ULZANA’S RAID (1972)
This is a particularly brutal film at times, but Ulzana’s Raid is, in my opinion, one of the better westerns to come out of the seventies. Critics appear divided on this, however. The story has no basis in fact. The green Lieutenant DeBuin (played by Bruce Davison) questions his Chiricahua scout, Ke-Ni-Tay, (superbly portrayed by Jorge Luke), on the reason the renegades torture and mutilate their victims. His response that the Apache tortures a captive ‘in order to acquire his power’ sounded a little suspect to me. History tells us that men (whatever their culture) have been known to torture and mutilate for no apparent reason, especially in wartime, so why should the Apache be any different?
Burt Lancaster as the scout McIntosh
Burt Lancaster is not one of my favourite actors but he is excellent in this film. Throughout his extensive career I have enjoyed his performances in just five pictures – From Here to Eternity (1953), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Professionals (1966), Atlantic City (1980) and this one. Generally speaking, I found he overacted too much. His portrayal of McIntosh the army scout here is wonderful, however, underplayed and entirely convincing. It almost goes without saying that his old circus buddy, Nick Cravat, gets a minor berth in the movie (as usual), playing one of the troopers. He has no lines.
Jorge Luke as Ke-Ni-Tay
Jorge Luke (Ke-Ni-Tay) almost steals the picture. He is most impressive as the Chiricahua scout who uses his skill and fighting ability to hunt down and kill his Apache prey, one of whom, Ulzana, is his own cousin. The conversation Ke-Ni-Tay has with Lt. DeBuin, in which he endeavours to enlighten the lieutenant on the outlook and motivation of Ulzana, is a highlight of the movie. Luke was often cast as American Indians over his career. Character actor Richard Jaeckel gives his usual sound performance as the cavalry sergeant. A favourite of director Robert Aldrich, he managed to grace seven of his movies over the years.
Bruce Davison (L) & Richard Jaeckel
Ulzana and his small band of renegades are depicted as clever guerrilla fighters, but one wonders at the tactics they adopt in this picture. Guerrillas deciding to go raiding would surely steal more than just one horse each to ride. Furthermore, why would they dismount and travel on foot in order to meet up with their horses at a later hour? They were already increasing the distance between themselves and their pursuers, so why give them the opportunity to catch up? The ploy smacks of Hollywood hokum and detracts from the picture’s authenticity. That aside, Ulzana’s Raid depicts how terrifying it must have been for settlers to scratch a living in Arizona whenever the Apaches chose to go on the rampage. It also emphasizes how cruel and vicious acts could be carried out by either side given the opportunity.
Robert Taylor as Wilfred of Ivanhoe
Based on the classic fiction novel penned by Sir Walter Scott, this picture features forty year-old Robert Taylor as the hero, Wilfred of Ivanhoe. (He was in his mid- twenties in Scott’s novel). One of the two leading ladies, Elizabeth Taylor, was just twenty when Ivanhoe was released and at the zenith of her extraordinary beauty. Fans must have felt that Ivanhoe’s choice of the rather ordinary looking Rowena (Joan Fontaine) over the stunning Rebecca (Liz)was on a par with the equally odd choice by Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) to pine and whine over sappy Leslie Howard’s character (Ashley Wilkes) in preference to dashing Clark Gable’s (Rhett Butler) in Gone with the Wind. Elizabeth felt she was miscast in Ivanhoe and there was serious talk of replacing her with Robert Taylor’s co-star in Quo Vadis (1951), Deborah Kerr, but it never happened.
Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca
The seemingly silly early scene in which Wilfred of Ivanhoe rides around castle after castle in Europe, singing a ditty in the hope of receiving a response from the captive King Richard who is imprisoned somewhere in Europe, actually has a basis in fact! A minstrel named Blondel really did ride around numerous castles warbling the King’s favourite tune until he heard Richard join in the chorus. Blondel hurried back to England and told the Normans where the King was. Incidentally, King Richard the Lionheart was, in fact, a Frenchman and spoke scarcely any English at all. Indeed, he only spent about six months of his ten-year reign in England. He much preferred slaughtering ‘infidels’ at the Crusades to performing his kingly duty.
Joan Fontaine as Rowena
The screenplay for Ivanhoe was the work of three screenwriters, although only two of them received any screen accreditation. Marguerite Roberts, a screenwriter at MGM, was a member of the American Communist Party and was thereby ordered, in 1951, to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). She and her husband, John Sanford, (he had been a screenwriter at Paramount), refused to name fellow members of the party and were blacklisted for a decade. Marguerite’s name was immediately erased from the credits after MGM received permission from the Screenwriters Guild to do so.
George Sanders as De Bois-Gilbert
This is not a very good movie although it does contain a couple of memorable moments. When the Saxon Ivanhoe is told to strike the shield of the Norman knight he wishes to challenge, he rides down the line and strikes all five Norman shields! One can imagine Saturday morning matinee audiences of youngsters cheering such bravado with gusto. Towards the film’s conclusion George Sanders (as De Bois – Guilbert) delivers my favourite line of dialogue from the picture after Rebecca rejects his proposition to spare her and Ivanhoe in return for her transferring her affections from Ivanhoe to him. ‘Then count your life in seconds and the Saxon’s life as well!’ he snarls. As usual, George Sanders had a way of making every line he uttered sound infinitely better than it probably was.
Astonishing as it might seem, Ivanhoe was nominated for three Academy Awards – including for Best Picture! It won none of them. In all honesty, the field that year (1953) was one of the weakest in years. The other Best Picture nominees were Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man, High Noon, and the ultimate winner, the wretched Cecil B. DeMille monstrosity The Greatest Show on Earth. Like I said, it was a weak year.