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Soldier Blue - Buffy Sainte-Marie

More movie music. Terry Melcher's partner while living in "that house" (see yesterday's post) was actress Candice Bergen who starred in the movie, an ultra violent revisionist Western that depicted the Sand Creek Massacre where US Cavalry slaughtered hundreds of men, women and children of the Cheyenne and Arapaho native American tribes in an unprovoked attack.

Following on from Sam Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch" which raised the bar on what was acceptable in movies' graphic depiction of violence, "Soldier Blue" depicted the Western as a morally bankrupt film genre with the age old enemy, the "red indian" now shown as a victim of genocide.

The film was made during the furore of the exposure in the American press of the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and undoubtedly is a pointed inditement of the Vietnam War.

It was based on the depiction of the massacre in Dee Brown's excellent history of the persecution of the indigenous American tribes "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee" and Western novelist T.V. Olsen's "Arrow in the Sun" and sandwiches a love story between a cavalry man played by Peter Strauss and Bergen's ex Cheyenne prisoner in between two massacres of extreme bloodthirstiness.

Unfortunately, even then, although the film appears on the surface to wear it moral (and bleeding) heart on its sleeve, it is also a deeply exploitative movie, and there is no doubt that much of its success was based on the voyeuristic appeal of the promised gorefest to the public.

I saw it at the age of 16 in the giant Al Andalus Cinema in Kuwait City in 1971. The Kuwaiti censors had cut all the scenes of sex and nudity in the movie, but had left in all the graphic violence which included beheadings and dismemberment of women and the impaling of crying children. There were Arabic subtitles for the audience (I think my family were the only Europeans there), yet when the cavalry charged the defenceless village, the audience to a man leapt to their feet cheering and continued to do so throughout the subsequent bloodbath, a memory that resonates peculiarly today.

Nowadays, I presume they would be anti the American imperialist military action, but then they just couldn't grasp the sudden reversal of the standard cowboys and indians story dynamic.

Looking back from 2018, the film stands as a testimony of the confusing place that the USA was at back in 1970.

Donald Pleasance steals the film as an eccentric gun smuggler and I adore the love story at the centre of film, but let's face it, the only thing in the movie that isn't cynical and exploitative is indigenous North American Buffy Sainte-Marie's towering vocal on the title song. She rises above it all, the crimes against her people, the Vietnam war, the Hollywood exploitation of both, in this impassioned plea to the US white man:

Ooh soldier blue, soldier blue,

can't you see that there's another way to love her?

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