Major Dundee (1965)

 

 

Director:  Sam Peckinpah

Starring:  Charleton Heston (Major Dundee), Richard Harris (Capt. Benjamin Tyreen), Jim Hutton (Lt. Graham), James Coburn (Samuel Potts), Michael Anderson Jr. (Trooper Tim Ryan), Senta Berger (Theresa Gelto Santiago), Brock Peters (Aesop, black trooper), Warren Oates (O.W. Hadley), Ben Johnson (Confederate Sgt. Chillum), Slim Pickens (Wiley), Michael Pate (Sierra Charriba)

Major Dundee on an expedition to hunt down and kill an Apache warrior group raiding in Texas during the Civil War.

 

This is a very good Western.  Major Dundee (Charleton Heston) does not have enough troops to follow the raiding Apaches of Sierra Charriba into Mexico.  So he must ask for volunteers from among the prisoner-of-war Confederate soldiers enclosed in the fort.  And this selection is the source of constant tension in the movie as Dundee has to square off with a man who hates him, Captain Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris) who leads the Confederate volunteers.  Several times the northerners and southerners come near to war with each other, completely forgetting Sierra Charriba.

Dundee is a maverick who does what he wants, regardless of orders from his superiors.  He has no authority to cross into Mexico, but who cares.  How else is he going to be able to catch and destroy Sierra Charriba?  Some reviewers think that this was a criticism of the adventurism of the Americans in Vietnam.  Maybe, but Dundee does  a lot better than the Americans did in Vietnam.   

The movie became famous for the battle between Director Sam Peckinpah and his studio, Columbia. The studio edited the film down to the point where Peckinpah walked away from it.  Charleton Heston gave up his salary to improve the movie, but the studio took the money and yet the studio still released the movie as they cut it.   

Why I chose to include the movie was its dealing with the French in Mexico.  For not only did Dundee and company have to fight the Apache, they have to fight the French also. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

1858-1864  --  the first part of Benito Juárez's term as President of Mexico. 

1861-1865  --  the American Civil War. 

Mexico owed a great deal of money to Spain, Great Britain and France.  And since the United States was deeply involved in its Civil War, the European Hapsburg Empire felt that with French military muscle it could intervene in Mexico without risking a battle with the US over violation of the Monroe Doctrine.

1862 (May 5)  --  the French were defeated by the Mexicans at the Battle of Puebla (now commemorated by the Cinco de Mayo festival in Mexico).

The French defeated General Ignacio Zaragoza and enthroned Maximilian of Habsburg (wife Carlota of Habsburg). 

President Benito Juárez continued to run the Mexican government in absentia.

Maximilian was eventually captured and executed on Cerro de las Campanas in the state of Querétaro.

1867  -- the Mexican republic was restored. 

1867-1871  --  second part of Benito Juárez's term as President of Mexico. 

 

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