Open main menu

Ulzana's Raid is a 1972 American western film 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.

Ulzana's Raid
Film poster
Directed byRobert Aldrich
Produced byCarter De Haven Jr.
Written byAlan Sharp
StarringBurt Lancaster
Bruce Davison
Richard Jaeckel
Jorge Luke
Joaquín Martínez
Music byFrank De Vol
CinematographyJoseph Biroc
Edited byMichael Luciano
Associates and Aldrich Co.
De Haven-Aldrich
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 15, 1972 (1972-11-15)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.8 million[1]
Box office414,559 admissions (France)[2]

One critic, Emanuel Levy, wrote: "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]


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 McIntosh (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. McIntosh 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 McIntosh 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 murdered following her rape, has been left alive but injured 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. McIntosh knows that he will not survive the journey back to the fort, and chooses to stay behind to die alone.


Production notesEdit

The film was from an original screenplay by Alan Sharp and was, in turn, 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 (1956), a film directed by John Ford 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 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 (1954).[7]

Aldrich later claimed "From the time we started to the time we finished the picture, I'd say fifty, sixty percent of it [the script] was changed. Alan Sharp, the writer, was very amenable and terribly helpful. And terribly prolific. He can write twenty-five pages a day. He couldn't agree more with my political viewpoint—so that was no problem. And fortunately, Lancaster and I felt pretty much the same about the picture. It was good that I had support from Sharp and Lancaster, because I don't have the highest regard for Carter DeHaven, the producer."[8]

Aldrich says the part of Lancaster's character, John McIntosh, was named after John McIntire, the actor who played the Indian scout Al Sieber in the film Apache he directed in 1954. It was an "inside joke ... I'm not sure that Alan Sharp ever knew just why we did that."[8]

The film was shot on location in the southeast of Tucson, Arizona, at the Coronado National Forest and in Nogales, as well as in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

There are two cuts of the film because Burt Lancaster helped to produce the movie. The American version was edited under the supervision of Aldrich, the European version 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.[9]


Gene Siskel wrote that the film was one of the ten best of 1972.[10] Vincent Canby of the New York Times also said it was one of the best films of the year.[11]

Aldrich later said he was "very proud" of the film but it was not a commercial success.[8]

See alsoEdit


  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. ISBN 978-0-8108-4993-8.
  5. ^
  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. ^ a b c "I CAN'T GET JIMMY CARTER TO SEE MY MOVIE!" Aldrich, Robert. Film Comment; New York Vol. 13, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1977): 46-52.
  9. ^ Brad Stevens (30 June 2000). "Variant versions of Robert Aldrich's films: a case study". Retrieved 10 March 2019. The scenes that Lancaster cut include a pre-credits sequence showing Ulzana and his men leaving the reservation in the middle of the night. [...] The major deletions relate to the character of McIntosh (Lancaster)’s Indian lover, played by Aimee Eccles, who has been completely removed from the European edition
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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 readingEdit

External linksEdit