Each Monday, I share reviews of Westerns I’m studying to prepare for making 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Eighteen: Major Dundee & Let the Corpses Tan
This is my second approach to Peckinpah’s pre-Wild Bunch epic. It’s fascinating to see him right on the brink of breaking out into the recognizable style that would define the rest of his career after this because Major Dundee still feels like a Peckinpah-playing-by-the-rules picture but the cracks start to show.
There’s little to no slow motion. Though it’s a violent story and we often see the disturbing aftermath, this is before he embraces the exploding bullet wounds and poetic carnage. The Wild Bunch feels more like a release than ever watching Major Dundee; you can practically feel Peckinpah restrained here, for better or worse.
Sometimes it may be for the best. There’s an argument for restrictions and the director does some interesting things here, especially with the dynamic of the characters. Like the more recognized classic, this Western has no clear hero. Yes, Heston is the lead but he’s as flawed as the scalawags who follow him. If there’s one noble character in the movie, it’s Coburn’s tracker but he’s relegated to the sidelines. What I liked most about the movie is the interplay between these gray characters, arguing and sometimes drawing blood over the right thing to do, over justice. That question, that conflict, is the essence of the Western and it’s one element that runs strong through this film as much as The Wild Bunch.
There’s a lot to admire about this picture and also many things to wonder about. The ending feels rushed. Was it what Sam intended? I don’t know. I’ll have to do more research but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.
Seen on DVD.
Let the Corpses Tan
Okay, this is no ordinary Western. It could be argued that it isn’t a Western at all but I find it to be a wild riff on the spaghetti western, which is already a riff itself, as if conceived by a maniac.
Sequences in this film soar. Some of it feels so fresh and exciting, like touching the bone marrow of cinema. It’s often exhilerating and never boring. But it is also confounding. It manages to be entertaining while also redundant. And ultimately it relies too much on its weirdness when its most grounded elements are the most powerful.
In short, I liked watching it. I would recommend any filmmaker watch it. I would love to see more riffs like this on the Western genre. I don’t know if I’ll get this wild on any of my 12 Westerns but, after watching this, it sure is one hell of a temptation.
Seen on Blu-Ray.