"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The First Traveling Saleslady (RKO, 1956)



Very early Clint, very late RKO
 

 

 
 
1950s comedy Westerns could be quite fun. A Ticket to Tomahawk, Alias Jesse James or The Sheepman, for example. But this one is labored and the cast wasn’t up to those others.
 

I watched this on British TV, which I get here in France by satellite, and hilariously it had a PG (Parental Guidance) rating because of “outdated racial and gender representations”. It is true that Ginger Rogers’s character, Miss Rose Gillray, is patronizing (I suppose we should say matronizing) to a black porter and her companion Molly (Carol Channing) shrieks when she finds that an Indian outside a cigar store is not made of wood, but actually there are very few African-Americans and Native Americans in the picture, so it can’t really be fairly accused of racialism. As for the representation of women, it might make a present-day feminist clench her (or his) teeth but in fact Rose is a sort of suffragist pioneer, championing women’s rights in 1897 America. And she wins out. So it ain’t that demeaning to women either.

Considering.

It was directed by Arthur Lubin (left), the Abbott & Costello fellow, who directed their 1942 comedy Western Ride ‘Em Cowboy. In the 1950s he was put in charge of the Francis the Talking Mule series which doubtless had you glued to the screen (if you are old enough). Traveling Saleslady was the last picture produced by RKO. Ginger Rogers quipped that the movie sank the studio but in fact years of mismanagement, especially under Howard Hughes, had driven away many directors, producers, and stars. Big-budger flops made the debts mount hugely. In January 1957 RKO’s owners, General Tire, sold the Hollywood and Culver City facilities to Desilu. It was a sad demise. The studio had done wagonloads of Westerns but now it rode off into the Sunset.

It was no low-budget affair. It was shot in Technicolor, had a runtime of 92 minutes and it boasted a huge cast. If the actors weren’t quite of the top rank they were still well enough known. Ginger Rogers topped the bill, though her star had definitely faded (she would abandon movies for a time in ’57, aged 46). She is the eponymous salesperson, amusingly (for the 1950s) purveying corsets but then somehow getting involved in selling barbed wire in Texas, which makes her about as popular as an arms dealer at a Quaker meeting.

Ginger

Second billing went to genial all-around nice guy, Barry Nelson, playing the hapless man Masters who is finally mastered by the saleslady. He had been the first ever screen 007 (on TV) but he was hardly a huge star. Carol Channing, alumna of the stage productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello Dolly, played Rose’s companion Molly. She has a really grim song A Corset Can Do a Lot for a Lady, in which she comes across as, frankly (and sorry), coarse.

She insists on driving his horseless carriage and (obviously) they land up in the ditch

Of course these were all comedy/musical stars, not Western ones, but once we get past them on the cast list we find David Brian, James Arness and Clint Eastwood. Brian, who plays Carter, the barbed wire magnate, had a solid track (or trail) record in oaters. Being blond, he was often the villain. Think of him as raider leader Austin McCool in Springfield Rifle (1952) or saloon owner Dick Braden in Dawn at Socorro (1954). Jim Arness was of course already famous as Matt Dillon because the TV Gunsmoke had started in 1955. Clint wasn’t famous yet; Rawhide didn’t start till 1959. He’d only had bit parts thus far, such as First Saxon (uncredited) in the gripper Lady Godiva of Coventry. This was only his second credited role in a feature and his first Western. He plays a lieutenant recruiting for the Rough Riders (Teddy Roosevelt makes a brief appearance, played by Ed Cassidy). Molly falls for the handsome young officer hook, line and, naturally, sinker. He will soon be off to Cuba but that doesn’t stop him wooing the saleslady’s companion (though she was at least a decade older, but we mustn’t be ungallant).

Clint 'n' Carol

In bit parts here and there we have some faces Westernistas will recognize, such as Danny Borzage, Lane Chandler, Tristram Coffin, Franklyn Farnum and Kermit Maynard.

