In 1864, U. S. Cavalry transporting a chest filled with money is attacked by the Cheyenne. Only two people survive: a naive soldier (Peter Strauss, TV’s Masada) and a white woman (Candice Bergen, The Sand Pebbles) who has a curious background. Together, they embark on an arduous journey across hostile “Indian” territory. Meanwhile, the military is getting prepared to retaliate against the Cheyenne.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Inspired by the infamous Sand Creek massacre, Soldier Blue, directed by Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field), is a gripping, but somewhat obvious allegory about USA’s involvement in Vietnam that was originally Rated X (NC-17) because of its gory climax. Even by today’s standards, it is an astonishingly brutal sequence, not for the squeamish. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cruder depiction of war anywhere else. Children are maimed and women are viciously raped. And the sequence seems to go on forever. But it’s not gratuitous violence; it’s an essential part of the film’s anti-war message.
Soldier Blue isn’t a total downer, though. There are some poignant moments along the way. The two main characters are likable and the romance is believable.
The mid-section could have used a bit of trimming, but writer John Gay (the script is based on Theodore V. Olsen’s novel Arrow in the Sun) keeps things interesting. The arrival of Donald Pleasence (John Carpenter’s Halloween), who plays a nasty gunrunner, adds color to the storyline. Bergen does a surprisingly good job here. Before she proved to be a farceur par excellence in TV’s Murphy Brown, Bergen was known as a lightweight dramatic actor. Her terrific performance will surprise naysayers.
Strauss, who like Bergen had his biggest successes on the small screen, is also effective as the tenderfoot soldier. John Anderson’s (Psycho) General Custer-like officer offers a chilling portrait of military wrong-headedness. Mexican sex symbol Jorge Rivero plays the Cheyenne Chief. Director Nelson as a small role as a soldier. The haunting title song was written and performed by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Anti-war propaganda? Sure. However, this holds up very well. It’s not at the level of something like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, but it is frank and merciless. More than forty years after its original release, Soldier Blue remains a provocative critique of America’s Vietnam War policies. Color, 112 minutes, Rated R.