In post-Civil War Arizona, a charismatic Apache named Ulzana (Joaquín Martínez, Jeremiah Johnson) escapes from an “Indian” Reservation. He begins killing local settlers, to the dismay of government officials. Veteran Army scout McIntosh (Burt Lancaster, The Killers) is hired to capture and/or kill Ulzana.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“What bothers you, Lieutenant, is you don’t like to think of white men behaving like Indians. It kind of confuses the issue, don’t it?”
“Cowboys vs. Indians,” presented by director Robert Aldrich (What ever happened to Baby Jane?) as a metaphor for United States involvement in Vietnam. Ulzana’s Raid works as both a gripping adventure tale and a commentary on an unpopular war.
Ulzana’s Raid raises some important questions, and the audience is expected to process various moral dilemmas. Director Aldrich doesn’t make it easy for the viewer. The director deliberately shows everybody’s good and bad side, muddling the waters even further, which leaves you wondering how this whole thing is going to end.
An older but surprisingly spry Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced the film, gives one of his most interesting performances. Lancaster deliberately tones down his buoyant persona and creates a fascinating portrait of a man with a foot on both sides of the fence. It’s a complex character that Lancaster handles with aplomb and intelligence.
Bruce Davison (Willard) is also good as a Christian military man who has problems grasping the core issues. Richard Jaeckel (Grizzly) plays a cynical soldier. Blink and you will miss stuntman-turned-actor Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story) and Lancaster’s longtime pal Nick Cravat (The Crimson Pirate).
Ulzana’s Raid was beautifully shot on location in Arizona by Aldrich’s regular cameraman, Joseph F. Biroc (The Flight of the Phoenix and All the Marbles). Biroc makes the scenery look both beautiful and forbidden. Frank De Vol (The Dirty Dozen), another member of Aldrich’s dream team, provides a fine music score.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
This isn’t a run-of-the-mill western. It’s a movie that boldly explores timeless moral issues. Sharply written by Alan Sharp (no pun intended), Ulzana’s Raid is an adult, exciting western for demanding viewers. Although it failed to find an audience, the movie is now considered a cult classic. Color, 103 minutes, Rated R.