Sunday, March 26, 2017

Brandon's #91: Ulzana's Raid (Robert Aldrich, 1972)

I'm trying to avoid rattling off the obvious ones. I know John said he probably didn't have it in him to go from 101 to 200, but part of me thinks that would be a more interesting list. I'm not a subscriber to Sturgeon's Law, though the flooding of content in recent years has me second guessing. Brandon's Law states that there have been plenty of movies made between cinema's inception and today that I would consider great. Not just good or passable or fine, great. This is not to suggest that these "great" movies are perfect, few if any are, but I think in some cases that their flaws only strengthen them in the end. 

I'm not sure if Aldrich will appear again on this or any other list but here is what I wrote moments after watching for the first time, four plus years ago...

The disillusionment of all things religious, patriotic, or morally absolute. If I were to go along with Manny Farber's feelings toward Robert Aldrich, I'd call this an anti-ideology film goaded by our futile involvement in Vietnam. U.S. abuses lead to Ulzana's (Joaquin Martinez) escape, which leads to more abuse as violence and betrayal begets violence and betrayal, and on and on it goes. It's also fascinated by insurmountable odds and unconquerable nature. It follows the naive Lt. Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison), who is sent to stop Ulzana with the aid of a world weary scout named McIntosh (Burt Lancaster), with Ulzana's wife's sister's husband also serving as a tracker. 

DeBuin's Christianity is viewed as a tactically hazardous handicap in the midst of such reprehensible reality. Aldrich portrays the actions of the title marauder as horrific and unconscionable, though most of us know that the actions were perpetrated on both ends of the divide, most of all the scouts. 

Ulzana is treated with a fearful reverence, with a constant regret in his eyes. The violence is as horrendous as the heat and dust, the terrain as unforgiving and coldblooded as conditions in which these soldiers battle. It's interesting to watch this film only a week after De Palma's CASUALTIES OF WAR, a similar film of disenchantment also dealing with callous wartime brutality committed in front of a morally terrified military neophyte. One film wants us to share said rookie's maddened headspace while the other seems content to observe atrocity with a battered but wise assessment of the nature of combat. Both acknowledge the tragedy while Aldrich seems spellbound by the honor amongst fiends in the midst of battle.


  1. I'm looking forward to seeing this one.

    Aldrich has made it on the list already. Mike W listed WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? as his #95. I'll be interested if anyone ranks any other Aldrich films any higher.

    I think that KISS ME DEADLY is pretty great, but it's not on my list.

    I could maybe be convinced to do a 101 to 200.

    I'm actually considering attempting something even more extreme after the 100 Project is over. I'd like to make my own Top 1000 along the lines of Edgar Wright's Top 1000 list found on Mubi.

    The biggest benefit would be listing things chronologically instead of in order of preference. I agree with you that there are many, many great films. So many great films that I feel confident that we could each make a list of 1000 movies and probably each have at least a couple hundred movies unique to our own lists (with lots more overlap, of course).

    I have a Budd Boetticher film a little higher on my list. I think that it's my favorite of the six or so of his films that I've seen, but honestly, with one exception, I love all of his films that I've seen. I probably could have put all of them on my 100 list, but I felt like there were other films of more "historically personal" importance that deserved to be on the list instead. But all of the Boetticher films would make it onto a chronological 1000 list. I have no idea how to really rank them in order of preference even among themselves let alone ranked against other films or even ranked against similar films like a list of Anthony Mann westerns. A chronological order solves things. Of course, I love making ranked lists and am enjoying this 100 Project. I can complain about it repeatedly, but it's also always a joy, even if it's an impossibly stupid joy. :-)

  2. I like this idea. Tbh your logic is similar to mine. Mann, Boetticher, etc have a chunk of great movies that won't crack this list.

  3. I've started adding movies to a 200-101 list and KISS ME DEADLY is on there. If I rewatch it, I can probably bump it up into my top 100. I watched that on a recommendation from Brandon, and it served me well. Here's to Ulzana's Raid achieving the same.


  5. Totally agree on Boetticher, John. I have one of his films (perhaps an unexpected one) much higher on my list. At one point there were three. Easily could have included all of the ones I've seen. Same with a bunch of Anthony Mann and Delmer Daves movies. I tried to make my list as varied as possible to avoid having a scenario with 20 Hitchcock movies and 20 more Ford movies (which it could have easily been). I like the idea of 200-101. I also like the idea of a top 1000 at some point too :)

    Also, totally agree on Ulzana's Raid, Brando. Great pick. I watched it on my computer via a low quality version at one point - probably the one you linked, John. I'd like to see it again in HD.