Charlton Heston is the title character, a Union officer who determines on his own hook to track down a group of Apache raiders. He gathers together a ragtag group of raw recruits, criminals and Confederate prisoners, and heads off to Mexico. His second-in-command is Confederate officer Richard Harris, and the two men have a long history of mutual hatred and respect. Heston forges ahead despite all obstacles, and despite the costs both to his men and to the civilians they encounter.
This is an early film in Peckinpah’s career (1965), and his trademark slow-motion ballets of violence had yet to be created. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of brutality, and there are also what would become trademark Peckinpah preoccupations: a man’s honour, finding meaning in battle, the glorious death, the hopeless cause, the beautiful losers, and so on. The structure, though a bit flabby (an extended digression involving Heston’s wounded leg doesn’t really advance either the plot or our understanding of the characters), anticipates what would achieve full fruition three years later in The Wild Bunch. Several crucial scenes have been restored to this edition, but some of the footage has been lost forever.
The original mono track is joined by a 5.1 remix. This avoids the usual sins of such remixes, in that there are no surround voices. In fact, there are essentially no surround effects at all. To compensate for this, the music is spectacularly rich and full, with very nice placement of individual parts. The dialogue occasionally suffers from some minor distortion, but given the vintage of the film, overall the sound is very impressive.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very good. The colours are strong, the image is sharp, and the blacks are very deep. Some of the night scenes are murky and hard to make out, and some shots are grainier than others (though these are in the distinct minority). There is some slight edge enhancement visible as well.
The usual roundtable of Peckinpah scholars is back for the commentary track, and they do their usual exceptional work, situating the film in the context of the director’s career and explaining it troubled production history. There are plenty of other extras, too. In place of the usual making-of featurette, there’s an extended excerpt from the documentary “Passion and Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah” dealing with this particular film. A 1965 featurette about the stunt work is in two forms: and B&W 16mm print in good shape, and a very battered and washed-out 8mm colour reel. There’s an incomplete secen and an extended ont, plus some silent outtakes. Rounding things out are trailer artwork outtakes, the original trailer and the 2005 re-release trailer, an excerpt from the exhibitor’s promo reel, and a still and poster gallery. The menu’s main screen is scored.
Though not one of Peckinpah’s masterpieces, this is still a fascinating Western, an assured work by an already forceful director.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Incomplete and Extended Scenes
- Silent Outtakes
- Vintage Featurette
- Documentary Excerpt
- Trailer Outwork Outtakes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Re-Release Trailer
- Exhibitor Promo Reel Excerpt
- Promotional Stills and Poster Artwork