic!

It is one of the many examples of a studio looking the other way from the behavior of a creator or executive in order to get the product they desire, and it wasn't just the studio thinking this way: The very same Charlton Heston who was swinging that saber around and charged Peckinpah on horseback also gave up his entire salary for the film in order to keep the director attached. And he did remain attached to the film when he wasn't wandering offset to the degree that Heston had to direct many of the scenes toward the end of the shooting schedule. They sure don't make bosses like this anymore.

Major Dundee was made in 1965, a full four years before his magnum opus The Wild Bunch or The Getaway or Convoy, which is to say that the long leash Peckinpah was given on this film grew so long it could cross the Grand Canyon by the time 1975 rolled around, but as Fiendly Fire movies go Major Dundee sits in a unique sweet-spot for a couple of reasons: It is during the civil war, but not about the Civil War, and it takes place in Mexico in a war against Native American Apaches.

Heston, playing the title character, is so desperate to exact his revenge on an Apache tribe that has been raiding settlements in the Mexico territory, that he drafts Confederate army prisoners of war from the prison camp he runs. Maybe "draft" isn't the right word. He says they have to volunteer or be hung, so: Tough choice!

Leading the prisoners is Richard Harris as Captain Benjamin Tyreen whose performance is commensurate with an actor of his stature, while still being totally hatable because, say it with me: "All confederates are traitors!" and all the while you have this power struggle between Dundee, Tyreen, and an offscreen Peckinpah that creates a dirty, dangerous, tension-filled ride. Don't get yourself killed, that would inconvenience me! On today's Friendly Fire as we ride with Major Dundee.

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