Given that this revisionist western is pro-Indian, it is odd that the actual Indian characters have so little screen time. The film is remembered for its graphic violence which is a shame really for it truly is a beautifully filmed, excellently acted movie and the new DVD transfer from Optimum Classics really show it off to its best advantage. There is so much more to this excellent movie than the few minutes of extreme violence that bookend the main story.
Along their journey, which becomes an education for them both, Honus protects Cresta against Kiowa Indians, destroys the shipment of a trader of weapons (Donald Plesance in a great seedy turn) and falls in love for Cresta. However he remains true to his uniform and does not believe Cresta words that most Indians are peaceful and that it is the white men who are the aggressor.
"You Miss Cresta, are a traitor."
When the cavalry attacks the village , Honus witnesses the hideous massacre of five hundred peaceful Cheyenne, more than half composed of women and children, and realizes that Cresta was telling the truth. The rapes and mutilations are shown in graphic detail. The story was based on the true life Sand Creek Massacre which is still a blight on American history, but it also acted as an allegory to the, then fresh in the mind, My Lai massacre during the Vietnam conflict. It was this latter point that enraged the conservative film critics but endeared the movie to the emerging counter-culture.
It's an intense western that doesn't pull any punches and with some small reservations depicts the Indians as a noble people fighting for their way of life, if not their actual lives. Flawed, maybe but still a masterpiece.