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ULZANA’S RAID(director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriter: Alan Sharp; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Frank Devol; cast: Burt Lancaster (McIntosh), Bruce Davison (Lt. DeBuin), Jorge Luke (Ke-ni-tay), Richard Jaeckel (The Sergeant), Joaquin Martinez (Ulzana), Lloyd Bochner (Capt. Gates), Dran Hamilton (Mrs. Riordan), Karl Swenson (Rukeyser), Gladys Holland (Mrs. Rukeyser); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Carter de Haven/Alan Sharp; Universal; 1972)
“A superior western though somewhat ponderous and its action sequences are formulaic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Aldrich (“Four for Texas”/”Vera Cruz”) directs it as an allegory to the then ongoing Vietnam War. It’s darkly but intelligently scripted by Alan Sharp, making the most of the film’s bestiality and not romanticizing or sentimentalizing the Apache warriors. The Indians are used as symbols of the rage they had for being cheated, reduced in manhood and treated with bigotry by their white conquerors. Aldrich, though reducing the Indians to terrorists, shows why and also that genocide was a fact of our history that cannot be denied. Ulzana’s Raid is told from the hunter’s point of view rather than the hunted, otherwise it bears a striking resemblance to Aldrich’s more liberal-minded Apache (1954). Aldrich was displeased that the studio cut it and had several alternate versions for different markets nevertheless, cuts and all, it turns out to be a superior western though somewhat ponderous and its action sequences are formulaic. Because the Indians were shown as savages, raping white women, brutally murdering innocents and torturing their prey, many mistook it early on for a reactionary film instead of one that tried to show that the Indians were neither as a recent spate of liberal westerns tried to show noble savages nor as the earlier westerns showed merely bloodthirsty barbarians. Instead it focuses on the issues that made the Indians react the way they did because of the injustices from the white man. At one point, the grizzled army scout, McIntosh (Burt Lancaster), grimly says to the greenhorn Christian fundamentalist Lieutenant DeBuin (Bruce Davison): “Ain’t no sense hating the Apaches for killing, Lieutenant. That would be like hating the desert ’cause there ain’t no water on it.” Which, in all probability, sums up the film’s approach to the warring Apaches.

The plot centers on the Chiracahua Apache leader Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez) leaving the wretched reservation in Arizona and having nine other braves join him as he forms a war party to terrorize all white settlers in the territory. The commandant assembles a small troop from the fort to track the warriors down. The troop is placed under the command of a newly commissioned religious spouting officer, Lieutenant DeBuin, someone the unpolished rough talking chief scout McIntosh doesn’t think is up to the job. Lieutenant DeBuin thinks the scout is living in sin with an Indian squaw and doesn’t know what to make of the other scout, Ke-ni-tay (Jorge Luke), an Apache savage who is Ulzana’s brother-in-law. Not heeding his scout’s advice DeBuin tries to deal with Ulzana in a Christian civilized way, but to avail. They soon come across a farm family where the husband and wife were slain and a trooper mutilated after he took his own life, but the family’s young son was spared so the trauma of the massacre can be part of his life. Then they come upon another settler, who is found buried up to his neck while his ranch burns. DeBuin asks Ke-ni-tay why such atrocities and if he could do something like that. Ke-ni-tay explains it’s done to get back the power the Indian lost by getting the vic’s soul, and says yes he could do the same. The next day at another destroyed ranch the Indians have left alive only a white woman (Dran Hamilton) they have savagely raped, who is in shock and is raving like a lunatic as she’s taken along by the troops.

The idealistic DeBuin shows his true colors as a hidden racism is revealed as he’s morally outraged by the Apache atrocities; while McIntosh remains steadfast, cynical and hardnosed, and could care less about morals but only looks for ways to outsmart the Indians and kill them. It leads to McIntosh’s plan of trapping Ulzana not going quite right as the inexperienced DeBuin can’t get there in time to save the mortally wounded scout from Ulzana’s ferocious attack, but Ke-ni-tay is able to overcome Ulzana and kill him while the troops take care of the rest of the raiding party. At McIntosh’s request, the troops leave him to die alone in the desert. Which still leaves DeBuin questioning why he doesn’t want a Christian burial.

By the end, DeBuin gets a little more insight into life than what he learned from his fundamentalist preacher father and though still a stick in the mud seems a little less naive, with a lot less pride and is seemingly prepared to be somewhat more open-minded.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”