Released in 1970, and directed by film maker Ralph Nelson, SOLDIER BLUE was billed as being the most savage movie in history, well I suppose at the time that statement was true. The movie mixed true life events with a fictitious sub plot and proved to be extremely popular in the United Kingdom, in fact it was a big hit almost everywhere apart from the United States, and this was not only because of the violent content of the movie, but moreover because it shattered many of the stories and myths that were attached to and surrounded the heroic American cavalry, and put them squarely in the category of bloodthirsty killers who had no emotions and literally blew Cheyenne woman and children apart with-out any second thoughts. Stories of heroic acts were told up and down the United States of how these supposed selfless heroes patrolled remote outposts and protected settlers and their like from the savages or as we know them The Native American Indian. The soldiers following orders and just doing as they were told by their commanders, not thinking for themselves, but neither did they stop for a moment to say what was happening was wrong. The true event that the film was based upon was the slaughter at SAND CREEK, that took place in the Colorado territory in 1864, it was not a proud moment in the history of America and is just one of many such events that stand out as shameful and abhorrent acts and other such massacres that were inflicted upon the American Indian nations. SAND CREEK, THE CAMP GRANT MASSACRE, THE 1860, WIYOT MASSACRE, MARIAS MASSACRE, BEAR RIVER MASSACRE are all now infamous names that are documented within the history of America. The names of these places and the acts that took place at them is seared into the minds of many Indian tribes and are remembered to this day.
These names send a shiver down the spines of many present-day Americans, and are looked upon with disgust and embarrassment. SAND CREEK was one of the most brutal operations carried out by the U.S. army with nearly 800 Cheyenne murdered, most of these being defenceless women and children, many of the men or warriors were not at the village because they were away hunting, and what men did remain were no match for the heavily armed cavalry that were involved in the massacre. Director Ralph Nelson, created a violent, chaotic and frenzied sequence to depict the senseless and totally unnecessary massacre of a Cheyenne village. The chilling and uncomfortable scenes that ensued were indeed shocking and one wanted to shout at the cavalry commander who was being portrayed in the movie to stop his insane determination to wipe out the inhabitants of the village. SOLDIER BLUE, was a movie where the audience came down firmly on the side of the Cheyenne, and when seeing the film, one felt so much disgust and loathing for the cavalry and its crazed commander, but so much compassion and sorrow for the Cheyenne.
I do have to point out that at the actual SAND CREEK massacre, it was not regular cavalry troopers who carried out the attack, but volunteer militia and cavalry troopers, under the command of John Milton Chivington, who believed that the Indian should be exterminated, and in his words, “DAMN ANY MAN WHO SYMPATHIZES WITH INDIANS, I HAVE COME TO KILL INDIANS, AND BELIEVE IT IS RIGHT AND HONOURABLE TO USE ANY MEANS UNDER GOD’S HEAVEN TO KILL INDIANS… KILL AND SCALP ALL, BIG AND LITTLE, NITS MAKE LICE” Ironically, Chivington, was a Methodist Preacher, A Freemason and a vocal opponent of slavery.
There is a scene in SOLDIER BLUE where the Cheyenne Chief Spotted Wolf, rides out towards the cavalry positions in peace bearing only an American flag that is also draped in a white flag, the brave warrior assuming the presence of the Cavalry is a mistake and they will realise this once they see him brandishing their flag. This was documented from the SAND CREEK massacre, Sadly, his plan does not work and the commanding officer gives the order to open fire with cannon, and orders the troops forward. SOLDIER BLUE was a controversial movie and has since it, s release been cut, edited and re-edited so many times it is hard to decipher what scenes were in the original movie, the massacre at the climax of the movie, is always a point of great discussion and many who had seen the film in the 1970,s have said that there were certain grotesque scenes depicting atrocities in the first prints that were released that disappeared in subsequent screenings, when viewing the movie late on release these scenes I for one did not see, so were these scenes of violence there at all, or were they simply in the minds of the audience who saw the movie first, or were they themselves so shocked that they imagined these alongside the other horrors on screen, or was it just hype as is the case so many times. There was also talk at the time of the film’s release that director Nelson, had re-edited the movie and shot it in a different way after the massacres carried out by American forces in Vietnam, which generated many passionate discussions, look at the end killings in SOLDIER BLUE, where the women and children are found hiding in a ditch away from the carnage, a ditch where they are brutally murdered by blood crazed troopers/militia, who seem to be drunk on the lust and violence of the day. This is we are informed the same way that Vietnamese, women and children were killed by U.S. troops at a certain location, during the Vietnam war.
