March 25, 2007

SOLDIER BLUE (1970) widescreen and uncut at last

(1970, USA)

Dutch region 2 PAL DVD (Kinovelt)

Recommended anti-western

When it was released in 1970, the film's title and the original 'nude squaw' poster made this look like it was going to be softcore porno. In addition, the fuss in the press at the time made it sound like a violent atrocity of bad taste.

From accounts I'd read about the stuntwork and particularly the gruesome prosthetic make-up effects (like in John Brosnan's book Movie Magic), the film sounded like the British censors were justified for making several extensive cuts.

On paper, the story looked more like an old-school western, cowboys vs indians. In fact, Soldier Blue is an early revisionist western, told more from the Native American side as well as the anti-war movement. Like Little Big Man, this film was part of the learning process that challenged the demonisation of ‘injuns’ in countless cowboy movies.

Besides trying to set the record straight on native America, Soldier Blue was also an early Vietnam allegory, targetting the My Lai massacre, at a time when it was too controversial to tackle the subject of the war directly – it took Hollywood until the end of the 1970’s to do that.

Anyway, when I finally saw the film on British TV in the late seventies, heavily cut, it was certainly shocking but for different reasons. Instead of a A Clockwork Orange, I got a rather affable romantic comedy that starts off with an exceptionally hippy song. There were a few fights, a lot of talking and a lot of cuts. All that was left of the climax were the looks of shock on people's faces.

Seeing it again now, it’s a giddy mixture of heavy-handed pacifist arguments, (cue the shot of American cavalry riding roughshod over the American flag), light comedy and brutal violence. Very seventies, but still worth catching though. The techniques used to shock then are mostly unusable now. Multiple rapes, female nudity and child murder, not to mention dangerous horse stunts, are more taboo nowadays. To add to the 70's 'period' feel, it's all topped off with a jaunty Roy Budd soundtrack that constantly feels inappropriate, almost like they were trying to make the film even 'lighter'.

The radiant Candice Bergen is the fiesty lead, Peter Strauss is a touch too naive and easily offended as the 'Soldier Blue' of the title. His slow wake-up call to the reinterpretation of his understanding of religion, women, bad guys etc was all paralleled in what was actually going on in society at the time. A revolution of attitudes that also meant revising the written word in history books. The massacres of civilians by American troops were hard to believe back then, but are now verified facts in both Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864 and My Lai, Vietnam in 1968.

Donald Pleasance rounds off the leading actors to make the middle act more enjoyable, but the meandering storyline drifts way off-topic before the climax kicks in.

Shot totally on location, I was surprised by the huge mobilisation of soldiers and horses. The climactic battle is mounted on an extremely large scale. In fact, the film includes horse stunts that are no longer allowed in the UK, and they were cut from a recent TV transmission and will presumably be missing from any UK DVD release. A decapitated head, and a rape scene were also missing.

In the newly released uncut version, although hinted at in dialogue, no scalpings are shown, and the infamous breast cutting is simply, but effectively done with a special effects knife that shoots out blood. Today it's not the gore that shocks, even in the uncut version, but the full-frontal nudity and the elaborate stunts showing the killing of children.

Only now with a relaxation of film censorship, can we see the film in a complete version. I got this region 2 Dutch DVD released by Kinovelt in Holland (and Germany). It has a colourful, bright film transfer from a good print, with a great clear audio track. Good to finally see it in 2.35 anamorphic widescreen too.

Seems that the US has lost all of its original artwork and cobbled this DVD cover together - that cowboy isn't in the film at all!

This uncut version of the film is also out on region 1 DVD from Lionsgate, but I’ve read several instances of film scratches, dull colour and warbling audio, but I’ve not had a chance to judge for myself.

Like I’ve said, an uncut version won’t be released in the UK anytime soon. But the current Momentum release is only missing
about 28 seconds in all.

Do you want to know more?
For screenshots from the German Kinovelt DVD (which I believe is the same release as the Dutch DVD that I watched) and another review of the film, try this page from DVD Active.

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  1. What do all John Wayne fan's think About SOLDIER BLUE(1970).

  2. The pony soldiers were mostly vets of the US civil war and as seen in very recent wars they become desensitised and were guilty of horrendus acts..also we can't judge historical events by todays standards. also to be noted John Wayne was married to a native American woman and shared most of their views.

  3. Not ta leasr´st uncut. several cruel scenes left out. seen this in the 70´s on tv