In 1864, soldiers transporting a chest filled with money are attacked by the Cheyenne. Only two people survive: a naive soldier (Peter Strauss, The Jericho Mile) and a white woman (Candice Bergen, The Sand Pebbles). 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 is a gripping western that works somewhat as an allegory of USA’s involvement in Vietnam.
This once controversial western was originally Rated X (aka NC-17) because of its gory climax. Even by today’s standards, it is an astonishingly brutal sequence. 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.
Directed by Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field), Soldier Blue isn’t a total downer, though. There are some poignant moments along the way. The mid-section could have used a bit of trimming, but director Nelson and writer John Gay (the script was based on Theodore V. Olsen’s novel Arrow in the Sun) keep things interesting. And as I said before, Soldier Blue builds to an astonishingly harsh and shocking climax.
The two main characters are likable and the romance is believable. Candice 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 as a pioneer woman will surprise naysayers.
Peter Strauss is also effective as a tenderfoot soldier. John Anderson’s (Psycho) General Custer-like officer offers a chilling portrait of military wrong-headedness. Donald Pleasence (Halloween) plays a nasty gunrunner and Mexican sex symbol Jorge Rivero plays the Cheyenne Chief. Director Nelson has 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 Sam Peckinpah’s brutal The Wild Bunch, but it is frank and merciless. Nearly fifty years after its original release, Soldier Blue remains a provocative critique of America’s Vietnam War policies. Color, 112 minutes, Rated R.