VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the April 15, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

The Video Archives podcast really hit a lot of Roger Aldrich movies this season. The director told Film Comment, “From the time we started to the time we finished the picture, I’d say fifty, sixty percent of it was changed. Alan Sharp, the writer, was very amenable and terribly helpful. And terribly prolific. He can write twenty-five pages a day. He couldn’t agree more with my political viewpoint—so that was no problem. And fortunately, Lancaster and I felt pretty much the same about the picture. It was good that I had support from Sharp and Lancaster, because I don’t have the highest regard for Carter DeHaven, the producer.”

The first time Aldrich and Burt Lancaster worked together since Vera Cruz, this was a Western released after Italy had its way with the genre, which gave birth to the American revisionist Western.

It’s a definite Tarantino favorite, who said in a New Beverly blog article said that it was “hands down Aldrich’s best film of the seventies, as well as being one of the greatest westerns of the seventies. One of the things that makes the movie so remarkable is it isn’t just a western; it combines the two genres that Aldrich was most known for, westerns and war films.”

That’s because it’s just as much a movie about Vietnam as it is the West.

Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez) has taken a Chiricahua war party and escaped captivity. This puts the fear of, well, Native American vengeance into most of the army that faces them, as one even kills himself and the woman he is escorting than face them. The unlucky man to try and stop him is McIntosh (Burt Lancaster). Near the end of his service, he only has a few dozen men to win this skirmish, including Apache scout — and Ulzana’s brother-in-law Ke-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke) and a way too young soldier named Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davidson).

Where this becomes Vietnam, obviously, is because the Native Americans have known this land for hundreds of years and the better armed Americans aren’t better trained. They just have nicer guns. DeBuin isn’t ready for the way that war will change him and McIntosh is just ready to die by the end of the film. Even Ke-Ni-Tay lays down his weapons, knowing he’s done, but he’s changed each and every person who has faced him.

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