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Directed by Ralph Nelson and based on the novel by Theodore V. Olsen, Avco Embassy 's 1970 production Soldier Blue is set in 1864 and it follows a small division of American cavalry men as they escort a wagon containing a paymaster 's chest and a female passenger, a New Yorker named Cresta Lee (Candace Bergen). They 're both to be delivered to Fort Reunion, under the charge of Colonel Iverson (John Anderson), in Colorado where Cresta will meet up with her fiancé, Lieutenant McNair (Bob Carraway), after spending the last two years living with the Cheyenne Indians. A short time into their trip, the caravan is attacked by the Cheyenne, and only Cresta and a single Private named Honus Gent (Peter Strauss) manage to survive.
Duty-bound to protect Cresta, Honus makes it clear he wants to see her back to the Fort in one piece, but as they get to know one another, he finds that the political views of this foul-mouthed young woman are just about the polar opposite of his own. Her sympathies lie with the Cheyenne more than they do with the military, and it isn 't long before he 's literally called her a traitor. Regardless, they carry on as best they can, with Honus defeating a scout from another native tribe in combat and then later running into some difficulty with a vagabond arms smuggler named Cumber (Donald Pleasence), who knows more about Cresta 's past than she would prefer. The longer they 're together, however, the clearer it becomes that Honus is falling for Cresta, which obviously complicates matters as he 's intent on getting her to Fort Reunion where McNair is expecting her…
For the sake of not spoiling the film for those who haven 't seen it, we 'll try and stay vague with details as to how this picture ends, but let it suffice to say that it does an excellent job of who called it correctly in terms of the two different outlooks shared by our leads. It makes sense, given their different backgrounds and upbringings, that they 'd see the American military 's efforts to take land from the Cheyenne and other tribes in vastly different terms, but the film 's finale leaves little room for interpretation, at least in terms of what the filmmakers wanted audiences to take away from the movie. If looked at as an allegory for the Vietnam War, still raging at the time this hit theaters, the movie has an even stronger impact and posits a message that still resonates today.
At the same time, the movie entertains, without feeling overly preachy. It 's an odd picture, tonally, because there are moments where it plays like a romantic comedy and other moments like a character drama, pushing the war movie and western elements to the side for long stretches of its hour and fifty-five-minute running time. However, these moments are important because they humanize the characters, even if some of the tonal shifts are a bit jarring. While it 's more than fair to say that our two leads could have both used stronger back stories, as they get to know one another and the audience in turn gets to know them, what they go through matters more and the ending feels more important, heartbreaking even.
When the movie was released in 1970, critics weren 't always kind to Bergen and Strauss, but personally I think they both work quite well in their respective roles. She plays Cresta as a headstrong, an independent woman who would seem to have been ahead of her time and unafraid of speaking truth to power, all very good qualities indeed. These character traits suit Bergen, who has since become a feminist icon, she plays the part with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Strauss ' Gent is much more naïve than she is, or if not naïve, blinded to truth, and he too nails this important element of his character. He 's very much ‘by the book, ' convincing in his awkwardness when, during a cold night, Cresta snuggles up to him hoping not necessarily for sex, but just some body heat to keep warm. They have a decent chemistry together. Supporting work from a somewhat over the top but still enjoyable Donald Pleasence, sporting a rather disturbing dental appendage of some sort (and breaking into song at one point), is entertaining and adds some comic relief before it too becomes sinister. John Anderson is shockingly despicable in his role as the Colonel.
Soldier Blue comes to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 taking up just over 32GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Overall the transfer looks quite nice, but there 's some irritating jitter noticeable during the opening credits sequence that thankfully goes away after the first few minutes. Otherwise, pictures quality here is solid. Colors look very nice, warm and natural throughout, while black levels are strong. There are no noticeable compression artifacts and the transfer is devoid of any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement. There 's virtually no print damage here to complain about, the source used for the transfer was very clean. This looks very nice overall, showing good detail, depth and texture.
The soundtrack is provided in 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track and while the levels seem a bit low, once you adjust the volume is sounds fine. The score has some noticeable impressive depth to it and it sounds quite clear, as does the opening theme song. The levels are balanced nicely and you can make out the dialogue without any trouble. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion here. Recreated intertitles are provided in English only.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary from Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell and it 's worth a listen. They cover all the bases you 'd expect them to: the locations, trivia about the cast and crew, history of the film 's director, distribution and critical reception and plenty of facts and trivia and what not. They also discuss the uncut version of the movie, which seems to sadly be lost to the sands of time, and dive pretty deep into the themes and politics that the movie both explores and exploits. It 's a pretty spirited discussion, the kind that should not only further your appreciation for the film but also provide you with some food for thought.
Aside from that, the disc also includes trailers for the feature and a few other Kino Lorber properties as well as menus and chapter selection options.
Solider Blue is not a perfect film but it 's a fascinating picture that gets a lot more right than it does wrong and one that still resonates with its anti-war message decades after it was made. Kino has done a very nice job bringing it to Blu-ray in a quality presentation and with an interesting commentary track as its primary extra feature. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.