Ulzana's Raid (Universal) (1972)

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Released 4-Aug-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 98:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:29) Cast & Crew
Start Up Subtitle Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Robert Aldrich

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Burt Lancaster
Bruce Davison
Jorge Luke
Richard Jaeckel
Joaquín Martínez
Lloyd Bochner
Karl Swenson
Douglass Watson
Dran Hamilton
John Pearce
Gladys Holland
Margaret Fairchild
Aimée Eccles
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Frank De Vol

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Ulzana's Raid was made by Robert Aldrich at the tail end of the Western's popularity. This was the era of The Wild Bunch and Little Big Man, when many filmmakers tried to reinterpret the myths of the West through greater realism and an attempt to draw parallels with contemporary American society.

    The plot of Ulzana's Raid is deceptively simple. Stealing some ponies, a group of Chiricahua Apaches led by Ulzana leave the reservation. A small detachment of troops under the inexperienced Lieutenant DeBuin is sent to bring them back. DeBuin is accompanied by two scouts:  the veteran McIntosh, and the Apache Ke-Ni-Tay. Almost the entire film is taken up with the cavalry trying to track down the Indians.

    From this basic premise, a thought-provoking and compelling narrative is developed. While on one level, the film is just another rehash of the renegade-Indians-being-fought-by-intrepid-white-soldiers storyline of many a Western, it can also be seen as an examination of the American experience in Vietnam in a Western setting.

    Alan Sharp's screenplay shows the Apaches, mirroring the portrayal of the Viet Cong in the US media, as being unflinchingly brutal and savage, with no redeeming features. While the cavalry, like the US troops in Vietnam, try to fight conventionally, the Indians use guerrilla tactics. DeBuin fits the cliché of the US soldier in Vietnam: young, idealistic and God-fearing, whose innocence is lost when faced with human behaviour he cannot comprehend. The veteran soldiers behave almost as savagely as the Indians, much as some soldiers did in the Vietnam conflict.

    The aspect of the screenplay that appeals to this reviewer is that it raises questions without attempting to answer them, leaving viewers to make up their own minds. In a way, McIntosh acts as the writer's mouthpiece: he does not hate the Apaches but accepts them as they are. He sees what must be done and tries to do it without malice or hidden agendas. His aim is to survive as well as succeed.

    The performances are all first rate. Bruce Davison is just right as DeBuin, with a combination of freshfaced idealism and inner steel. Burt Lancaster is (of course) the star and like many of his later performances, he inhabits the character of the ageing McIntosh with quiet skill, avoiding his usual unique brand of overacting. The supporting players are also good, and keen-eyed viewers may spy Richard Farnsworth and Lancaster's friend Nick Cravat amongst the troopers.

    This is a typical Robert Aldrich film. As in many of his films, like The Dirty Dozen and Five Seconds to Hell, the plot revolves around a group of men in a dangerous situation, and women are relegated to secondary roles if they are present at all. The character of the men is revealed and changed through their relationships to the perils they face and to each other. For example, while DeBuin at first accepts without question the advice of his scouts, he gradually comes to make his own decisions and grows into the role of leader. What seems important to Aldrich are not the thoughts or words of men, but their actions.

    The framing of many shots of the actors is against the open sky, as if Aldrich was trying to stop the landscape from becoming a character in itself, as it does in the films of John Ford and others. Perhaps he was trying to divorce the characters from their time and place, to universalise the story and emphasise the parallels with contemporary events.

    Ulzana's Raid is punctuated by spontaneous acts of violence which, whether implied or explicit, are startling and disturbing. This is not a film for children.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was 1.85:1, so we are missing about 4 per cent of the image, which is small enough to be of no consequence.

    Shadow detail is not an issue, as most of the film occurs outdoors in bright sunshine. Even where the actors are shown against the sky, they are well lit. Night scenes are a little overlit, and none of the action occurs in darkness.

    The transfer looks to have been taken from a relatively new print, having no reel change markings. There are however a lot of very small film artefacts, mostly black or white flecks. There is also considerable film grain present, most noticeably during scene changes, for example at 46:45.

    There is some edge enhancement present, though this is only obvious when the actors are outlined against the sky, such as at 49:15.

    The film often has the look of a TV production. The unsubtle lighting of the characters and the night-time scenes is partly to blame. Also contributing is the fact that the film was shot on a small budget in less than seven weeks, three or four weeks shorter than other Aldrich films of the same period.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc, with the layer change occurring at 55:29. This occurs during a quiet moment and at a cut, and is not noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The default soundtrack is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The film was originally released with a mono soundtrack, so we are missing nothing here. There are also soundtracks in German, French, Italian and Spanish. From the brief sample I listened to, all sounded fine, although the Italian soundtrack seemed to be recorded at a higher level than the other tracks.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand. The soundtrack has been transferred with good fidelity and no distortion was noticed. I could not detect any audio sync problems with the English soundtrack.

    Frank DeVol was a regular collaborator with Robert Aldrich, and his music score is generally satisfactory, though the theme for the soldiers seems a little over the top. The folksy dance influences make it sound like it was written by Aaron Copland, and it is not always appropriate for the action on screen.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu is available in eight languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Russian. There is a brief introductory scene from the film, followed by the main menu which features brief scenes from the film with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Apart from this, there are no extras.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There is a Region 1 release of this film, from a company called Goodtimes. While reviews of that release indicate that the video and sound quality are acceptable, the film is presented in a pan and scan version with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and there are no extras. Therefore the Region 4 disc is a clear winner.


    This is a very good Western with fine performances and a solid, non-melodramatic script. This will appeal to the general viewer as well as to fans of Robert Aldrich and Burt Lancaster.

    The video is good without being of reference quality.

    The audio quality is good.

    No extras are provided.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, January 17, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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