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Roscoe Lee Browne
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>
Robert Aldrich privately admitted that he wasn't entirely satisfied with the way the film turned out. 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 »
Original, Essential, Underrated Western & War Film
The Old West was on the screen, but Vietnam was on the minds of the audience and possibly the filmmakers. Like other Westerns of the time, "Ulzana's Raid" pays little attention to traditional Western themes like rugged self-reliance, goodguy-badguy, or the Indian as Noble Savage or Rapacious Brute. It's not the first Western to try to portray Plains Indians with either sympathy or a degree of realism (Richard Widmark's roles in "The Last Wagon" and "Cheyenne Autumn" come to mind), but it makes an effort scarcely to be equaled before or since. Apache warrior Ulzana (Martinez), weary of his reservation, leads several young braves on a foray for "new smell," as Army scout Ke-Ni-Tay (Luke, in an understated, perfectly deadpan performance) describes it. "New smell" includes the smoke of rifle fire and burning homesteads. In pursuit is a cavalry detail led by a young lieutenant (Davison) and including Ke-Ni-Tay, a tough, skilled sergeant (Jaeckel) and tracker McIntosh (Lancaster). McIntosh, who is disgusted by white exploitation & abuse of the Indians but has no illusions about Ulzana's deadliness, brings nothing new to Westerns. It's Davison who stands out, giving us a mirror to look into as he portrays the lieutenant's struggle between his Christian idealism and the horrors of homesteaders mutilated by Ulzana. Ke-Ni-Tay, who of course has chosen to work for the Army, does little to champion the Apaches except to insist that only hard men can live in the desert. McIntosh stays calmly neutral toward the Apaches ("It's like hatin' the desert 'cause there ain't no water on it"), an attitude that the lieutenant first sees as callousness. But the lieutenant must also deal with the blind hate of his own men, some of whom are happy to mutilate the Apaches in revenge. Hate, training and routine keep the lieutenant from understanding the Apaches even enough to fight them. The story is outstandingly clever, with the outnumbered, poorly equipped Ulzana invincible because of his skill, speed and warcraft--until McIntosh, the sergeant and Ke-Ni-Tay teach the lieutenant to think ("The problem with fighting Apaches is predicting what they'll do next"). Sparse but intense action scenes keep the film from turning to sociological mush. The gore & torture are sparse, too, even by 1970s standards, but the terror & despair of the dying makes it far more frightening than the casual bloodbaths of the Tarantino age. The theme of soldiers too trapped in their own routine, contempt & hatred to understand their enemy was often revisited in the Vietnam movies that began to appear a few years later, including "Go Tell the Spartans" starring Lancaster in a similar role to McIntosh. It is a theme that will probably be picked up again in the decades after Iraq & the War on Terror. Neither side is glorified but all are humanized, even--perhaps especially--the fearsome Ulzana. If the lieutenant doesn't get happier, he certainly becomes wiser. So does the audience. It's debatable how effective this film is in depicting the "real" Old West, although the dialog between the Apache characters is all in the native language. But for anyone seeking an understanding of warfare from celluloid, "Ulzana's Raid" must be near the top of the list.
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