Writer/producer/director Garner Simmons is the author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage. As an authority on the revered filmmaker, he participates in the Audio Commentary tracks on Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-rays of Major Dundee (1965) and the forthcoming debut of The Glory Guys (1965) and reissue of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). He weighs in below on the Peckinpah contribution to the lesser-known but sturdily entertaining Cavalry saga.
The Glory Guys (1965) was Sam Peckinpah’s first feature screenwriting assignment. Based on the 1956 novel The Dice of God by Hoffman Birney, the rights had been purchased by Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions, who hired Peckinpah in 1957. Although Sam Peckinpah, today, is rightly revered as one of America’s great visionary directors, he began his career in the 1950s writing for CBS’s Gunsmoke. Recognizing him as a rising talent, Arnold Laven gave Peckinpah an opportunity to adapt the novel. A heavily fictionalized version of Custer’s defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn, Birney devotes substantial time to the backstory of Captain Demas Harrod (played by Tom Tryon) in the years prior to and following the Civil War including his acrimonious relationship with General Fredrick McCabe (Tuthill in the book), the Custer surrogate (played by Andrew Duggan). The balance of the book deals with Cavalry life from the perspective of a handful of recruits (including one portrayed by a young James Caan). Discarding the first half of the book, Peckinpah refocuses the story along two lines: the lives of the raw recruits, and a love triangle involving Captain Harrod, an Army scout named Sol Rogers (Harve Presnell), and a beautiful widow named Lou Woodward (Senta Berger). Filmed entirely on location in and around Durango, Mexico, by Academy Award®-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, this film is visually stunning. And by audaciously staging the Battle of Little Big Horn off screen, it is truly unique. Though written in 1957, the film itself was not shot until 1964 (released in July 1965) within months of Peckinpah’s third feature as a director, Major Dundee (released March 1965). This provides us with an interesting insight into Peckinpah’s own development as a writer and director. In 1957, Laven hired him to write a screenplay, nothing more. As the creative partner in Levy-Garnder-Laven, he never could have anticipated that in the seven years it would take him to bring The Glory Guys to the screen, Sam Peckinpah’s directorial career would not only take off but surpass Laven’s own. A case can be made that with the success of Ride the High Country and with Major Dundee, Peckinpah’s own cavalry Western, about to go into production at Columbia, Laven was able to persuade United Artists to make The Glory Guys as well. It is also important to address the persistent rumor that somehow Peckinpah “directed” portions of The Glory Guys “uncredited.” This is simply not true. First there are the obvious stylistic and creative differences between The Glory Guys and Major Dundee. While both films share certain similarities of plot and casting (most notably Berger), these are at best superficial. In fact, by comparing the two, it is possible to see Peckinpah’s growth as a writer. Clearly in the intervening years, his interest shifted from melodrama to drama as his characters became complex, multilayered and contradictory. At the same time, Major Dundee was an exceptionally difficult production that ranged across Mexico from Durango in the north to Churubusco Studios in Mexico City. Throughout the shoot, Peckinpah was at war, his main adversary being his producer, Jerry Bresler. Further, as production on Dundee came to an end, Peckinpah first oversaw the director’s cut of the film and then moved on his next directorial assignment: The Cincinnati Kid. After doing the preproduction on this film and a week into shooting, he was fired by the film’s producer, Martin Ransohoff. Given that The Cincinnati Kid was taken over by Norman Jewison and released in October 1965, there would have been no opportunity for Peckinpah to have also directed any portion of The Glory Guys. Thus it is important to recognize Peckinpah’s contribution to The Glory Guys for what it is: a solid screenplay. And therefore, the film itself stands simply on its own merits and is definitely worth your time.
Major Dundee is available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/24455/MAJOR-DUNDEE-1965/. Armed with a battalion of Bonus Content, The Glory Guys rides onto TT hi-def Blu-ray August 16. Preorders open July 27.