Ulzana's Raid

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Ulzana's Raid
Film poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Carter De Haven Jr.
Harold Hecht
Burt Lancaster
Written by Alan Sharp
Starring Burt Lancaster
Bruce Davison
Richard Jaeckel
Jorge Luke
Joaquín Martínez
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Michael Luciano
Associates and Aldrich Co.
Distributed by MCA/Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • October 18, 1972 (1972-10-18)
Running time
105 min.
Language English
Budget $2.8 million[1]
Box office 414,559 admissions (France)[2]

Ulzana's Raid is a 1972 revisionist Western starring Burt Lancaster, Richard Jaeckel, Bruce Davison and Joaquin Martinez. The film, which was filmed on location in Arizona, was directed by Robert Aldrich based on a script by Alan Sharp. Emanuel Levy summarizes the film, "Ulzana's Raid, one of the best Westerns of the 1970s, is also one of the most underestimated pictures of vet director Robert Aldrich, better known for his sci-fi and horror flicks, such as Kiss Me Deadly and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane."[3]

Set in 1880s Arizona, it portrays a brutal raid by Chiricahua Apaches against European settlers. The bleak and nihilistic tone showing U.S. troops chasing an elusive but murderous enemy has been seen as allegorical to the United States participation in the Vietnam War.[4]


Following mistreatment by agency authorities, Ulzana breaks out of the San Carlos Indian Reservation with a small war party. Soon news reaches the local military commander, who sends riders to alert local homesteads. Both troopers are separately ambushed; one is dragged away while the other shoots the settler woman he is escorting and then himself. The warriors play catch with his heart. The woman's husband, who stayed behind to protect his farm, is captured and tortured to death. Army scout MacIntosh (Lancaster) is given the job of finding Ulzana (Martinez) with a few dozen soldiers led by an inexperienced lieutenant, Garnett DeBuin (Davison). The small cavalry column includes a veteran sergeant (Jaeckel) and Apache scout Ke-Ni-Tay (Luke). Ke-Ni-Tay knows Ulzana, as their wives are sisters.

The cavalry troop leaves Fort Lowell and soon finds evidence of the activities of the Apache war party. The film then focuses on the soldiers' reality, facing a merciless enemy with far better local skills. The young officer, shocked and then hardened by the cruelty and harshness around him, struggles with his Christian conscience and view of humanity. MacIntosh and Ke-Ni-Tay attempt to outthink and outfight their enemies, while advising the lieutenant. DeBuin cautiously accepts their guidance though remaining mistrustful of the Apache scout. Ulzana and most of his men abandon their horses to be led circuitously by two other warriors in an attempt to tire the pursuers' heavily loaded mounts. Ke-Ni-Tay notices that the trail is now of unladen horses, and Macintosh works out a plan that leads to the loss of the horses and the death of their two Apache escorts, who include Ulzana's son. The lieutenant prevents his men from mutilating the dead boy.

The raiders attack a nearby farm, burning the homesteader to death and seizing two horses. McIntosh realizes that the remaining Apaches physically and psychologically need horses and will try to obtain them by raiding the troop. The woman of the burned-out farm, instead of being raped to death, has been left alive so that the cavalry will be forced to send her to the fort with an escort. By splitting the troop, Ulzana hopes to successfully attack the escort and seize its horses. McIntosh suggests a decoy plan to make Ulzana falsely believe that his tactics are successful.

Ulzana's warriors ambush the small escort detachment, obtaining all of its horses and killing the sergeant and his soldiers before DeBuin can arrive with the rest of his force. McIntosh is fatally wounded. Only the woman survives unharmed though now apparently crazed by her experiences. Ke-Ni-Tay scatters the captured horses as bugle calls from the cavalry ineptly alert the Apaches to DeBuin's approach. Ulzana flees on foot as the remnants of his band are killed. Ke-Ni-Tay confronts him and shows him the Army bugle taken from the body of his son. Ulzana puts down his weapons and sings his death song before the Apache scout kills him. A corporal suggests that Ulzana, or at least his head, should be taken back to the fort. The lieutenant however orders him to be buried, a task that Ke-Ni-Tay insists on carrying out himself. MacIntosh knows that he will not survive the journey back to the fort, and chooses to stay behind to die alone.


Production notes[edit]

The film was shot on location in the United States southeast of Tucson, Arizona at the Coronado National Forest and in Nogales, Arizona as well as the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

There are two cuts of the film because Burt Lancaster helped to produce the movie. One version was edited under the supervision of Aldrich, the other by Lancaster. There are many subtle differences between the two although the overall running times are similar and most of the changes involve alterations of shots or lines of dialogue within scenes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 284
  2. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  3. ^ Levy, Emanuel (April 12, 2008). "Ulzana's Raid". 
  4. ^ Williams, Tony (2004). Body and soul: the cinematic vision of Robert Aldrich. Scarecrow Press. pp. 181–185. ISBN 978-0-8108-4993-8. 

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