SOLDIER BLUE starred Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss, Strauss being the Soldier Blue referred to in the film’s title, and a derogatory name which he was called by Bergen’s character, when she was frustrated by his blind loyalty to his uniform and government. Bergen had been living with the Cheyenne for over two years and was wife to Spotted Wolf, then she had been rescued, and I use the word rescued loosely, because it is blatantly obvious that she did not want to be, it is also openly apparent that she would rather be among the Cheyenne and the skies of blue and fields of green referred to in one of the compositions in musical score. Strauss is a young, clumsy and rather naive trooper who is part of an escort party that is acting as protection to a payroll/gold wagon, which also just happens to also be transporting Bergen back to her fiancée, who is based at Fort Reunion, the camera focuses upon the Bergen character as she sits in the sweltering bright sunshine dressed in a stunning white dress and bonnet, it then pans down to her feet when we get the first hint that maybe she is not who we perceive her to be, as she is wearing moccasins. The patrol is attacked by the Cheyenne, led by their fearsome looking Chief Spotted Wolf, (Jorge Rivero) the Cheyenne are it seems in search of Bergen to return her to the Cheyenne way of life, or at least this is what the audience assumes is the reason for the attack, but it transpires that they were in fact after the payroll chest, to buy rifles, but she and Strauss escape the carnage, with the commanding officer of the patrol carrying Bergen off to safety, before returning to his men who are pinned down in some brush as the Cheyenne pick off the patrol, and slowly and violently kill them in a suitably savage manner, trapping them and massacring and burning the troopers out into the open, where the Cheyenne pick them off without any mercy. The entire thing is watched by both Bergen’s and Strauss’s characters, as they conceal themselves on a hill nearby, and although they are looking at the same shocking event they both see it from different perspectives. The opening massacre by the Cheyenne, is shocking and staged realistically, only to be overshadowed greatly by the graphic and haunting violence which takes place in the last thirty minutes of the movie. After the attack, Strauss (Private Honus Gant) and Bergen (Cresta Marybelle Lee), begin their journey to what they hope will be safety, but encounter numerous trials and violent encounters along the way, in a way I suppose one could compare their journey to that of, Clint Eastwood and Shirley Mc Claine in TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA or with Richard Boone and Leslie Caron in MADRON or for that matter the relationship formed between Bogart and Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, at first it is awkward, but this soon alters into a relationship of sorts.
Honus and Cresta encounter various troubles, including a deranged gun runner Isaac Q, Cumber, played marvellously by British actor Donald Pleasance, who after being discovered for what he is has his wagon of rifles destroyed by Honus in a blind act of misguided patriotism, thus the gun runner pursues the couple and wounds Honus but Cresta manages to conceal herself and her companion before the madman finishes Honus off. Then Honus is forced to fight for his life against a Kiowa warrior who is insulted by Cresta. It is also a journey that bring the two main characters closer together, as the couple travel onwards their relationship grows and they fall in love. Maybe this section of the story is nothing more than a filler before the Director reveals the end and real point of the film, and at times I did feel that Bergen was a little over the top, and Strauss was nothing more than a hen-pecked character who played it for a few laughs. Honus cannot understand Cresta’s hatred of the Soldiers and the government of the United States, and Cresta cannot comprehend how blind Honus is to the facts that are squarely staring him in the face, but they share the same opinions at the end of the movie, with Cresta heading in on direction with survivors of the massacre and SOLDIER BLUE heading in the other direction in chains, as they part the music underlining the end is somewhat ironic, as we hear the strains of, THE BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM, which I cannot help think was another dig at the establishment by Director Nelson.
I saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn sabre. She raised her arm to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her with-out killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying by her side.
— Robert Bent, New York Tribune.
This ultra-violent and controversial western, was filmed on location in Mexico, and boasted a cast of nearly 500. The story was written by John Gay who based his screenplay upon, ARROW IN THE SUN by Theodore V. Olsen. A novel which had its title altered to SOLDIER BLUE, after the success of the movie. Maybe the film had not originally been intended to be a vehicle aimed at audiences to inform them of the atrocities that had been inflicted upon Native Americans, by various administrations and governments, and to highlight the genocide that had taken place in the land of the free and the home of the brave, as it is referred to, but it certainly raised awareness of what horrors had been committed against The Cheyenne, The Arapaho, The Sioux, and many other tribes, and what abhorrent tactics had been employed in a bid to eradicate the Native American Indian from the face of the earth.
I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces … With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors … By whom were they mutilated? By the United States troops …
— John S. Smith, Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith, 1865.
