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Posts Tagged ‘WESTERNS’

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.

DOGS VS. JACKALS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 25, 2011 at 12:11 am

There’s a scene in the classic John Wayne Western, The Searchers, that counterterror experts should study closely.

Wayne–in the role of Indian-hating Ethan Edwards–and a party of Texas Rangers discover the corpse of a Comanche killed during a raid on a nearby farmhouse.

One of the Rangers–a teenager enraged by the carnage has seen–picks up a rock and bashes in the head of the dead Indian.

Wayne, sitting astride his horse, asks: “Why don’t you finish the job?”  He draws his revolver and fires two shots, taking out the eyes of the dead Comanche–althugh the mutilation is not depicted onscreen.

The leader of the Rangers, a part-time minister, asks: ” What good did that do you?”

“By what you preach, none,” says Wayne/Edwards.  “But what that Comanche believes–ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the Spirit land.  Has to wander forever between the winds.  You get it, Reverend.”

Now, fast forward to May 1, 2011: U.S. Navy SEALS descend on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and kill Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chieftain.

Among the details of the raid that most titilates the media and public: The commandos were accompanied by a bomb-sniffing dog.

The canine was strapped to a member of the SEAL team as he lowered himself and the dog to the ground from a hovering helicopter near the compound.

Heavily armoured dogs–equipped with infrared night-sight cameras –have been used in the past by the top-secret unit.  The cameras on their heads beam live TV pictures back to the troops, providing them with critical information and warning of ambushes.

The war dogs wear ballistic body armour that is said to withstand damage from single and double-edged knives, as well as protective gear which shields them from shrapnel and gunfire.

Some dogs are trained to silently locate booby traps and concealed enemies such as snipers. The dog’s keen senses of smell and hearing  makes him far more effective at detecting these dangers than humans.

The animals will attack anyone carrying a weapon and have become a pivotal part of special operations as they crawl unnoticed into tunnels or rooms to hunt for enemy combatants.

Which brings us to the ultimate of ironies: Osama bin Laden may have been killed through the aid of an animal Muslims fear and despise.

Muslims generally cast dogs in a negative light because of their ritual impurity.  Muhammad did not like dogs according to Sunni tradition, and most practicing Muslims do not have dogs as pets.  

It is said that angels do not enter a house which contains a dog. Though dogs are not allowed for pets, they are allowed to be kept if used for work, such as guarding the house or farm, or when used for hunting.

Because Islam considers dogs in general to be unclean,  many Muslim taxi drivers and store owners have refused to accommodate customers who have guide dogs.   In 2003, the Islamic Sharia Council, based in the United Kingdom, ruled that the ban on dogs does not apply to those used for guide work.

But many Muslims continue to refuse access, and see the pressure to allow the dogs as an attack upon their religious beliefs.

Counterterror specialists have learned that Muslims’ dread of dogs can be turned into a potent weapon against Islamic suicide bombers.

In Israel, use of bomb-siniffing dogs has proven highly effective–but not simply because of the dogs’ ability to detect explosives through their highly-developed sense of smell. 

Muslim suicide-bombers fear that if they blow themselves up near a dog, they might kill the animal–and its unclean blood might be mingled with their own, thus making them unworthy to ascend to Heaven and claim those 72 willing virgins.

Similarly, news in 2009 that bomb-sniffing dogs might soon be patrolling Metro Vancouver’s buses and SkyTrains as a prelude to the 2010 Olympics touched off Muslims’ alarms.

“If I am going to the mosque and pray, and I have this saliva on my body, I have to go and change or clean,” said Shawket Hassan, vice president of the British Columbia Muslim Association.

What are the lessons to be learned from all this?  They are two-fold:

l.   Only timely tactical intelligence will reveal Al Qaeda’s latest plans for destruction. 

2.  No matter how adept Islamic terrorists prove at concealing their momentary aims, they cannot conceal the insights and long-term objectives of the religion, history and culture which have scarred and molded them.

American police, Intelligence and military operatives must constantly ask themselves: “How can we turn Islamic religion, history and culture into weapons against the terrorists we face?”

These institutions must become as intimately familiar with the mindset of our Islamic enemies as the best frontier Army officers became with the mindset of the Indians they fought. 

General George A. Custer once freed several white female captives by threatening to hang the chiefs of the tribes responsible.  The Indians scorned death by knife or gunshot.  But they feared that the spirit of a hanged man remained forever trapped within his body, thus preventing him from reaching the Happy Hunting Ground. 

And Custer, knowing this, put this intelligence to effective, life-saving use. 

American Intelligence agencies must learn what our Islamic enemies most seek, most prize, and—above all—most hate and fear.  Then these agencies must ruthlessly apply that knowledge in defense of America’s survival.

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