(David) Sam(uel) Peckinpah Tom Milne - Essay

Tom Milne

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The last quarter of Major Dundee] may be cut to ribbons, but the first ninety minutes are magnificient.

The theme takes up and elaborates the conflict of Guns in the Afternoon, where two old comrades find themselves in a situation which revives and tests old loyalties….

Despite the cuts which thin out the final stages of the story,… the film is a fascinating study in the swing of a pendulum. For all his air of authority and decision, everything Dundee touches goes subtly wrong…. As Dundee sinks lower and lower into self-distrust, so Tyreen rises; not because of a change of character—he remains perfectly consistent from his first sullen arrogance in prison to the final absurd gallantry of his single-handed charge against a French cavalry troop—but because he gains a kind of moral ascendancy….

This theme is developed with a sweeping subtlety—broad strokes concealing the delicacy underneath—which recalls Ford at his best. Visually the film is magnificent, and its parched landscapes of dry brush and crumbling villages, its sculptural compositions, and proud cavalry movements across river and plain. Scene after scene might have come straight out of Wagonmaster or My Darling Clementine, but linking them all is a touch of the bizarre which is specifically Peckinpah's….

At the same time there is a relaxed control, an unerring eye for juxtapositions, which reminds one that Peckinpah is one of those rare directors with an ability to keep his action racing swiftly, and yet leave one with the impression that there is all the time in the world for pleasurable contemplation. (p. 144)

Tom Milne, "Film Reviews: 'Major Dundee' and 'Invitation to a Gunfighter'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1965 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer, 1965, pp. 144-45.∗