|Man with a mission. Charlton Heston|
When you watch Dundee from 1965, you see the burn in Peckinpah’s molten vision
— the deconstruction of Old West fables — but you also feel the bleary result onscreen of Peckinpah’s confusion with the Melvillean morality play of obsession. It seems as if the whole sordid path of Peckinpah’s infamously self-destructive career is bottled up in this movie.
Some of the actors pull through with career-defining performances: Charlton Heston, James Coburn, and Warren Oates (in his big capture scene, his crafty deserter demands his life rather than pleads for it). One shot of the troops crossing a river in the fog rivals Kurosawa for kinetic majesty, but other scenes — especially of festive, cavorting peasants (their dancing and eating are framed in atrociously noble terms) or of speechless young lovers — are stultifying. How drunk do you have to be to copy so little of Kurosawa’s best and so much of John Ford’s worst?