Major Amos Dundee (Heston):
“You surveyed this whole area with Grant in ’47, didn’t you?” Capt. Benjamin Tyreen (Harris): “Yes, the tequila was excellent.”
My Major Dundee cast Bio on Charlton Heston was turning into an encyclopedia – so I’m taking a different tack and sliding over to Major DundeeTrivia.
Trivia, of course, is often not a very credible source of information – and is sometimes just gossip. We may assume it has credibility, but … in the case of Major Dundee, the trivia is hardly trivial, and may indeed be very telling about what really happened on this project.
Let have a peek:
Although Major Dundee was originally said to be based on a true story, it was actually just loosely based on historical events. (Can you imagine an opening screen saying: “Based loosely on historical events”?
Major Dundee was Peckinpah’s first big budget film. (Luckily it wasn’t his last)
John Ford was originally approached to Direct the movie, but he was busy at work on Cheyenne Autumn.
Columbia 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. Columbia added more stress to the production by moving the wrap date up a full month. Sam Peckinpah wasn’t pleased. (But REALLY Sam!? 4 hours?)
Heston signed on the film to work with Sam Peckinpah, having really enjoyed Ride the High Country (1962). But he later 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 about. Heston later regretted breaking his own rule of never participating in any film where the script wasn’t finalized. However Peckinpah was famous for re-writing scripts and making things up as he went along anyway – so it might not have mattered. For instance: The main character in the original script was Trooper Ryan, but Peckinpah guided script changes and re-writes to make Major Dundee the focus of the story.
The romance with Teresa (Senta Berger) was added by the studio – and was not in the original script.
Also the original script written by Harry Julian Fink contained a great deal of violence and profanity – which would have been forbidden in any screenplay for a film made during the mid-’60s.
It’s said the original budget was $4.5 million and scheduled for 75 days of principal photography. But only two days before start up, a change in the top brass at Columbia occurred, and the new regime cut the budget down by $1.5 million, and the schedule down by 15 days. Peckinpah considered this an act of extreme betrayal. Shooting was also ended early by studio executives, in the interest of controlling costs, and before some important scenes were filmed. Then, after the success of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), Columbia Pictures told him they would allow him to re-shoot parts of Dundee that had been cut from the released version. Peckinpah declined.
Apart from Peckinpah’s constant battles with the studio over the film’s shooting schedule, budget, content, and length, he was drinking and often absent from the set – as well as sometimes antagonizing his film crew and Cast. 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 one point during a shoot an enraged Heston allegedly threatened Peckinpah with a saber. Heston later said this is only time he’d had such in incident in his film career.
It’s also noted that Heston and Richard Harris didn’t get along – but that Harris simply did not get along with anyone due to his rebellious nature. Heston later insisted that things weren’t as bad as reported, but it’s well documented that Harris liked to party and was often drunk, hung over, and late to the set – the exact opposite of Heston. (MFW: You’d never know it by Harris’ performance on screen though – which was great) Yet Heston did lodge a formal complaint about Harris‘ behavior with producer Jerry Bresler.
In the end, Heston was reportedly more or less directing the film to complete it since Peckinpah often wandered away from the set in a drunken haze. Heston, however, gave up the salary for the film in order to appease studio executives into keeping Peckinpah at the helm.
Ultimately, Columbia more or less broke its contract and edited the film itself instead of leaving it to Peckinpah. A film cut close to what it’s believed Peckinpah wanted(?) wasn’t released until 2005, and even then it’s largely guesswork. Prior to DVD release, much restoration was needed for the original film reels, and many cut scenes were reinserted. This includes an opening scene which makes the overall story much easier to follow. Fact is however, that Sam’s real film is lost for good.
Several slow motion scenes (Sam’s specialty) in tribute of Seven Samurai, an inspiration for many Western movies, were filmed, but later cut.
