Richard Harris did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Benjamin Tyreen in Major Dundee.
Tyreen in his opening scene is leading an escape where he has killed one of Dundee's men in an attempt to escape from the Union army prison. In this first scene, and the followup after he and his men have been recaptured, Harris brings the real force of personality expected from a good Richard Harris turn I'll admit. Harris is particularly suited to this role from the outset though in his roguish charm is a natural fit for proper rebel commander. Harris in fact gets a mulligan for the initial murder committed by Tyreen essentially through that charm. Harris helps even more so though by so effectively establishing the will of the man in his first public then private showdown with Heston's Major Dundee. Where Heston is a wall of granite, Harris is the sharpened knife. Harris isn't all charm here bringing the right edge in his approach in these scenes by exuding such a palatable disdain for Dundee. Harris properly takes this a step further than just the hatred of an enemy there is a more severe venom in this hatred that Harris offers. That venom in his delivery alluding properly to their history that extends beyond enemy combatants as Dundee before the civil war even testified against Tyreen for participating in a personal duel that led him to be expelled by the army.
That old wound between Tyreen and Dundee is so effectively established within Harris work from the outset creating the underlying motivated hatred Tyreen has for Dundee. Although as much as Harris would be a proper scoundrel that is not all there is to his role as he effectively naturally changes his approach once the two men cut a deal. The deal being Tyreen and his men will help Dundee for better treatment for all the soldiers, in order to help Dundee avenge a massacre committed by renegade Apaches. Tyreen accepts the deal, and Dundee accepts Tyreen's help as since he gives him this word. Once Tyreen becomes the full commander against Harris is excellent in showing the minor transformation in Tyreen from hate filled prisoner to a proper commander. What I particularly love is how Harris differs from Heston in this regard realizing Tyreen as a very different kind of soldier. Where Heston emphasized strength, Harris emphasized essentially the class and mentality of being a soldier, which for Tyreen requires being a proper gentleman. This philosophy defines Harris's work in his whole physical manner he takes in the role which is always to grant a certain elegance to Tyreen even as he goes head first into violent battle. Harris never simplifies this or caricatures this, rather the history of this lifelong soldier is the foundation of this exemplified through the passionate way Harris plays every moment as the gentleman soldier.
Now that is not to say Tyreen is this stiff soldier, far far from it, his gentlemanly qualities Harris performs in an exact way that feels natural to this man who both believes in a certain code even while breaking other laws. This never seems hypocritical by how effortlessly Harris applies this aspect as again a foundation of principles deep within the man. Harris properly electric in the role by while offering that stability, also challenges everything within Major Dundee and in a way Heston's performance. Throughout the film Harris is brilliant in the way he works with and in a way around Heston's more steadfast portrayal. Harris pressures and prods Heston's performance by the unpredictability within his work. Harris is very entertaining in offering these snide deliveries where Tyreen is attempting to have a little fun at Dundee expense however he also is very dynamic in the way he differs when one of Dundee's acts more closely contrasts with his own beliefs. This includes a scene where Dundee orders the death of one of Tyreen's men for desertion. Harris is outstanding in this scene by baring the complication of the moment in Tyreen mind. On the surface most directly revealing his still fervent hatred of Dundee as he stands against the command, however minding his distaste for his soldier's cowardice subtly within his eyes. When Tyreen disposes of the man himself it is a inevitable act and Harris is fantastic in revealing the pain in it as he shows a man doing what he knows is the right thing yet hating it since it appeases his sworn enemy.
Harris's work is the performance that remains truly captivating throughout the film as he embodies the more complex themes Peckinpah attempts to tackle in examining these two men. The one who fights for glory and the one who fights for honor. Although Harris is playing the rogue he's excellent in showing Tyreen as the man with a purer causes in terms of his personal beliefs in soldering. The film eventually briefly drifts from Tyreen, which on a side note cements Harris as a supporting player, in an extended sequence where Dundee recovers from his wounds in enemy territory and his own values are challenged. Tyreen though is the one who comes to rescue Dundee, and again I love Harris's portrayal of the Tyreen's methods in this. He's is indeed fun to simply watch perform here, but it also works within the character as Harris portrays even when directly saving Dundee there is this degree of spite in the moment. Not spite for rescuing him, but rather spite in the act of the rescue. Harris even in this brings this delicious bit of joy within Tyreen as he sees Dundee so low, and is the one who has to force the commander back to his proper place as a commander again. This never feels nonsensical to the character rather Harris's so precise portrayal of Tyreen's beliefs makes it a natural act as the honor bound man must help the man he's given his word to. Harris is outstanding as he embodies the Peckinpah hero fully here as a man you could almost is driven to an insane act in order to fulfill what he thinks is right in within his very specific beliefs. As with Pike in The Wild Bunch, or Bennie in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Harris fully embraces the idea of this man going head first into fight even if it means his death. I especially have affection for how Harris matches his character's intent by fully embracing this spirit throughout the film's final scenes, right down to basically wearing Peckinpah's trademark bandana in the last battle. Harris is a proper mad man in the best of ways in the final scene that matches Peckinpah's intensity in the direction of the battle. Although it would be perhaps a few more years before Peckinpah got to direct a film fully in his own vision, this film is not far from it particularly through Richard Harris's dynamite portrait of rebel in spirit and political values, but not within his moral code.