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With: Burt Lancaster, Bruce Davison, Jorge Luke, Richard Jaeckel, Joaquin Martinez, Lloyd Bochner, Karl Swenson, Douglass Watson
Written by: Alan Sharp
Directed by: Robert Aldrich
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 103
Date: 11/15/1972

Ulzana's Raid (1972)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Eye Apache

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Robert Aldrich's grungy, bleak Ulzana's Raid is today considered one of his best, and most underrated films, but it's also a product of its time; it's mainly a critique of the Vietnam War. (It has somehow not aged quite as gracefully as John Ford's The Searchers has.) Nevertheless, it has Aldrich's sure touch, and it's certainly an unusual example of the Western genre. It's very much worth seeing for those with strong stomachs.

The Apache chief Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez) has broken out of a reservation, formed a war party, and is creating havoc. So a fresh-faced, God-fearing, very green lieutenant, DeBuin (Bruce Davidson), is sent out to handle the situation. He brings along a grizzled old scout, McIntosh (Burt Lancaster), and a trustworthy Apache tracker, Ke-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke).

As they go, they witness the Apaches' brutality (such as playing catch with a human heart), and DeBuin becomes more and more filled with hate; he simply can't understand why these things could happen. McIntosh, on the other hand, knows all about American Indians (and is even married to one), and his feelings on the matter are more clinical. Finally, the outfit finds itself forced into a tough decision.

The screenplay was by the talented Alan Sharp, who had written Peter Fonda's Western The Hired Hand a year earlier. At the helm, Aldrich's handling of violence is unflinching, and yet he takes no pleasure in it. Ulzana's Raid is a rugged, brutal experience, grappling with uncomfortable realities.

Kino Lorber released this film on Blu-ray in 2020. Bonuses include a commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton, a 16-minute interview with star Davison, a "Trailers from Hell" episode with John Landis, and a trailer.

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