Many of the actors in Dundee, came to be known as the “Sam Peckinpah Stock Company” because they later appeared in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)and other films. They included Warren Oates, BenJohnson, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Dub Taylor, Aurora Clavel, Enrique Lucero, R.G. Armstrong and several others …
The role of Captain Tyreen (Harris) was intended for Anthony Quinn, who pulled out.
James Coburn role of scout Samuel Potts was initially offered to Lee Marvin, but hedemanded too high salary. It was Marvin’s own agent who suggested Coburn for the role. Coburn then went on to Star in Peckinpah’s, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).
Woody Strode was considered for the part that went to Brock Peters.
There’s more … but that’s plenty enough.
Stunning. Shocking. Grown men with millions of (other people’s) dollars in their hands – and other people’s livelihoods, careers etc. – behaving worse than kids.
And yet … somewhere, somehow a movie finally emerges. 2 Versions. A bad one – and a not too bad one. Neither is what was initially intended. But still worth watching.
Heston doesn’t smile much in The Big Country. He’s the Major’s (Charles Bickford) hard-bitten boy – the son he never had – and his foreman. He’s cowboy tuff and cowboy gruff. He’s also plain unhappy that the girl he’s loved so long has saddled up with an Eastern greenhorn, Gregory Peck. It ‘sticks in his craw’ – Big time – and he’s not going to leave quietly …
As the film ends, Big transitions are in the offing. The battling patriarchs – Burl Ives and Charles Bickford – are dead – along with Ives’ troublesome son Buck (Chuck Connors). It’s seems a ‘given’ that Heston will become the new boss of the Major’s empire – alongside his proper partner Carroll Baker; while the Hannassey’s (Ives’ bunch) homestead is in disarray with no one at its helm; meanwhile the “Big Muddy” now rises under Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons.
As Peck and Simmons ride off into the sunset – we are sure that Heston and Carroll Baker will complete their own circle (though we don’t get to see it).
One wonders though, if there still isn’t an untold story on the horizon …
The only problem is: where do you find the players? – another cast like this?
The answer is …
In this 2002 file photo, Charlton Heston acknowledges applause at a benefit honoring him at the
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
(Photo by Steve Sisney/The OklahomanArchives)
Heston … Part 2 … Western FilmographyThe Savage -1952Susan Morrow / HestonArrowhead – 1953The Pony Express – 1953Far Horizons – 1955Donna Reed / HestonThree Violent People – 1956The BIg Country – 1958Major Dundee 1965Will Penny – 1968The Last Hard Men – 1976The Mountain Men – 1980Tombstone – 1993
Director William Wyler has the distinction of having directed more actors to Oscar-nominated performances than any
other director in history: thirty-six.
Out of these nominees, fourteen went on to win Oscars.
Wyler: Academy Award for Best Direction three times Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Mrs. Miniver
“I made over forty Westerns. I used to lie awake nights trying to think up new ways of getting on and off a horse.”
Western Filmography (Partial)
People laugh at these old Westerns now – from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – but that’s where we came from – and where Wyler paid his dues – and went on to become one of the most celebrated Directors in Movie history.
Friendly Persuasion (1956 – Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire) / The Westerner Starring (1940 – Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan) / The Storm (1930) Written by John Huston / Hell’s Heroes (Charles Bickford)1929 / Thunder Riders (1928) / The Border Cavalier (1927) / Daze of the West (1927) / The Horse Trader (1927) / The Square Shooter (1927) / The Phantom Outlaw (1927) / Gun Justice (1927) / The Home Trail (1927) / The Ore Raiders (1927) / The Lone Star (1927) / Hard Fists (1927) / The Haunted Homestead (1927) / Galloping Justice (1927) / Shooting Straight (1927) / Blazing Days (1927) / The Silent Partner (1927) / Tenderfoot Courage (1927) / Kelcy Gets His Man (1927) / The Two Fister (1927) / The Stolen Ranch (1926) / The Pinnacle Rider (1926) / Lazy Lightning (1926) / Martin of the Mounted (1926) / The Gunless Bad Man (1926) / Stolen Ranch (1926) / The Crook Buster (1925)