Soldier Blue (DE - DVD R2)
Gabe reviews this forgotten and violent western staring actress Candice Bergen
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Candice Bergan (yes, Murphy Brown herself) stars as Cresta Lee, a New Yorker recently ‘rescued’ from years of ‘captivity’ among the Cheyenne Indians. While hitching a ride back to her white fiancée, her cavalry hosts are attacked and massacred by the Cheyenne. She escapes, along with a sole surviving soldier, Honus Gent (Peter Strauss). The headstrong and self-sufficient Cresta and her naïve soldier blue travel across the countryside in the hopes of reaching their original destination, a US cavalry base.
Along their journey, the opposing personalities and beliefs clash, but Cresta’s need of additional fighting support, and Honus’ need to complete his ‘duty’ keep them together throughout their turmoil. For the next forty minutes or so, the film is basically consists of the two-actor ensemble, and thanks to the acting strengths of the two leads and the honestly witty banter, this slower section remains quite entertaining. The budding romance is believable and the humour is sharp.
But the grim opening title card warns us that the films finale will not be a light-hearted one. The words are heavy-handed, but resonate throughout the film, until they come to gruesome life. Like most modern classic Westerns, Soldier Blue is at its heart a political analogy. The basis of Cresta and Honus’ bickering is his blind belief in the legitimacy of his government’s occupation of the Native’s land. When the era in which the film was made is considered, 1970, it’s pretty obvious that the film is yet another in a long line of metaphorical Vietnam protests. This is not what you’d call a pro-war film.
I’d actually compare Soldier Blue to Spielberg’s WWII masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan, only whereas that film begins with the horrors of an actual battle from the annuls of history, Soldier Blue culminates with one. Both films have a way of holding the particular battle over the audience’s head, insuring that no amount of on-screen hijinx will quell the sombre tone. Both films can easily be accused of being a bit pragmatic, but their button pushing, heartstring-pulling power cannot be ignored.
I admit that my initial interest in Soldier Blue was due to its notorious reputation as a Splatter Western. It turns out that the violence was not the ‘fun’ kind found in some Italian Westerns, but the more upsetting kind, like in Peckinpah films. This level of violence garners valid comparisons to Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch, which has led to some unfortunate critical analysis, and accusations of coattail riding.
The cult nature of the film is cemented, it should be noted, by a fantastic supporting performance from B-movie icon Donald Pleasance, as a corrupt trader. Pleasance is nearly unrecognizable behind a vicious set of fake teeth and a playful Southern accent. Though playing a slightly screwy character, Pleasance resists the urge to ham it up, and continues the film’s streak of dignity in the face of heavy-handedness.
In the end, Soldier Blue succeeded for me on several levels. It was an odd enough mix of story and characters to maintain its cult credentials, the dialogue was snappy enough to garner some genuine grins, the romance was believable enough to make me care about its outcome, and the drama was wrenching enough to make me think about the film for hours after it was over.
Soldier Blue is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced. Considering the film’s ripeness and relative obscurity, this DVD looks fantastic. Colours are a little unnaturally oversaturated but nothing confounding. Detail is sharp for the majority of the run time, though some moving shots are blurred, and some of the sharpness causes a tiny bit of edge enhancement. I am very impressed with the level of cleanliness in the transfer, as print damage, dirt, and artefacts are the lowest I’ve seen in a non-major studio classic release. According to DVDCompare.net, this is one of only two entirely uncut versions of the film on the market, though picture quality isn’t compared anywhere I can find, I can’t imagine any other release looking much better.
Soldier Blue is presented in four languages, all in Dolby Digital mono sound. The ideal language is obviously the original English, which also happens to be the best sounding of the tracks anyway. This is one of those cases where I’m happy no one tried to remaster the soundtrack in some kind of artificial surround sound. The mono track is plenty deep, and has more than enough range, in fact I’m really unable to find any faults with the track at all. It’s nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done.
Nothing but a trailer. Another in a long list of films I'd like to know more about. Perhaps some day Anchor Bay or Blue Underground will get their hands on it and we'll see a proper region one release, complete with interviews and history.
Overall a varied and emotionally compelling film, Soldier Blue suffers from some pretensions, but is far too wonderful a work to have been so neglected in the annuls of film. It really does have everything, with the exception of a happy ending. The curious should definitely check it out; I don't think they'll be disappointed.
You can purchase this title from Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
For persons aged 16 years and over
Release Date: 16th February 2004
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono German, Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ralph Nelson
Cast: Candice Bergen, Peter Strauss, Donald Pleasance
Length: 110 minutes
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