Published on December 16, 2012 by Carol
Actor: Peter Strauss, Candice Bergen
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Released in the late summer of 1970, SOLDIER BLUE concerns itself with a disenfranchised U.S. cavalry officer (Peter Strauss), one of only two survivors of a savage attack on an Army payroll train by Cheyenne Indians in Colorado, who falls in love with the other survivor, a white woman (Candace Bergen) who had been raised by the Cheyenne. Although cut off from his unit, Strauss refuses to believe that the U.S. Army is acting with undue harshness towards the Indians, until his experiences with Bergen show him otherwise. Making their way across hostile territory, and for a moment in the clutches of a deranged gun runner (Donald Pleasance), they reach an Army fort where they learn of a plan by a vengeance-minded general (John Anderson) to destroy the Cheyenne.
Bergen and Strauss warn the Cheyenne villagers of this possibility. When Anderson’s troop appears on the outskirts of the village, the Indians raise an American flag as if in supplication. Anderson, however, is unmoved; and all Bergen and Strauss can do is watch as the Cheyenne and their village are totally annihilated.
SOLDIER BLUE, directed by Ralph Nelson (CHARLY, LILIES OF THE FIELD), is unique because it was the first western of its kind to really paint the Army as inherently evil. Given that it was based on the infamous 1864 Sand Creek massacre and that it equated mistreatment of the Cheyenne with the revelations of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam at the time of its release, this is not surprising–though contrary to what some might say, it is also not politically (let alone realistically) correct.
Until Lionsgate, the studio responsible for FAHRENHEIT 9/11, restored the and re-released the film on DVD last year, however SOLDIER BLUE could only be seen in a severely cut form, allowing for the ‘PG’ rating it had for so long. In reality, in its original form here, it was considerably notorious because of its extreme violence, particularly the horrific final massacre. As such, it exceeded even the levels of violence in THE WILD BUNCH and would almost certainly challenge the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for sheer war-related carnage. It nearly got an ‘X’ rating, but came away with an ‘R’. It was then edited for re-release down to a ‘PG’, with much of the violence cut.
That said, however, Bergen and Strauss, who were practically unknown at the time, deliver fairly good performances; and the on-location shooting in central Mexico is breathtakingly panoramic when it’s not focusing in on the violence angle. Roy Budd’s score is also appropriate, with noted folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (a Cree Indian) contributing songs to the soundtrack.
Now that it is in its uncut form, it is up for the viewer to judge the merits of this, the FAHRENHEIT 9/11 of the Western genre. It still isn’t an easy film to like, and almost certainly there will be those that loathe it not only for its violence but also its admittedly hyperbolic view of the Army. Nevertheless, it can and should be seen now in its original form so that people can come to terms with its painful message about our genocidal mistreatment of the Native American.