Rose tells Carter, “I never use being a woman as a selling point,” but this is patently false. Feminine wiles are an integral part of her sales technique. She and Molly go to Kansas City because “that’s where the West begins” and there she meets the rather obviously named Joel Kingdom, rich Texas rancher (Arness, in very 1950s hair oil), who falls for her, even when he knows she is selling the dreaded barbed wire. He wears a six-shooter in a holster even in his hotel suite. She gets the suite by pretending to be a secretary of the Prince of Wales, whom Kingdom wants to meet, giving as the reason a wartime expression, “Hands across the sea”.

Hilarious

A lot of nonsense ensues.

I must say that much of the dialogue is really clunky, and the acting is often correspondingly heavy handed. The picture was not a glorious way for RKO to bow out. Ginger fans may like it.

But I didn’t.

 

 

 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sierra (Universal, 1950)


Audie's second oater




 
 
On July 16, 1945 Audie Murphy appeared on the cover of Life magazine. He had returned to the US as the most decorated hero of World War II. He had not yet even celebrated his twenty-first birthday.

James Cagney saw that copy of Life and felt that Audie had real movie-star potential. The young ex-soldier moved to California in the summer and stayed with Cagney for a year. Nothing much happened during this time in terms of movie parts but finally Audie landed a minor role in an Alan Ladd picture, Beyond Glory, to be followed by another small part in Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven. He was dissatisfied and wanted a starring role. In the fall of 1948 Audie got his chance, starring as a juvenile delinquent in Allied Artists’ Bad Boy, premièred in February 1949. The month before, he had married rising Paramount star Wanda Hendrix. Audie and Wanda were puffed as “America’s most romantic young couple.”

The commercial success of Bad Boy convinced Universal to offer Murphy a seven-year contract at $2500 a week. They saw him in the saddle and indeed, although he would do other genres, from then on Audie became associated chiefly with the Western. Because of his youth (he was still only in his mid-twenties) and baby-faced appearance, he was given roles in 1950 as Billy the Kid and the young Jesse James, in The Kid from Texas (released in March 1950) and Kansas Raiders (released in November that year) respectively. Between those two pictures he made Sierra, released in May, with Hendrix, though in fact their marriage was already on the rocks and they would divorce soon after.

America’s most romantic young couple, but not for long...

Sierra was far from Audie Murphy’s greatest Western. It had a rather improbable plot and in it Murphy showed limited range as an actor. He spent most of it being surly, like his part in Bad Boy. It was directed by Alfred E Green, a real vet who went right back to being an actor in the Selig Polyscope days in 1912, directing features, as Al Green, from 1917. The IMDb bio says he was “A solid, dependable journeyman, not given to flashy directorial touches” and that “he was picked by Mary Pickford to direct quite a few of her pictures in the 1920s.” Sierra was the last of only four Westerns he ever directed in that very long career, so he was hardly a specialist.

Alfred

However, one of those four was the absolutely charming Four Faces West (MGM, 1948) in which he directed Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. I love that picture, so Green is in my good books. Still, it must be admitted that Sierra was not exactly his finest hour. He was better pairing Groucho Marx with Carmen Miranda in 1947.

The picture is attractive to look at. It was shot in Technicolor by Russell Metty, his fifth Western (he would later do the visually splendid The Misfits) and the locations round Kanab, UT are really nice. There are some great shots of running horses. There’s also pleasant-enough music by Walter Scharf.

Russ Metty

Another good feature is the entertaining character of a singing old prospector Lonesome, a sort of plump Greek chorus, played by the great Burl Ives. Ives appeared in eight big-screen Westerns and would be wonderfully good in Day of the Outlaw for André De Toth in 1959. Here he has a smaller part than that but is still enjoyable.

