Now this may sound a little weird, but there's a bunch of IMDb reviewers who use the term "mediocre acting" when they mean "I don't know these actors". While it's true that only superstars like Bruce Willis and Will Shitm can act, in Soldier Blue you'll have to do with the mediocre acting of Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss.
What's even worse: it's a 'Western' that questions the genre. Ending with the horrific massacre in Sand Creek (where a peaceful Cheyenne village was slaughtered by white soldiers), this film is completely different from the story you're normally told. Some reviewers (usually American) complain that not everything in this movie is historical. I hate to break the news to them, but apart from biopics, movies aren't always accurate. However, sometimes too much is changed and the outcome is quite revolting (hello, The Patriot). For some reason, they don't complain about historical errors in movies where the good cowboys battle against the savage Indians. It makes one wonder. The most ludicrous review I found on the Net claimed this was a bad movie because of the poster: it shows us an "Indian woman in concensual bondage" looking at Bergen and Strauss kissing. Okay, let's have a look at that poster:
I don't know, but to me (then again, I studied literature) it looks like she's not really looking at the couple and furthermore I think it's a metaphor for Candice Bergen's character, but who am I?
I'm the one who's finally going to tell you the story.
Candice plays Cresta Lee, a woman who had lived with the Chyennes for many years after she'd been kidnapped. Now a group of soldiers is escorting her and a paymaster to a Fort, where her fiance is waiting. The soldiers are attacked by Chyennes who want the money to pay for rifles and everyone's killed, except Cresta who could hide and Private Soldier Honus Gant (Peter Strauss) who was unconscious/presumed dead. The extremely naive Honus thinks the Cheyennes killed everyone (21 men)because they wanted Cresta back. Cresta has difficulties convincing him it's the money they wanted. After Honus says a prayer for the dead, the couple tries to reach the Fort on foot.
It's nice to see the different characters of naive Honus and "street-smart" Cresta clash. Not only does she use profane words and is Honus (nicknamed Soldier Blue by Cresta) stubborn enough to go back for a sock he lost at a river, she's also more pro-Indian than he is.
Honus: 21 men [were killed]!
Cresta: A drop in the old bucket.
Honus: A what!?
Cresta: It's not the army, Soldier Blue. They're not the ones being killed off in this damn fool country.
Honus: Our country, Miss Lee, is neither damned nor foolish.
Honus: Miss Lee, you have a most profane way of speaking.
Cresta: You should hear me in Chyenne, you want to? Na...
Cresta: Good brave lads, coming out here to kill themselves a real live Indian. Putting up their forts in a country they got no claim to. What do you expect the Indians to do: sit back on their butts while the Army takes over their land?
Honus: You saw for yourself what they did: taking off scalps.
Cresta: Yeah, and who told them that little trick? The white men.
Honus: And cutting off their hands and cutting off feet and cutting off ... [shuts up]
Cresta: I know what they cut off, but at least they don't make tobacco pouches out of them, that's something else you soldier boys made up.
Honus: You're lying.
Cresta: Did you ever see an Indian camp after the Army has been there, huh!? Did you ever see the women and what was done to them before they were killed? Ever see the little boys and girls stuck on the long knives, hrm!? Stuck and dying? Well, I have!
Honus: You're lying.
Cresta [after a pause]: Go to sleep.
Honus: You're lying.
Needless to say that when they meet Cumber (Donald Pleasance) who's selling rifles to the Indians, Honus tries to destroy the weapons.
[If you don't want to know what happens next, scroll down to the next poster. Normally I don't reveal endings, but for this film review I think it's useful.] When they get to the Fort, they hear a Cheyenne village is going to be attacked the next day. Honus tries to convince Colonel Iverson that the village is unarmed, but that doesn't matter. Cresta escapes and tries to warn the Indians, who don't want to believe white men will attack a peaceful village. Wrong sort of white men apparently as the first to be shot is the Indian who carries the American flag as a sign of peace.
What follows is an overpowering massacre so cruel you'll watch it with an open mouth. Violent deaths, rape and dismemberment, a little girl shot in the leg just for fun, soldiers dancing with limbs, ... Honus finds no words and as Cresta asks "Got a prayer?", all he can do is throw up.
Since this story vividly tells us what happened in Sand Creek in 1864, it wasn't quite welcome in its home country where all the violent scenes were thrown out and the film was presented as a love story. If you read the description above, you know how revolting that is. However, the American network was unaware of how censored the film was and seemed to have shown the European version on a Saturday morning, claiming the film was rated "PG" for "adult situation". Oops.
Soldier Blue has many enemies and it's not just people who don't like to hear "the other side of the story". At the IMDb one person claimed that the film was "one of these movies that can't find a way between a love story, a tongue-in-cheek western or a political rewiew of a sad and violent episode of the American history". Well, you could also rewiew it like this: the film depicts a dark page in history, told from the point of wiew of two people, a naive soldier and a woman who lived with Indians for many years. Their personalities clash, which adds to the drama of the film, but also gives room for some comic relief.
Like Orca, which will be reviewed later this year, Soldier Blue can't really be classified in one category, but that doesn't matter. Sometimes you do get a film which manages to balance on a rope between more genres. This is extremely tricky and if it doesn't work, the film is often horrible.
Soldier Blue pulls it off: it'll make you laugh and cry in the nearly two hours it lasts. Above all, the film is emotional.
Now here's the bad news: the English version is not entirely uncut (even though it claims that it is). The movie was released in 1970 where the English board of classification BBFC gave it an X rating and demanded certain scenes to be cut.
When released on video in 1986, the BBFC changed the rating to 18 and the film was released with 36 seconds of cuts. In 1999 the film was released again and again the BBFC demanded some cuts: 23 seconds disappeared down the drain. One year later the film was released uncut, but don't be fooled: the distributors chose to cut away the contested scenes before showing it to the BBFC. So really, you still miss certain scenes. I'm willing to bet this includes the scene where an Cheyenne woman is raped by a number of soldiers and when she hits one of them, she's punished by getting a knife in her breast.
For an uncut version, you should try the Belgian, Dutch or Swedish version.
Review by Kurt Aerden
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