Trooper Honus Gent and white woman Kathy Maribel Lee, who has been married to a Cheyenne chief, survive in the wilderness after an Indian attack on a Cavalry detachment. To their horror, bigoted martinet Iverson leads a raid against an Indian village in which men, women and children are massacred.
A controversial film in 1970, this now looks hideously dated. It’s an attempt at a counterculture western, recreating historical atrocities in a manner obviously supposed to evoke then-current headlines about war crimes committed by American troops in Vietnam.
For the most part, the plot involves a standard trek through the wilderness, with a mannered Bergen playing a white woman who has lived with the Indians as if the character were a drop-out flower child and Strauss overdoing the naïvete as the eventually sensitive young man who falls for her. Donald Pleasence, with bizarre false teeth, pops up for comic villainy as ‘Isaac Q. Cumber’, who is selling guns to the Cheyenne, and the melodramatic tone set by this performance continues into the famously gory finale.
This blood-soaked fifteen-minute sequence was entirely responsible for the film’s notoriety, as a fanatical, absurd cavalry officer (marked as a square by his complaints about ‘modern young people’) orders his men to carry out a massacre which includes shooting, dismembering and raping women and children. As movie massacres go, it deploys lots of sliced-up dummies and ketchup but pales in comparison with the cinematic verve of the finale of The Wild Bunch.
The Vietnam parallel is done much better in Robert Aldrich’s similarly-themed Ulzana’s Raid, and director Ralph Nelson makes several bizarre misjudgments, notably a score which opens with a folkie moan from Buffy Sainte-Marie and then extends to jolly, easy listening tunes from the usually-reliable Roy Budd.
Very dated alternative Western.