Hermit Lonesome rides the Sierra on his mule, singin'

Audie plays Ring Hassard, a mustanger living up in the Sierra as a recluse because his pa Jeff (Dean Jagger, in a rather blander role than he was used to or capable of; this was his first Western since his magnificent part in the noir Pursued) was wrongly accused of murder some years before (it was a mysterious large man who had really been the killer) and so they hide away from the world in a remote and hard-to-find cabin in the mountains. You can only get to it by riding through a canyon-bottom river (it kinda reminds you of the lair in Johnny Guitar or Tom Mix’s Riders of the Purple Sage).

Audie is surly (at first)

A young woman appears, Riley (Hendrix). She has lost her horse and has been wandering round for days. She stupidly fires a shot when Ring is trying to get close to some wild horses. She then faints. She continues to be equally tiresome and silly through most of the movie. Ring blindfolds her and takes her to his cabin to give her food and rest but from then on she seems to be a jinx. She follows Ring and Jeff on one of their horses and then loses that one too. Then Jeff is badly hurt trying to bust a bronc to replace the missing horse. She and Ring ride into town to get a doc but she is bitten by a rattler. He saves her (by shooting the poison out of her arm with his sixgun, rather a natty bit, that) but ends up on trial for horse stealing - and, as any Western fan knows, that there’s a hangin’ matter. She turns out to be a “lady lawyer” (a bit like Paula Raymond in Devil's Doorway later the same year) but is a signally incompetent one. So Lonesome has to bust Ring out of jail, in a very unlikely scene in which he sings a song which reveals his plan to the man behind bars but also to the deputy (Gregg Martell), who must have been mighty dumb.

Then she gets snakebit. It's one thing after another.

Now Ring really wants those wild horses. When I see these movies with a splendid black stallion running at the head of his herd and a covetous man looking on I always root for the horses. How much better it would be if they remained free! But they never do.

However, he can’t corral them all on his own, what with Pa being laid up flat on his back and all, so he gets Lonesome to recruit some outlaws who would like the work (I told you it was improbable). They are led by outlaw-with-a-heart-of-gold Old Sam Coulter (Houseley Stevenson). He has three sons, Brent, Jed and Little Sam. Brent is played by Anthony Curtis, in his first Western. Universal would later try him out as a Western lead, in The Rawhide Years in 1956, but it didn’t take and he never did another one. Brent has robbed a bank and that’s why his family are on the run. Jed is played by our old pal John Doucette, already a seasoned Western vet who had been doing oaters since 1942. And the part of Little Sam is amusingly taken by 6’ 6” (1.98m) James Arness, billed as Jim Arness and only in his third Western (he wouldn’t become Matt Dillon till 1955).

They were trying Tony out with a sixgun

The lady lawyer is already falling for Ring (not yet vice versa) but she’s engaged to aggressive rancher Duke Lafferty (the rather forgettable Elliott Reid, in his only Western) and being an aggressive rancher, Duke naturally has henchmen (they were de rigueur in them days), led by his foreman Big Matt (Richard Rober, in his first Western of five). Now as Big Matt is (a) big and (b) a thug, we may fairly suspect him of being the big man who had really killed the fellow that Ring’s dad Jeff was blamed for. And (spoiler alert, oops, too late) we would be right.

Ring is now softening towards Wanda (even though she has lost yet another horse and tripped up feebly in front of the stampeding herd; if it’d been me I would have left her there, but no, Audie rides gallantly to the rescue as good Western heroes are obliged to do). We know they are destined for nuptial bliss (even if they would divorce early in ’51).

Great cabin

The ending is so neat and pat that it is trite. But never mind.

There’s a story that during the filming the Murphys camped in the bed of the dry Kanab Creek but a sudden cloudburst caused a flash flood. Audie “leaped on the back of his horse, grabbed Miss Hendrix and rode up the canyon-side to safety.” Pity the cameras weren’t rolling. They could have used that footage in the movie.

Sierra was based on the Stuart Hardy novel The Mountains are my Kingdom and it was a remake of Universal’s 1938 black & white melodrama Forbidden Valley with Noah Beery Jr.

