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 byRobert 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."
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.
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 messengers to local homesteads. Both are ambushed and killed; to avoid capture one kills the woman he is escorting and then himself. The warriors play catch with his heart. The woman's husband, who stayed behind, is captured and tortured to death. Army scout MacIntosh (Lancaster) is given the job of finding Ulzana (Martinez) for a troop of soldiers led by an inexperiencedLieutenant Garnett DeBuin (Davison). Joining them on the mission is 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 brutal activities of the Apache war party. The film then focuses on the soldiers' reality, facing a merciless enemy with far better local skills. We follow the lieutenant through his 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 what to do. Ulzana and most of his men abandon their horses, led circuitously by two others 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, including Ulzana's son. The lieutenant prevents his men from mutilating the dead.
The raiders attack a nearby farm, torturing the homesteaders and seizing two horses. McIntosh realizes that 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 most of the soldiers before DeBuin can arrive with the rest of his force. McIntosh is fatally wounded. Ke-Ni-Tay scatters the captured horses as sounding bugle calls which alert Ulzana of his 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 Ke-Ni-Tay kills him. The troopers suggest that Ulzana, or at least his head, should be taken back to the fort. The lieutenant orders him to be buried. MacIntosh knows he will not survive the journey back to the fort and chooses to stay behind.
- Burt Lancaster as McIntosh
- Bruce Davison as Lt. Garnett DeBuin
- Jorge Luke as Ke-Ni-Tay (army scout)
- Richard Jaeckel as Sergeant
- Joaquín Martínez as Ulzana (as Joaquin Martinez)
- Lloyd Bochner as Capt. Charles Gates
- Karl Swenson as Willy Rukeyser (settler)
- Douglass Watson as Maj. Cartwright (CO, Ft. Lowell)
- Dran Hamilton as Mrs. Riordan
- John Pearce as Corporal
- Gladys Holland as Mrs. Rukeyser
- Margaret Fairchild as Mrs. Abbie Ginsford
- Aimée Eccles as McIntosh's Indian woman (as Aimee Ecclés)
- Richard Bull as Ginsford (settler)
- Otto Reichow as 'Dutch' Steegmeyer (Indian Agent, San Carlos Reservation)
There are two cuts of the film because Burt Lancaster helped to produce the movie. One version was edited under the supervison 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 dialog within scenes.