Ulzana's Raid

Ulzana's Raid

Ulzana's Raid
Film poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Carter De Haven Jr.
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.
De Haven-Aldrich
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]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production notes 3
  • Reception 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


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 depicts 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

The movie was an original screenplay by Alan Sharp, based on a true story. Ulzana was an Apache in the time of Geronimo who went on a deadly raid in Arizona in late 1885.[5]

Sharp says he was inspired to write the script by The Searchers which he regarded as "the best film I have ever seen".[6] Sharp later described Ulzana's Raid as:

Apart from being my sincere homage to [John] Ford... an attempt to express allegorically the malevolence of the world and the terror mortals feel in the face of it. We all have our own notions of what constitutes the ultimate in fear, from personal phobias to periods in history... Three historical landscapes that I shudder most to consider are the Third Reich, Turkey during the First World War, and the American Southwest during the years 1860-86.... In Ulzana's Raid I am not intent on presenting a reasoned analysis of the relationship between the aboriginie and the colonizer. The events described in the film are accurate in the sense they have factual equivalents, but the final consideration was to present an allegory in whose enlarged features we might perceive the lineaments of our own drama, caricatured, but not falsified... The Ulzana of the Ulzana's Raid is not the Chiricahua Apache of history, whose raid was more protracted and ruthless and daring than the one I had written about. He is the expression of my idea of the Apache as the spirit of the land, the manifestation of its hostility and harshness.[6]

It was the first time Burt Lancaster and Robert Aldrich had worked together since Vera Cruz.[7]

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.


Gene Siskel said the movie was one of the ten best of 1972.[8] Vincent Canby of the New York Times also said it was one of the best films of the year.[9]

See also


  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.  
  5. ^ http://www.desertexposure.com/200606/200606_ulzana.html
  6. ^ a b Movies: White Man Unforks Tongue for 'Ulzana' Sharp, Alan. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 May 1972: k20.
  7. ^ "Aldrich, Lancaster Reunited" Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 November 1971: a9.
  8. ^ Movies: Gene Siskel picks top 10 films of 1972 Chicago's best films... the pick of 1972's pack Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 31 Dec 1972: o1.
  9. ^ Critic's Choice -- Ten Best Films of '72: Critic's Choice -- Ten Best of '72 By VINCENT CANBY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 31 Dec 1972: D1.

Further reading

  • Lusted, David (2011). "Ulzana's Raid". In Geraghty, Lincoln. Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood. Intellect Books. p. 59. and other westerns in the context of the ongoing US-Vietnam war. Ulzana's Raid Encyclopedia entry that discusses  
  • Sachs, Ben (August 14, 2013). "In Ulzana's Raid, the Vietnam War's in the Arizona desert". The Chicago Reader.  An extended review of Ulzana's Raid in the context of Aldrich's career.

External links