No great shakes, Sierra is still honest entertainment. Two-and-a-half revolvers, perhaps. It had a decent budget and production values, and it is a must for Audie fans, of course.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ulzana’s Raid (Universal, 1972)


Renegade Apaches on the rampage




 
 
In a long and varied acting career that spanned 45 years, 1946 to 1991, Burt Lancaster (left) only did 14 Westerns, not a great number considering those years contained the glorious late 40s and 1950s, the high water mark of the Western movie.

And some of the 14 were distinctly iffy, such as the overblown farrago Vera Cruz (1954), the very poor Lawman (1971) and the perfectly dreadful The Hallelujah Trail (1965). So Lancaster did not gleam that brightly as a Western star.

Yet he could also be superb in a Western. I am thinking in particular of his splendid Owen Daybright in Vengeance Valley (1951), his steely Wyatt Earp in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1959), and his towering Ben Zachary in The Unforgiven (1960).

He was directed in Westerns by the likes of John Huston, John Sturges and Robert Altman (as well as by himself) and three of the 14 were helmed by Robert Aldrich: Apache and Vera Cruz in 1954, and, towards the end of his Western career, Ulzana’s Raid in 1972.

Aldrich at the helm

Robert Aldrich was certainly not one of my favorite Western movie directors. When you have examples of the genre as dire as 4 for Texas and The Frisco Kid to your name, you are not likely to be lauded for your Western prowess. Those two were among the worst Westerns ever made. Apache was unconvincing, to say the least, with Irish-American Burt as a blue-eyed Chiricahua, and Vera Cruz, despite pairing Lancaster with the great Gary Cooper, was, though commercially successful, pretty bad. No, it’s not a great record.

However, The Last Sunset in 1961 with Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson was OK, I guess, at least averagely alright, and Aldrich was a producer on an underrated but superb 1957 Western The Ride Back. Above all, he directed Ulzana’s Raid, a film so good that we can forgive (almost) all his Western failings.

And, curiously, perhaps, Burt Lancaster was rarely better than when he was playing an aging, wily Westerner, and two of his later oaters, Valdez is Coming in 1971 and Ulzana’s Raid in 1972, which have more than a little in common, were among the best things he ever did.

Burt as Valdez and McIntosh

Aldrich set up a company to make films which had artistic merit but which may not be huge commercial hits as his The Dirty Dozen had been, pictures which had been rejected by the big studios. Unfortunately, these new movies lost money. By 1972 he was short of cash and he shot Ulzana’s Raid in four weeks for a total budget of $1.2m. To do that, he had to bring Lancaster into the project, as a producer, and that gave Burt more input that a hired actor would have had. Aldrich may have regretted it.

I actually reviewed Ulzana’s Raid back in February 2011 but when I was watching Hostiles the other day, which reminded me of Ulzana a bit, I went back to re-read that post and I reckon I didn’t do the picture justice. So I watched it again and I thought I’d have another go today.

The story is one of the break-out from the San Carlos reservation of a small Apache band led by Ulzana (played by an almost entirely silent Joaquín Martínez, who directs his men with hand signals), the depredations they carry out on local homesteads, and how a grizzled old scout, McIntosh (Lancaster) guides a green young lieutenant (Bruce Davison) and his men on the trail of the Indians.

It’s not a new story but it’s extremely well handled. Much of the credit for this goes to the writer, who was also an associate producer, Alan Sharp. Though a Brit, Sharp understood the American West profoundly, and his writing is so good that if I hadn’t known, I would have said that it was by Elmore Leonard. Sharp also wrote The Hired Hand and Billy Two Hats, flawed Westerns both, perhaps, but not because of the screenplay. Not at all.

