Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Soldier Blue (1970)

Director: Ralph Nelson

Writers: Theodore V. Olsen, John Gay

Composer: Roy Budd

Starring: Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, John ANDerson, Jorge Rivero, Dana Elcar, Bob Carraway, Martin West, James Hampton, More Mills, Jorge Russek, Aurora Clavel, Ralph Nelson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The most savage film in history!

Plot: After a cavalry group is massacred by the Cheyenne, only two survivors remain: Honus, a naive private devoted to his duty, and Cresta, a young woman who had lived with the Cheyenne two years and whose sympathies lie more with them than with the US government. Together, they must try to reach the cavalry's main base camp. As they travel onward, Honus is torn between his growing affection for Cresta, and his disgust for her anti-American beliefs. They reach the cavalry campsite on the eve of an attack on a Cheyenne village, where Honus will learn which side has really been telling him the truth.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

With Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969), the Western and the modern American film had grown up.  You could now graphically back up your message with spectacular violence.  SOLDIER BLUE does that in the last few minutes.  Heads, legs, arms, breasts are cut off, children murdered, women raped and American soldiers became the savages.  It's horrific to watch and powerful after all these decades later.  The film opens with a small military encounter with Indians which leaves all but one of the about twenty soldiers dead.  This solidifies Soldier Blue's (Honus Gent played by Strauss) opinion of the Indians.  It takes Cresta (Bergen) to educate him over the course of the film.  He doesn't buy what she's sellin' but it's too late when he realizes she was right as the climactic battle begins.  For most of the picture it's just a weird, late-60s take on the Western genre with Bergen giving an odd performance that feels far from real.  She's often slightly over-the-top.  The movie gets more political shortly after Cumber (Pleasence whose presence is delightful) shows up but he's not along for the ride for more than a few minutes.  The film starts to get a little darker until suddenly the shit hits the fan.  That shit hitting the fan battle is based on a real event, the Sand Creek Massacre, that's even more horrific than what Nelson delivered on film (although he does a great job conveying it and stretching the limits of visual horror).  Nelson tried to kick up the violence up a notch over THE WILD BUNCH and Roy Budd's (his first feature film) score has some strong hints at Jerry Fielding's score from TWB as well.  I'm not sure what the filmmakers were going for in having such a light film for most of the time.  Maybe it was to keep the audience off guard to make the end battle more effective.  It could be, and this seems likely, that at the time this was made we were at the height of the Vietnam War and Americans were going about their 'business as usual' daily lives, enjoying themselves while half a world away others were dying, the filmmakers were using this film to show how we Americans can also do hideous and despicable things and that it's not a John Wayne world after all.  I would go higher on my score if the first 80% of the film were taken more seriously.  It's just odd the way Bergen plays Cresta.  I watched the Kinowelt/Studio Canal version which leaves the battle violence uncut.  It's got a nice anamorphic widescreen print and the only extra is an anamorphic widescreen trailer.

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