(US - 1970)
Directed by Ralph Nelson. Written by John Gay. Cast: Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasence, John Anderson, Jorge Rivero, Dana Elcar, James Hampton, Mort Mills, Bob Carraway, Martin West, Jorge Russek, Aurora Clavell. (R, 115 mins)
A revisionist western inspired by the 1864 Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory that also tries to be a then-topical Vietnam allegory, Ralph Nelson's SOLDIER BLUE was a controversial misfire in the summer of 1970 (though its theme song by Indigenous Canadian singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie became a big hit in the UK) and despite some positive critical reassessment and an inevitable cult following over the ensuing 50 years, it hasn't really improved with age. Just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), SOLDIER BLUE generated some buzz at the time of its release for its sickeningly violent climax, with a cavalry attack on a Cheyenne tribe so gory and over-the-top it that out-splatters THE WILD BUNCH and goes several steps beyond, with heads blown apart, limbs hacked off, children being decapitated, trampled, and/or impaled, a Cheyenne woman gang-raped and getting her left breast sliced off, and a laundry list of other unmentionables in a seemingly endless barrage of atrocities that remains shocking today and seems more in line with an Italian jungle exploitation grinder. That the perpetrators are American soldiers attacking "savages" is a salient point that directly invokes both Sand Creek and the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The finale of SOLDIER BLUE needed to be as difficult to watch as it is, certainly one of the most disturbing depictions of historical carnage ever seen in a mainstream American film, but it's such a tedious buildup in a generally standard western that the abrupt shift in tone seems like a tacked-on afterthought. Imagine if you can a pre-WILD BUNCH Hollywood western that feels like it was started by Henry Hathaway and finished by Ruggero Deodato.