Ulzana’s Raid (1972)

tail dogThe third movie Robert Aldrich and Burt Lancaster made together, ULZANA’S RAID is not an commentary on colonization, nor aborigine versus super power (Viet Nam), rather it is a horror story.

The plot is simple an Apache war party sets out on a rampage across the white settlers’ homesteads. The brutality and inhumanity of the Apache is on full blustery display. The torture, rape, and mutilation of the white farmers baffles and disgusts the young Calvary Lieutenant sent out to kill the war party. As the son of a minister, this young Lieutenant harbored naive hopes for the goodness in all God’s creatures, but his faith is destroyed as bears witness to the cruelty and suffering.

This naive solider stands in for the rage of the white american in 1972 – brutalized by minority populations demanding better treatment. By focusing on the demands of the downtrodden and criminally marginalized as an attack, the white reaction becomes boogeyman fears – the golem coming to punish and reclaim the lands and wealth that was stolen in the first place.

Further proven by the fact that the white man’s genocide is completely missing from this narrative, ULZANA’S RAID focuses on the terror of a marauding Indian party’s mayhem and murderous antics. The Apache are shown as ruthless, silent, remorseless killers. Their only expressions are grim frowns, determined pointing, and some jubilant whooping. All meant to heighten and intensify the inborn terror of the traditional Western story- the fear of the Indian war party as visceral terror. A terror that would cause a solider to shoot a white woman and kill himself rather than allow either to fall captured to the Apache.

This is a depressing movie of endless fear and depressing violence of the vigilante. Where one’s violent end is the only end one seeks.

Vera Cruz (1954)

gatlinRobert Aldrich’s VERA CRUZ  is essential a heist caper set in Mexico during the rule of Emperor Maximillian I.  Starring Gary Cooper as a defeated Confederate Colonel and Burt Lancaster as a degenerate gunslinger, the movie rehabs the defeated racist’s noble cause.

The two lousy Americans are hired by the Royal Court to act as mercenary protection for a Countess’ convoy to the port city of Veracruz. But along the way they discover that the Countess’ coach is loaded with gold being smuggled out of the country. Plots are hatched. Double crosses are interwoven as the gold and the plots are known to all greedy scammers.

The movie ends in a prolonged ambush/shootout that was copied by Peckinpah for THE WILD BUNCH  – namely the Gatling gun turned on the entire Mexican army. In addition, the final standoff between Cooper and Lancaster is slightly silly.

The biggest problem with the movie is the Cooper character. He is down in Mexico because he lost everything in the Civil War. He is hoping to make his fortune back to rebuild his plantation – slaves excluded, but one never knows. But he has a soft spot for the Mexican rebels. The audience is asked to forget the racist cause of the Civil War and accept that all rebellions are morally equal. Of course, that is hogwash. And the fact the Cooper leaves the gold with “the people” has more to do with hot ladies than it does with lost causes.