Ulzana’s Raid (1972) Review

Director: Robert Aldrich

Genre(s): Adventure, War, Western

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Ulzana’s Raid is an interesting hybrid of the war and western genres that takes a long, hard look at guerrilla warfare. It’s not exactly a pretty movie, but it’s tough and thoughtful, earning a reputation as an underrated member of the two genres listed earlier. A crafty, sadistic Apache named Ulzana (Joaquín Martínez) has escaped from his reservation and, with a small war party, is bearing down on white settlers in the area. A troop of American government cavalry led by the naive Lieutenant Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison) and aided by the seasoned tracker McIntosh (Burt Lancaster) is deployed to stop the renegade Native Americans.

This is not a horror film, but it gives off some of the same vibes as one. Instead of a knife-wielding Michael Myers, we have a band of ruthless, seemingly unstoppable Apaches stalking victims in the Arizona desert. The random acts of violence committed by the rebels, which are quite graphic for a 1972 picture (and they still retain some shock value today), result in what is not exactly the most flattering depiction of Native Americans to hit the big screen. They definitely aren’t “proto-hippies” here!

The action scenes here are adequate, although it should be noted that they contain what appear to be trip-wire-driven horse-falls, so horse lovers might want to skip this one. The whole cat-and-mouse game isn’t always as clearly set up as I wish it was, and the flick is occasionally on the talky side. The build-up to the final battle isn’t as exciting as it could’ve been, but the payoff is satisfactory.

It’s not quite one of my favorites, but Ulzana’s Raid is still a movie that fans of the war and western genres should seek out. Many people have come to the conclusion that the film is a bit of an allegory for the Vietnam War still taking place at the time of its release. If so, it’s a relatively subtle one. Overall, it’s probably one of the better cavalry-versus-“Indians” pictures out there, thanks to its suspense and thought-provoking handling of the conflict between the Native Americans and white Americans.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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