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Posts Tagged ‘JAMES COBURN’

“THE TWILIGHT ZONE” AS COVID-19 PROPHECY

In Business, Entertainment, History, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on June 3, 2022 at 12:14 am

On November 8, 1963—57 years before COVID-19 invaded the United States—Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” offered a prophecy of future disaster for the country.

“The Old Man in the Cave” is set in a post-apocalyptic rural town in 1974, 10 years after a nuclear war has devastated the United States. 

A nuclear explosion

The townspeople have discovered a supply of canned food. However, they are waiting for Mr. Goldsmith [John Anderson], their leader, to return with a message from the mysterious and unseen “old man in the cave.” Then they will learn whether the food is contaminated with radiation.

When Goldsmith returns, he informs them that the old man has declared the food is contaminated and that it should be destroyed.

Shortly thereafter, three soldiers led by Major French [James Coburn] enter the town and clash with Goldsmith as they try to establish their authority.

French is clearly a precursor of Donald Trump: Demanding instant obedience and threatening death to anyone who disobeys him, he claims he will organize the region to rebuild society..

President Trump tests positive for COVID-19 | KRCR

Donald Trump

However, Goldsmith believes that French and his men simply want to strip the town of its food.

French attacks the townspeople’s belief in the seemingly infallible “old man in the cave.” He tells them they have survived these past 10 years—but they haven’t lived. 

Fifty-seven years later, Donald Trump will furiously attack not COVID-19 but the medical advice of his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—especially that provided by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease.

He will disdain the wearing of masks and social distancing, and attack those Democratic governors who impose stay-at-home orders to contain the virus. He will offer a series of rosy predictions—none of which come true—that the virus will soon end.

His “cures” include ingesting Clorox bleach and/or having UV light shined up one’s anus.

Interferon Plays Pivotal, Inflammatory Role in Severe COVID-19 Cases

COVID-19 virus

And French holds himself out as the man who can deliver them a wonderful new future.

Fifty-seven years later, Donald Trump will similarly declare: “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

French tempts the townspeople to eat the food Goldsmith warned was contaminated. There is a wild orgy of gluttony as they greedily consume it. 

Only Goldsmith refuses to partake in the food orgy.

The townspeople turn on Goldsmith and threaten him with death unless he reveals the identity of “the old man in the cave.” Goldsmith finally takes the assembly to the cave to reveal his source: A computer.

French incites the townspeople to stone the computer with rocks and canned goods until it explodes. Then French leads the people into celebrating their new-found freedom from this “tyranny”. 

Fifty-seven years later, Trump will similarly incite his followers to attack the United States Capitol building to halt the legal transfer of Presidential power from himself to Joe Biden. 

But as Goldsmith had insisted, the “old man” was correct: The canned goods were contaminated with radiation. All the townspeople—including French and the soldiers—die, their bodies left lying throughout the streets.

Trump will similarly tempt millions of Americans to ignore the deaths of tens of thousands of their fellow citizens from COVID-19 and the overwhelming of the nation’s hospitals. The result will be a vast increase in deaths.

Many of the businesses Trump hoped to keep open—to ensure his own re-election—will be shuttered.

Only one man survives—Goldsmith, who has refused to eat the forbidden food and somberly walks out of the now-dead town.  

As always in a “Twilight Zone” episode, it is Rod Serling who gets the final word: “Mr. Goldsmith, survivor. An eyewitness to man’s imperfection. An observer of the very human trait of greed. And a chronicler of the last chapter—the one reading ‘suicide’. Not a prediction of what is to be, just a projection of what could be. This has been The Twilight Zone.”

Dark-haired man holding a lit cigarette

Rod Serling

Except that Serling was wrong: “The Old Man in the Cave” has proven an uncanny prediction of what did happen in America.

* * * * *

The chief lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 epidemic is that catastrophe inevitably results when natural disaster collides with an evil and incompetent administration.

And the man who stands most responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Americans in 2020 is Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.

Under his tyrannical rule, the United States suffered not simply from a lethal virus but a combination of denial, lies, Republican subservience, chaos, extortion, propaganda as news, quackery as medicine, premature demands to “re-open the country,” ignoring the danger and—finally—resignation (“Learn to live with the virus”). 

Even now, when three vaccines have been produced, millions of Americans—almost all of them Right-wing Trump supporters—refuse to protect themselves and the families and friends they claim to love. 

Mark Anthony—in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”—had it right: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

MAJOR DUNDEE: LESSONS FOR OUR TIME

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 16, 2022 at 12:50 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish Mexico as a French colony under would-be emperor Archduke Maximilian 1.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement. It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee. According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his mind around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked. It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men an audience can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of impetuous Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake. The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan. Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians. Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers. Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers—Dundee’s and Miller’s—are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate. (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory—and the death of slavery. Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout. And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film. This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

Sam Peckinpah.JPG

Sam Peckinpah

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage. (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this new version, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is. Owing to Heston’s career of playing heroes—such as Moses and El Cid—it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.

If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs—especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point—if any—does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians. This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, stripped of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

And America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost. Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one often-disastrous conflict to the next.

“THE TWILIGHT ZONE” AS COVID-19 PROPHECY

In Business, Entertainment, History, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on October 26, 2021 at 12:20 am

On November 8, 1963—57 years before COVID-19 invaded the United States—Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” offered a prophecy of future disaster for the country.

“The Old Man in the Cave” is set in a post-apocalyptic rural town in 1974, 10 years after a nuclear war has devastated the United States. 

A nuclear explosion

The townspeople have discovered a supply of canned food. However, they are waiting for Mr. Goldsmith [John Anderson], their leader, to return with a message from the mysterious and unseen “old man in the cave.” Then they will learn whether the food is contaminated with radiation.