Alan Sharp

The script of Ulzana’s Raid attempts, with considerable success, to examine why men should be so appallingly cruel to each other. At one point the young lieutenant, a clergyman’s son who has (at the start) vaguely liberal views, asks the old scout:

-          Do you hate Apaches, Mr. McIntosh?
-          No.
-          Well, I do.
-          Well, it might not make you happy, Lieutenant, but it sure won't make you lonesome. Most white folks hereabout feel the same way you do.
-          Why don't you feel that way?

And McIntosh replies:

-          It would be like hating the desert because there ain't no water in it. For now, I can get by being plenty scared of 'em.

The part of the young officer is crucial to the story and is, by the way, wonderfully well handled by Davison. He was 26 but looked younger, as if he didn’t even shave yet, and his fair, smooth complexion contrasts vividly with that of the sunburned and wrinkled old scout. Davison had starred the year before in the cult horror flick Willard but wasn’t that big a name at all. Yet he is perfect as the naïve young man who gradually hardens in the cruel Arizona terrain, and, step by step, reverses his pro-Indian attitude until he becomes a hard-bitten soldier like his tough, experienced Indian-fighter sergeant. He reminds me of the lieutenant in Hondo of whom Ward Bond and John Wayne say that these West Point boys may be green but you always saw the bullet holes in the front of them. The young officer's ‘journey’ is symbolized by his dress, which starts at the fort with a new stiff collar, which is then undone, then jettisoned, then the jacket unbuttoned, and in the end he is even showing a few signs of stubble. He is no longer the fresh-faced West Pointer with the bible his pa gave him. He is a seasoned soldier on the pitiless frontier.


He starts all spit and polish but by the end he's a seasoned frontier fighter

This ‘conversion’ and the graphic depiction of atrocities committed by the Apaches led many at the time to consider Ulzana’s Raid as a reactionary, pro-Army film. It takes some time to appreciate that it is nothing of the kind. Much has been made of its Vietnam credentials – as was often (too often?) the case with 70s Westerns. Green young soldiers being disillusioned in the cruel theater of war, a war where they often could not even see their enemy, and sometimes reacting with equal barbarity, were no new thing to the GIs in south-east Asia. And the American anti-war movement which asked what the US was even doing there in the first place could sympathize with a film that asked the same question of the US Army in Apache lands in 1880s Arizona.

They wait. Had Roger Deakins seen these scenes?

Of course it’s a revisionist Western under full sail. Through the 1950s, pictures like Anthony Mann's Devil’s Doorway and Delmer Daves's Broken Arrow, or indeed Aldrich and Lancaster’s own Apache, began to question the old trope of the gallant US Cavalry riding to the rescue of poor innocent settlers and wagon trainers, saving them from the redskin savages, and suggest that actually, the Indians may have had a point. By the time of Vietnam, movies such as Little Big Man and Soldier Blue (both 1970) had turned the US Cavalry into the out-and-out villains, riding down on villages and savagely massacring innocent Indian women and children. My Lai (1968) was transposed to the American West. Now, in the early 70s, the Indians were the goodies who could do no wrong. The pendulum had swung the other way.

Ulzana’s Raid, though, thanks to Aldrich, Sharp and the cast, has a subtler, more intelligent - if even darker - take on that. The Apaches are brutal and merciless, and the whites hunting them are correspondingly ruthless. You have difficulty sympathizing with either side. There are no simple white hats and black hats.

At one point troopers mutilate an Apache corpse, out of frustrated hatred. The lieutenant tells the grizzled scout,
 
-          Well, killing I expect, Mr. McIntosh, but mutilation and torture? I cannot accept that as readily as you seem to be able to.
-          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?

It is a violent picture. There are no holds barred on how the Apaches treated their victims, or in the scene where a trooper (Dean Smith) kills a farmer’s wife (Gladys Holland) rather than let her fall into the hands of the renegades and then puts his pistol in his mouth and shoots himself. The Apaches spare the young son of the farmers because they think he will suffer more by living. It’s tough stuff.

