Follow by email

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


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.

While riding through  Cheyenne territory transporting a safe to Fort Reunion, the cavalry are attacked by the Indians. Only Cresta,(the beautiful Candice Bergman)  a white woman who has lived with the Indians,  and the naive, idealistic and clumsy private Honus (Peter Strauss) survive. Together they take the eventful journey to Fort Reunion, where Cresta is supposed to meet her fiance.

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.


Chap O'Keefe said...

I last watched this one on a tape cassette (remember them?!); the quality wasn't good, but I notice my local video library has had it on Region 4 DVD for a while. I'll have to rent it some time. And, of course, I have the original T. V. Olsen novel in Sphere paperback complete with a movie tie-in cover, similar to the image you show here.

John Sinclair said...

I remember when this first came out and getting in to see it at my local picture house (though being well, well, well under age - I don't think I was even a teenager!) and being totally shocked at its depiction of the West.
I had never thought of the Indians before as the good guys fighting for their way of life, or the naked racism of the Whites.
This film really changed my way of thinking, and I believe, made me a better person. I stopped believing the usual 'official' blather about situations, and started thinking it through for myself.
A bloody good movie, almost a great one. If they had had someone stronger, more box office in the soldier part, say, Jon Voigt or even Bruce Dern, I think it's impact would have been greater though.