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Report reaches the US cavalry that the Apache leader Ulzana has left his reservation with a band of followers. A compassionate young officer, Lieutenant DeBuin, is given a small company to find him and bring him back; accompanying the troop is McIntosh, an experienced scout, and Ke-Ni-Tay, an Apache guide. Ulzana massacres, rapes and loots across the countryside; and as DeBuin encounters the remains of his victims, he is compelled to learn from McIntosh and to confront his own naiveté and hidden prejudice. Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
Filmed for $1.2 million in only 7 weeks, a good 3 or 4 weeks less than most of Robert Aldrich's movies. See more »
When the platoon sets out from the fort, Macintosh's Indian girlfriend is watching them depart, with her face half-hidden by the shawl she is holding tightly under her nose. The next shot cuts straight to a close up of her face, but her hands are not in view and more of her face is hidden by the shawl. See more »
Authentic period piece about the horrors of the Indian wars
Robert Aldrich was a director I much admired, directing some of my favorite films: Kiss Me Deadly (1955) the quintessential Mike Hammer flick Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and others. Now, after missing it for over thirty years, I can now add this one: as a truly realistic and accurate portrayal of what would have happened in one of many skirmishes during the Indian wars of the late nineteenth century.
This is a mature and sometimes grossly horrific account of what Apaches did to settlers and soldiers, and what soldiers did to Apaches. It pulls no punches in depicting how the marauding band of Apaches eviscerate the dead and play sport with the entrails of victims, how they rape and torture wives of settlers, how they torture the men slowly and most cruelly. But, it also shows how soldiers are driven to perform cowardly, and equally cruel acts when retaliating, in the name of justice.
And caught in the middle of this mayhem is young Lt. DeBruin (Bruce Davison) who's given the task of rounding up Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez) and his band of Apaches who left the reservation, stole some horses and began to lay a path of destruction and death across part of Arizona. Being fresh out from military college, he needs help; and so, the fort commander (Douglass Watson) sends the grizzled Army scout McIntosh (Burt Lancaster) along to provide necessary advice and guidance together with a company of toughened army veterans kept in check by a weary sergeant (the ever competent Richard Jaeckel). Rounding out the 'posse' is the Apache army scout Ki-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke) who provides the young DeBruin (and the viewer) with insight into the mind of the Apache.
The story resolves to a cat-and-mouse game between Ulzana and his pursuers, each trying to outguess and outmaneuver the other across and through the wide and desolate expanse of the Arizona hills and semi-desert. So, it's as much an entertainment as it is a lesson in the tactics necessary for the soldiers to gain the upper hand. There are some wonderful landscape shots that illustrate just how difficult the task was; and there are moments of sheer brilliance when Aldrich shows Ki-Ni-Tay's on-foot pursuit of one of Ulzana's band, a standout sequence of stealth and suspense.
Throughout all of this McIntosh brings his long experience to bear upon DeBruin's decisions, convincing the lieutenant to set the only trap that would fool Ulzana into making a mistake McIntosh reiterating many times that "those who make the first mistake" will lose. All too true because things always go wrong with the best laid plans...
Once again, Lancaster shows the master's touch in this role: his crinkly eyes, lined face and quiet voice attesting to a man who's seen it all and who just wants to get a job done and survive another day. Which makes Davison almost perfect as the cherubic almost angelic faced neophyte who wants to do well but who also wants to change his world and make it better for all including the Apache. Such irony...
The only jarring notes were the sometimes-quick cuts (which made me wonder if some scenes had been deleted); and the sometimes-peculiar music sound track that you have to listen to, to understand my point. Otherwise...
Not recommended for children as this film does contain some graphically awful scenes. For all adult fans of the western genre, however, I thoroughly recommend a viewing.
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