 
 In a slightly spaghetti-influenced scene, a trooper kills a farmer's wife to save her from the Apaches, then commits suicide to do the same for himself, and then the Apaches play with his innards as a mark of scorn

Ulzana and McIntosh did, by the way, really exist.

Ulzana, or Ulzanna, photographed left in the Fort Sill days, was a younger brother of Chihuahua, chief of the Chokonen local group of the Tsokanende Band of Chiricahua Apache, and according to James L Haley in his 1981 book Apaches, he carried out a vicious raid in New Mexico starting in early November 1885, similar to those of Nana and Chatto earlier. Ulzana had with him fewer than a dozen men but already in a couple of days they had killed a scout, two citizens, a White Mountain Apache and two Navajos. At the end of November they launched an attack on the reservation Indians at Fort Apache, killing twenty, including fifteen women and children, and stealing Chief Bonito’s horse herd to give them greater mobility. The US military offered $25 for every hostile Chiricahua’s head brought in, an amazingly grim thought. The renegades later stole more horses and killed two civilian members of a posse in pursuit of them. On December 9, Lt. Sam Fountain, 8th Cavalry, ambushed Ulzana’s party. He killed none but captured all their camp goods and horses. The day after, Ulzana killed two more ranchers. Fountain pursued for several days but found no trace. On the nineteenth five soldiers were killed and two wounded in an ambush and then the renegades melted away once more, and were soon stealing more horses.

On about December 28, Ulzana’s band crossed into Mexico, having killed 37 people in two months against a loss to the chief of one dead and one wounded, abandoned, and having covered close to two thousand miles. General Crook was beside himself with frustration. Eventually, Ulzana would surrender with other Apaches at Fort Bowie and be sent by train to Florida, but his raid left an indelible impression on the minds of South-western settlers and soldiers which would last for many years. Ulzana later had two wives and, it was reported "drinks too much.” He died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. (The film has a different ending).


Joaquín Martinez is the 1880s Ulzana

Archie McIntosh, son of a Canadian-Scottish father and full-blood Chipewya mother, was born at Fort William, Ontario in 1834. Sadly, I can't find a photograph of him. According to Dan Thrapp, author of the best book on Al Sieber, writing in the Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, McIntosh served with the Oregon Cavalry in 1864, and come to the notice of Crook, who used him in his expedition against the Pit River Indians in 1866 – 67. He was chief of scouts under Crook in California and Crook thought so highly of him that when the general was appointed to the department of Arizona in December 1871 he took McIntosh with him. Archie was the guide for troops in the Salt River Cave fight in 1872. He established a ranch at Black Mesquite Springs and lived with a half-breed Apache woman, Dominga. They had a son, Douglas, named for Archie’s brother, who had fallen with Custer. Archie was described by an acquaintance as tall and slender, “a good drinking man and a hell of a talker.”

Archie McIntosh was instrumental in securing the surrender of Juh and Geronimo and their hundred followers in 1880 and in the spring of 1883 he was a member of Crook’s expedition to the Sierra Madre, as assistant to chief-of-scouts Al Sieber. He was then assigned to San Carlos under the command of Capt. Emmet Crawford. But McIntosh did not in fact guide the Army to capture Ulzana in 1885 because in 1884 he was accused of diverting rations from the Indians for resale on his own ranch; he admitted the charge and was dismissed from government service. He died apparently from cancer in 1902 and was buried at San Carlos, though the exact whereabouts of his grave are not known.

Burt Lancaster’s McIntosh is not explicitly identified as this Archie, and Burt’s McIntosh does not die of cancer in 1902, but there are enough references to make the real McIntosh at least the model for the character in Aldrich’s movie.


Burt is Archie

Visually, Ulzana’s Raid is very fine. This is because it was shot by the great Joseph F Biroc, in splendid Arizona and Nevada locations. The landscape is like the Apache people who lived in it, spare, harsh, unforgiving, yet it is beautiful. There was only one cinematographic slip, when Biroc went for those stupid binocular screens in which the glasses magically zoom in on the distant object.


