Sometimes I don’t even have a ticket.
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 Dundee Trivia.
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, Ben Johnson, 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 he demanded 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.