Soldier Blue (1970) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Soldier Blue is a forgotten film about the Western battles between whites and Indians in the West in the 1860s. The movie had high-minded good intentions and might be remembered now, except that it came out at the same time and covered almost the identical ground as Little Big Man, and was markedly inferior to that film. Both films came out in 1970, in the height of the anti-establishmentarian cultural revolution which paralleled the Vietnam War. With the My Lai massacre fresh in everyone's mind, both films invoked certain unflattering parallels (racism, the killing of women and children) between America's conduct of the war in Vietnam and the war to win the West. Both films tried to show a more nuanced picture of the Wild West by allowing the Indian side of the story to be told, and by portraying the Indians as sophisticated, complex human beings rather than as the whooping savages normally portrayed in traditional Hollywood Westerns. Both films showed ordinary white people who had lived among the Indians, and who participated in memorable historical events with the perspective of having seen both sides.

The two films are connected in another, more unusual way. Both of them focus on a massacre of a village where the famous chieftain Black Kettle resided - yet they were two different massacres. Yup, amazingly, Black Kettle was on the receiving end of two famous massacres, Chivington's attack at Sand Creek and Custer's attack on the Washita. Somehow, Black Kettle managed to survive the Massacre at Sand Creek. He was one of the few. Chivington himself hated Indians and his volunteers were basically lowlifes, not professional soldiers. This massacre happened during the Civil War when the real soldiers were fighting Johnny Reb. Colonel Chivington's brigade slaughtered men, women, and children indiscriminately, and the colonel was reprimanded severely by the Army.

It's amazing enough that the same chief was involved in both massacres, but what makes it truly astounding is that he was a peaceful chief. Black Kettle was a sensible and compromising man who, in both cases, was flying the Stars and Stripes as well as a white flag of peace. Despite what he had seen in his own experiences including the Sand Creek event, Black Kettle continued to believe pragmatically that the Cheyenne should make a partnership with the white men who seemed to possess overwhelming force and technology. Sadly, that belief did not help him to create such a partnership. After the Civil War he was attacked a second time, this time by the regular Army, the 7th Cavalry, under the command of the famous Custer himself.

Bottom line, I guess you might say that Soldier Blue, although it was released some months earlier, is the grade-B version of Little Big Man. Little Big Man was among the top ten grossers of 1970 and a critical smash. Soldier Blue came and went virtually unnoticed and unappreciated. Soldier Blue obviously features a much less important star, Candice Bergen, as opposed to Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man. The greatest difference between the two films lies in the comparative sophistication of their points of view. The main character in Little Big Man lived as an Indian and as a white man, and saw the good and bad and the humor in both sides. The star of Soldier Blue lived as an Indian and as a white woman, and really only sympathized with the Indian point of view, so the script ends up being preachy rather than observant. While Little Big Man is art, Soldier Blue is merely counter-propaganda. It merely substitutes the traditional one-dimensional view of the struggle with the opposing one-dimensional view.

There was a lot of that going on in 1967-73.

The film pretty much ignored historical accuracy in general. 

  • Soldier Blue exaggerates the facts of the Sand Creek Massacre, despite the fact that there was no need to do so. The simple truth was horrifying enough to begin with.

  • Early in the film, Candice mentions Custer's regiment being wiped out at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, even though that event would not happen until 12 years later.

  • Candice Bergen talks in 1970-speak, delivering lines like "get your ass up here."

  • The Indian extras all look like the same Italian extras from The Untouchables

When the film is not portraying massacres, it is a typical example of one of those "incompetent man and competent woman" adventures, like The African Queen. Only two white people escape an Indian massacre in the first scene: an army private and a woman. It turns out that the woman was once married to a Cheyenne chief, can survive in the wilderness, and speaks several Indian languages. The guy is pretty much of a complete douchebag, the kind of jungfrau who makes Gilligan seem to have the survival skills of Conan the Barbarian. Needless to say, the mismatched couple eventually falls in love, and he comes around from his foolish naiveté to a complete understanding of the fact that the United States totally sucks. Subtle stuff!

Soldier Blue was revolutionary in one respect. It portrayed violence graphically. The white soldiers are shown chopping off the heads of Indian women on camera, ripping off all their clothing and raping them, and mutilating their bodies by cutting off their breasts with knives. After the battle, the soldiers were dancing around, waving Indian body parts impaled on sticks. I can assure you this was considered profoundly shocking material in 1970, not just because it represented a new level of violence in mainstream cinema (this was a Candice Bergen movie, fer chrissakes!), but also because it portrayed whites mutilating Indians, rather than vice-versa.

For 90% of the film, it's pretty lame, lightweight, lowbrow stuff in general. The bickering love relationship is almost on an Ozzie and Harriet level, right down to the sitcom style music. The major villain is dotty (Donald Pleasance) rather than menacing. That sort of fluff is followed by a horrific and graphic massacre. Imagine if F Troop had done its usual schtick for 20 minutes, then had turned into a serious drama in which O'Rourke and Agarn had massacred the Hakawis brutally on camera, including graphic rape and mutilation.

I feel guilty being so harsh and making jokes about a film which takes on such serious themes as genocide. After all, this subject matter is basically the Native American equivalent of the Holocaust, and it is difficult to attack the film because by doing so one seems to lack sympathy for the victims. Oh, well, I've said it before and I'll probably say it again many times in the future when Oscars go to crappy films about weighty topics - an important topic does not make an important film.  

I did learn something important from this film, however.

From the fight scenes in this film, I managed to learn why white men won the West - the Indians went into hand-to-hand combat wearing headgear so large they could not turn their necks. As a result, they could not win a fight unless they were attacked directly from the front. Look at it this way:

  • In the event of a 180 degree direct attack, the Indian held the advantage. In all other cases, the white man held all the cards.

  • To make matters worse, the highest ranking Indians wore the most cumbersome headdresses, and were thus most vulnerable to being killed. The only way they could survive to old age was to keep from getting promoted to large hat status, thus allowing them to fight naturally. Unfortunately, since the same logic dictated that their chiefs were likely to be killed, there were all too many opportunities for promotion. "Listen, Soaring Eagle, we have good news and bad. The good news is that you are now chief, since Mighty Bear was killed when unable to move his head in a knife fight. The bad news is that you now have to wear the headdress that got him killed in the first place. Good luck, son."

When you look at it that way, it's a wonder the so-called Native Americans survived as long as they did.


DVD Info: This film is not available on a Region 1 DVD. T

The German Region 2 DVD, however, is good. It has no significant features, but it has a solid transfer of the film, in widescreen, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens. It is the original, uncut version, in English (three other languages optional). The German DVD info can be found here. The U.S. distributor's home page can be found here.


  • Candice Bergen shows her bum.
  • Several Indian women are seen in various stages of undress (including two instances of full frontal nudity, plus illustrations of rape and sexual mutilation)

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert: one and a half stars out of four.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It's not a horrible movie, but don't waste your time on this lightweight film, which is basically a massacre preceded by two hours of fluff. Watch Little Big Man instead.

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