He’s not one of my guys, but those who love Sam Peckinpah love him very very much, and for those folks there is good news this week in the form of editions of two of his early films. VCI Entertainment has released Cary Roan’s restoration of Peckinpah’s first feature, the 1961 “Deadly Companions,” in a widescreen version that is remarkably acceptable in the context of all the hideous home video versions this public domain title has suffered over the years. And Twilight Time has issued a double-disc Blu-ray that contains both the 122 minute American theatrical release version of Peckinpah’s 1965 “Major Dundee” and the 136 minute “extended version” that Sony released in 2005. While neither of these cuts are Peckinpah’s (he was thrown off the film, by the producer Jerry Bresler, before the editing stage), the longer version does make a bit more narrative sense, while adding a taste of the graphic violence that would make Peckinpah’s career with “The Wild Bunch” four years later. (For a history of the two versions, and a detailed comparison between them, see Glenn Erickson’s essay at DVD Talk.) My New York Times review is here.
These are the two westerns in which Peckinpah seems to be most directly addressing John Ford — using a star (Maureen O’Hara) and a cinematographer (William H. Clothier) associated with Ford for “Deadly Companions” (though it was presumably the film’s producer, O’Hara’s brother Charles B. Fitzsimons, who determined the cast and crew), and borrowing significant themes and plot elements from “Fort Apache” for “Major Dundee.” But where Ford is about foundation myths, Peckinpah is almost entirely concerned with apocalyptic finales. These two films belong to the bright beginning of a too brief career, but already Peckinpah seems to be rushing toward the cemetery.