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Major Dundee (Music From the Motion Picture)

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Album Review

Major Dundee was a film that had many things wrong with it, but one thing it had right was the music. As a film, it was overlong and couldn't ever figure out whether it was a Western or a Civil War movie, nor whether it was an action picture or an emotional drama. Sam Peckinpah, who directed and co-wrote it, disowned the final result after it was re-edited by Columbia Pictures. But it remains memorable as the last major score of Russian-born Daniele Amfitheatrof, who, at 63, had been toiling away in Hollywood, mostly at MGM, for more than 30 years. Lately, he had been tagged as an expert on Westerns, particularly after The Last Hunt in 1956. Such large-scale efforts suited his dramatic orchestral sense, derived from his early years in Italy, when he fell under the spell of composer Ottorino Respighi. That sense was on display all over Major Dundee. Amfitheatrof, for one, had no trouble determining what the film was about; for him, it was about stirring action, and he contributed big themes with martial rhythms to accompany that action. For the lighter moments, he collaborated with lyricists for two tracks featuring vocals by Mitch Miller and the Sing Along Gang. (The 2003 reissue on DRG added a third one, previously unreleased, "Girl Sittin' Up in a Tree.") But for the most part, he organized battle music, mixing in strains of familiar tunes such as "Dixie" at appropriate moments. The soundtrack album also was not shy about mixing in sound effects, particularly on the climactic "Gentlemen of the South/Indian Battle/Border Incident/Finale" sequence. Hollywood presented Amfitheatrof with no further opportunities in this vein, however, and he moved back to Europe.


Born: 29 October 1901 in St. Petersburg, Russia

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Composer Daniele Amfitheatrof scored a number of MGM films during the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Before that, the Russian-born son of a novelist and playwright, and graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in Rome, conducted various European symphonies. He scored his first film, Max Ophul's La signora di Tutti, in 1934. Three years later he emigrated to the U.S. where he conducted the Minneapolis and Boston symphony orchestras until heading for Hollywood...
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