Joe Biroc
 
There’s very good music, by Frank de Vol, often discordant and glaring and sinister. I love the little ironic cavalry tune on the harmonica as the troopers turn up late. The score is dark, sparse and just right.

Richard Jaeckel as the sergeant was almost more experienced as a Western actor than the soldier he plays was as an Indian fighter. And he was always excellent. He is superb in the part of a man who has learned to expunge all pity and softness from his heart where the Apaches are concerned. I love the way he clenches his teeth when given a stupid and dangerous order by the young lieutenant, and then just gets on with it.

Sgt. Jaeckel

He is complemented by the powerful, understated Jorge Luke as the Apache army scout Ke-Ni-Tay who rides with the patrol, and who says little but is positively eloquent in his broken English when required to speak. The officer questions him:

-          Why are these people so cruel?
-          It’s how they are. They’ve always been like that.
-          Are you like that?
-          Yes.

When the officer asks why they spared the farmer’s son, Ke-Ni-Tay says, “Man cannot take power from boy. Only man.” And you get the distinct impression that the scout is referring to the callow lieutenant himself: he isn’t worth killing. Later, though, as the lieutenant toughens up, Ke-Ti-Nay tells the officer baldly that “He [Ulzana] doesn't mean to fight you. He means to kill you.”

The fellowship and trust between Ke-Ti-Nay and McIntosh is subtly but clearly underlined when the officer asks if the Apache can be trusted and McIntosh answers stoutly, “I trust him.” That’s enough. And also when the lieutenant tells McIntosh to take Ke-Ti-Nay’s horse (his own having being killed by the renegades), because natives are more used to walking, McIntosh does so: he says to the scout, “I’ve got your horse”. But in return he offers his Winchester to the Apache. It’s mutual respect.

Luke is the Apache scout

The ending is a bit like the last act of Hamlet, with bodies scattered all over the stage - or in this case the canyon floor.

There are different versions. Mine, on a rather old DVD, is a slightly cut one, with some clumsy editing in the part where McIntosh alone comes up to the Apaches and a gun battle ensues. Apparently Lancaster wanted one version and Aldrich another. There was a longer ‘European edit’ and there’s now a remastered print on a new DVD. That would probably be a better buy these days.


Burt rarely better

In a comment left on my original 2011 posting, reader Wild Bill wrote, “This is a superb western, one of the greatest ever made, and only really known to buffs. I have a friend, a well-read and intelligent non-western fan, who was open-mouthed when he saw this, on my recommendation.” And he adds, “It's much closer to the real west, the nasty, horrific west of Apache who ate their horses and cut the genitals off their victims and burned people alive.”

A comment from a certain Tony Pipolo on another site said, “One of the most striking things about Ulzana’s Raid, Aldrich’s best western and arguably his last great movie, is its astonishingly understated atmosphere and three-dimensional characterizations... Each time I’ve seen this film, I am struck by its nearly stoic economy, the absolute necessity of virtually every shot—a quality rare in outdoor action films.”

Brian Garfield the Great, in his ever-perceptive guide Western Films, wrote, "The movie is spare, grim, gruesome, dreary and depressing." I would agree with all of that except for the dreary. Garfield added that "It's extremely well plotted and the deliberate pacing suits the story." I suppose he means that's it's slow but in a good way. Garfield thought it was "too arty" and "it's an interesting picture, well made, but it leaves a sour taste." Me, I wouldn't say a sour taste, more that it leaves you pensive and grim-faced. Not entertained so much as impacted.

And indeed not everyone liked it. Variety said, “Ulzana's Raid is the sort of pretentious US Army-vs-Indians period potboiler that invites derision from its own dialog and situations. However, suffice it to say that the production is merely ponderous in its formula action-sociology-violence, routine in its acting and direction, and often confusing in its hokey storytelling." In my view, that's tosh.

Ulzana's Raid is one of the best Westerns of the 1970s.

They raid alright