StudioCanal DVD cover
|Directed by||Ralph Nelson|
|Produced by||Gabriel Katzka
|Written by||Theodore V. Olsen (novel Arrow in the Sun)
John Gay (screenplay)
|Music by||Roy Budd|
|Cinematography||Robert B. Hauser|
|Distributed by||Avco Embassy Pictures|
|August 12, 1970 (New York City)|
Soldier Blue is a 1970 American Revisionist Western movie directed by Ralph Nelson and inspired by events of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory. The screenplay was written by John Gay based on the novel Arrow in the Sun by Theodore V. Olsen (republished as Soldier Blue after the movie was released). It starred Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss and Donald Pleasence.
A young woman, Cresta Lee (Candice Bergen), and young U.S. private Honus Gant (Peter Strauss) are joined together by fate when they are the only two survivors after their group is massacred by the Cheyenne. Gant is devoted to his country and duty; Lee, who has lived with the Cheyenne for two years, is scornful of Gant (she refers to him as "Soldier Blue" derisively) and declares that in this conflict she sympathizes with them. The two must now try to make it to Fort Reunion, the army camp, where Cresta's fiancé, an army officer, waits for her. As they travel through the desert with very low supplies, hiding from the Indians, they are spotted by a group of Kiowa horsemen. Under pressure from Cresta, Honus fights and seriously wounds the group's chief. Honus finds himself unable to kill the chief, and the chief's own men stab him for his defeat and leave Honus and Cresta alone.
Eventually, after being pursued by a white trader (played by Donald Pleasence) who sells guns to the Cheyenne, but whose latest shipment of weapons Honus has destroyed, Honus finds himself in a cave where Cresta has left him to get help. She arrives at Fort Reunion, only to discover that her fiancé’s cavalry plans to attack the peaceful Indian village of the Cheyenne the following day. She runs away on a horse and reaches the village in time to warn Spotted Wolf, the Cheyenne chief. The chief does not recognize the danger and, using the U.S. flag, rides out to extend a hand of friendship to the American soldiers. The soldiers, however, obey the orders of their commanding officer to open fire on the village. After a cavalry charge decimates the Indian men, the soldiers enter the village and begin to rape and kill the female survivors. Honus protests and attempts to disrupt the massacre, to no avail. Cresta attempts to lead the remaining women and children to safety, but her group is discovered and massacred, though Cresta herself is spared. After the battle, Honus is led away in shackles and Cresta departs with the remaining few survivors.
- Candice Bergen as Cresta Maribel Lee
- Peter Strauss as Honus Gant
- Donald Pleasence as Isaac Q. Cumber
- John Anderson as Colonel Iverson
- Jorge Rivero as Spotted Wolf
- Dana Elcar as Captain Battles
- Bob Carraway as Lieutenant McNair
- Martin West as Lieutenant Spingarn
- James Hampton as Private Menzies
- Mort Mills as Sergeant O'Hearn
- Jorge Russek as Running Fox
- Ralph Nelson (credited as Alf Elson) as Agent Long
The movie provided the first motion picture account of the Sand Creek massacre, one of the most infamous incidents in the history of the American frontier, in which Colorado Territory militia under Colonel John M. Chivington massacred a defenseless village of Cheyenne and Arapaho on the Colorado Eastern Plains.
The account of the massacre is included as part of a longer fictionalized story about the escape of two white survivors from an earlier massacre of U.S. Cavalry troops by Cheyenne, and names of the actual historical characters were changed.
The film was the third most popular movie at the British box office in 1971. It brought $1.2 million from the U.S./ Canada rentals. The title song, written and performed by Buffy Sainte-Marie, was released as a single and became a top ten hit in the UK as well as other countries in Europe and Japan during the summer of 1971.
In September 1970, Dotson Rader of The New York Times, wrote that Soldier Blue "must be numbered among the most significant, the most brutal and liberating, the most honest American films ever made."
Released during the Vietnam War, shortly after public disclosure of the My Lai massacre, the film was controversial at the time not only for its subject matter, but also for its graphic depictions of violence. Nelson, who also appeared in the movie in a minor role, pushed the depiction of the violence to explicit levels, showing nudity during rape scenes, as well as realistic close-up shots of bullets ripping into flesh. British author and critic P.B. Hurst wrote:
A good number of critics in 1970 believed that Soldier Blue had set a new mark in cinematic violence, as a result of its graphic scenes of Cheyenne women and children being slaughtered, and had thus lived up – or down – to its U.S. poster boast that it was "The Most Savage Film in History." A massive hit in Great Britain and much of the rest of the world, Soldier Blue was, in the words of its maverick director, Ralph Nelson, "not a popular success" in the United States. This probably had less to do with the picture's groundbreaking violence, and more to do with the fact that it was the U.S. Cavalry who were breaking new ground. For Nelson's portrayal of the boys in blue as blood crazed maniacs, who blow children's brains out and behead women, shattered for ever one of America's most enduring movie myths – that of the cavalry as good guys riding to the rescue – and rendered Soldier Blue one of the most radical films in the history of American cinema. The film's failure in its homeland might also have had something to do with the perception in some quarters – prompted by production company publicity material – that it was a deliberate Vietnam allegory.
However, Paul Mavis, reviewing the 2006 Lionsgate disc release of Soldier Blue for DVD Talk, wrote, "[W]ith no attempt to fairly intellectualize the proceedings, Soldier Blue winds up only celebrating the barbarities it so lovingly depicts. As the posters accurately insinuate (no doubt at the insistence of shlock-meister producer Levine), Soldier Blue is essentially nothing more than a snuff film with a conscience...and a particularly suspect conscience at that."
- Waymark, Peter (December 30, 1971). "Richard Burton top draw in British cinemas". The Times (London).
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
- "Soldier Blue Video – Lyrics". Buffy Sainte-Marie (blog). August 7, 2011. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
- Hurst, P.B., "The Most Savage Film: Reliving Soldier Blue", Cinema Retro, retrieved June 19, 2011
- Paul Mavis' review at DVD Talk
- Hurst, P.B. (2008), The Most Savage Film: Soldier Blue, Cinematic Violence and the Horrors of War, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-3710-8