When Goldsmith returns, he informs them that the old man has declared the food is contaminated and that it should be destroyed.

Shortly thereafter, three soldiers led by Major French [James Coburn] enter the town and clash with Goldsmith as they try to establish their authority.

French is clearly a precursor of Donald Trump: Demanding instant obedience and threatening death to anyone who disobeys him. He claims his job is to organize the region so that society can be rebuilt.

President Trump tests positive for COVID-19 | KRCR

Donald Trump

However, Goldsmith believes that French and his men simply want to strip the town of its food.

French tries to dispel the townspeople’s beliefs in the seemingly infallible “old man in the cave” and take control of the area. He tells them they have survived these past 10 years—but they haven’t lived. 

Fifty-seven years later, Donald Trump will furiously attack not COVID-19 but the medical advice of his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—especially that provided by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease.

He will disdain the wearing of masks and social distancing, and attack those Democratic governors who impose stay-at-home orders to contain the virus. He will offer a series of rosy predictions—none of which come true—that the virus will soon end.

His “cures” include ingesting Clorox bleach and/or having UV light shined up one’s anus.

Interferon Plays Pivotal, Inflammatory Role in Severe COVID-19 Cases

COVID-19 virus

And French holds himself out as the man who can deliver them a wonderful new future.

Fifty-seven years later, Donald Trump will similarly declare: “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

French tempts the townspeople to eat the food Goldsmith warned was contaminated. There is a wild orgy of gluttony as they greedily consume it. 

Only Goldsmith refuses to partake in the food orgy.

The townspeople turn on Goldsmith and threaten him with death unless he reveals the identity of “the old man in the cave.” Goldsmith finally takes the assembly to the cave. There it’s revealed that his source has been a computer.

French incites the townspeople to destroy the machine, and they stone it to death with rocks and canned goods. Then French leads the people into celebrating their new-found freedom from this “tyranny”. 

Fifty-seven years later, Trump will similarly incite his followers to attack the United States Capitol building to halt the legal transfer of Presidential power from himself to Joe Biden. 

But as Goldsmith had insisted, the “old man” was correct: The canned goods were contaminated with radiation. All the townspeople—including French and the soldiers—die, their bodies left lying throughout the streets.

Trump will similarly tempt millions of Americans to ignore the deaths of tens of thousands of their fellow citizens from COVID-19 and the overwhelming of the nation’s hospitals. The result will be a vast increase in deaths and the shuttering of many of the businesses Trump hoped to keep open.

Only one man survives—Goldsmith, who has refused to eat the forbidden food and somberly walks out of the now-dead town.  

As always in a “Twilight Zone” episode, it is Rod Serling who gets the final word: “Mr. Goldsmith, survivor. An eyewitness to man’s imperfection. An observer of the very human trait of greed. And a chronicler of the last chapter—the one reading ‘suicide’. Not a prediction of what is to be, just a projection of what could be. This has been The Twilight Zone.”

Dark-haired man holding a lit cigarette

Rod Serling

Except that Serling was wrong: “The Old Man in the Cave” has proven an uncanny prediction of what did happen in America.

* * * * *

The chief lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 epidemic is that catastrophe inevitably results when natural disaster collides with an evil and incompetent administration.

And the man who stands most responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Americans is Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.

Under his tyrannical rule, the United States suffered not simply from a lethal virus but a combination of denial, lies, Republican subservience, chaos, extortion, propaganda as news, quackery as medicine, premature demands to “re-open the country,” ignoring the danger and—finally—resignation (“Learn to live with the virus”). 

Even now, when three vaccines have been produced, millions of Americans—almost all of them Right-wing Trump supporters—refuse to protect themselves and the families and friends they claim to love. 

Mark Anthony—in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”—had it right: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

MAJOR DUNDEE: A LESSON FOR OUR TIME

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 2, 2018 at 12:06 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish Mexico as a French colony under would-be emperor Archduke Maximilian 1.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement. It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee. According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his mind around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked. It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men an audience can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of impetuous Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake. The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan. Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians. Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers. Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers—Dundee’s and Miller’s—are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate. (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory—and the death of slavery. Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout. And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film. This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

Sam Peckinpah.JPG

Sam Peckinpah

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage. (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this new version, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is. Owing to Heston’s career of playing heroes—such as Moses and El Cid—it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.

If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs—especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point—if any—does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians. This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, stripped of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

And America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost. Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one often-disastrous conflict to the next.

WHAT THE MAJOR HAS TO TELL US

In Entertainment, History, Military, Social commentary on April 11, 2014 at 12:10 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish the Austrian Archduke Maximillian 1 as emperor of Mexico.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement.  It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee.  According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his hands around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked.  It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men you can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harrs), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in a young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake.  The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan.  Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians.  Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers.  Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers–Dundee’s and Miller’s–are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate.  (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory–and the death of slavery.  Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout.  And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film.  This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage.  (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is.  Owing to Heston’s record of playing heroes, it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.  If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs–especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point–if any–does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians.  This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, shorn of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost.  Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one conflict to the next.

WHAT THE MAJOR HAS TO TELL US

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2012 at 12:46 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish the Austrian Archduke Maximillian 1 as emperor of Mexico.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement.  It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee.  According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his hands around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked.  It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men you can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harrs), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in a young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake.  The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan.  Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians.  Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers.  Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers–Dundee’s and Miller’s–are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate.  (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory–and the death of slavery.  Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout.  And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film.  This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage.  (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is.  Owing to Heston’s record of playing heroes, it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.  If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs–especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point–if any–does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians.  This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, shorn of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost.  Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one conflict to the next.

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