The Ides of Coburn
Debuting two years apart, James Coburn starred in superior action movies of distinctly different stripes that opened in theatres on March 15, and the gravelly-voiced alumnus of The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Charade does a bang-up job in each. In director Sam Peckinpah’s bruised and bruising Major Dundee (1965), which Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo adeptly called “in some sense, Moby Dick in the Southwest,” Civil War-era Union officer Charlton Heston (in the antiheroic title role) leads a detail of soldiers and jail inmates into Mexico to hunt down Apache marauders that have massacred settlers and cavalry forces. Dundee must contend with enemies within (as in the drafted “thieves, renegades and “deserters” conscripted from a frontier prison, including boyhood friend turned vengeful Confederate Richard Harris) and without (the warrior Apaches and the French army billeted south of the border in support of Emperor Maximilian). At Heston’s side, Coburn, as rapscallion one-armed mountain man Samuel Potts, engaged as an expedition scout, gets rousingly caught up in the fury and folly of Dundee’s punishing, obsessive mission. The stories of Major Dundee’s troubled production are legion and legendary, but the bond forged between director and actor would flower into future memorable reunions on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and Cross of Iron (1977).
In January 1966, a bodily-intact and quite suave and seductive Coburn would open in his own starring title role, perhaps the best of the James Bond-inspired secret-agent capers that flooded onto movie screens in 007’s wake, Our Man Flint, a huge box-office success and a sold-out TT Blu-ray title. Derek Flint’s stylish, tongue-in-cheek vanquishing of the evildoing entity GALAXY, which sought to conquer the world via weather control, was so popular that a sequel was immediately greenlit. So March 15, 1967 brought the arrival of In Like Flint, an even loopier, spicier spy yarn in which Coburn really must play the ladies man: the baddies here are a secret society of women, based in the (ahem) Virgin Islands, who scheme to commandeer a space station that controls nuclear missiles. Directed by veteran Gordon Douglas, it’s lightweight, scenically colorful fun abundant in female beauty, outlandish gadgetry and the roguish Coburn charm. Both Major Dundee (a terrific 2-disc edition including both the Original 1965 Theatrical Release and the 2005 Extended Version closer to Peckinpah’s original vision) and In Like Flint are solid entertainments and clear testaments that you needn’t beware the Ides of March. Their respective TT hi-def Blu-rays are available at Screen Archives Entertainment: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/24455/MAJOR-DUNDEE-1965/ and http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/23710/IN-LIKE-FLINT-1967/.