The film succeeded in getting across to audiences what had happened at SAND CREEK, and it also succeeded in stirring up more interest about other Indian massacres carried out by both the U.S. cavalry and militia led by Cavalry officers during the same period. SOLDIER BLUE raised levels of consciousness about the degrees of savagery and violence that had been inflicted upon the Cheyenne and Arapahoe in this case, but there were arguments and opinions at the time and since the movie was released that maybe the movie failed in its attempt at underlining and bringing to the forefront the futility of war and violence, because of the levels of violence it displayed. But, surely by displaying the ferociousness of the attack and re-creating the indiscriminate killing of women, children and elders in such a cold blooded and calculated fashion it made the point that war or violence of any kind, is senseless and devastating, and it also showed the hatred towards the Indian nations.
I’ll tell you a story and it’s a true one and I’ll tell it like you understand
And I ain’t gonna talk like some history maid.
I look out and I see a land.
Young and lovely. Hard and strong
For fifty thousand years we’ve danced her praises.
Prayed our thanks and we’ve just begun. Yes, Yes
Yes this is my country.
Young and growing.
Free and flowing. See to see.
Yes, this is my country.
Ripe and bearing miracles
in ever pond and tree.
Her spirit walks the high country.
She’s giving free wild samples.
And setting an example how to give.
Yes this is my country
Retching and turning
She is like a baby learning how to live
i can stand upon a hill at dawn
Look all around me.
Feel her surround me.
Can’t you see her life has just begun
Beating inside us. Telling us she’s here to guide us.
Soldier blue, Soldier blue, Soldier blue.
Can’t you see that there’s another way to love her.
This is my country
And I sprang from her
And I’m learning how to count upon her.
Tall trees and the corn is high country.
I guess I love her.
And I’m learning how to take care of her
When the news stories get me down
I take a drink of freedom to think of
North America from toe to crown
It’s never long before
I know just why I belong here
Soldier Blue, Soldier Blue
Can’t you see that there’s another way to love her.
Lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie.
It’s been 47 years since the above lyrics were heard as the opening theme for the movie SOLDIER BLUE, but more importantly for film music collectors is it has also been 47 years since composer Roy Budd made his debut as a composer of film music. The other important thing is it would have been Roy’s 70th year this year, if he had lived I am confident that he would have been one of the leading composers of movie music in the world, with a reputation as glowing as John Williams, John Barry, Ennio Morricone and their like.
Roy was a child prodigy and made his debut appearance at the London Coliseum in 1953 at the tender age of just six years.
Born in South London on, March 14th, 1947, His first single release was BIRTH OF THE BUDD, which was issued in 1965. At the age of 22 Roy made the transition from popular jazz pianist to composer of film music when he was hired to write the soundtrack for SOLDIER BLUE, scoring his first feature film, and for one so young in years he showed a maturity in the way he approached the project and handled the placing of music for greater effect. Director, Ralph Nelson had decided to look for a non-American composer for the movie, and Budd had been told about it. Budd contacted the Director and eventually got the scoring assignment, but he went about it in a rather unconventional way as he told me. “The Director of SOLDIER BLUE wanted a British composer. You see there had been a lot of ugly murders in the States around about the time of the film being made. Americans had killed Americans and because of the film’s ending and a bit of Hollywood logic I suppose the director thought, I know let’s hire a Brit to do the score then if there is any come back he is the one who won’t work anymore. Anyway, I went to see the director; I must admit I was nervous. I took along a tape of some of my music. I played it on piano and recorded it but what I did not tell the director was that some of the music was not mine. I had pinched it from the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, Jerry Fielding, John Barry, Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner, in fact just about everyone; the tape sounded like Great Movie Music Volume 1, 2 and 3 (laughs). Of course, I did not include the main themes or anything that might be recognized, just tracks from soundtracks I had listened to on record and then performed myself on the piano for the tape. I told the director that all the music he was hearing was mine and he was very impressed – well he would have been. Just think, if he had turned me down, he would have been turning down half of the film composers in the world. The rest is history – I got the job”.
Ralph Nelson also asked Budd how he would score the final scenes, what type of music would he use, Budd replied he would not score the scene at all, as it might distract the audiences focus away from the images and scenes on screen, Nelson was said to have liked the answer Budd gave him and told him to start work. In fact, the final scene was scored, but with only musical stabs mainly brass underlined by strings, which punctuated the vivid and violent scenes, and effectively added an even greater impact to the final 30 mins of SOLDIER BLUE, without being intrusive or overpowering. It is a shame that the original score for SOLDIER BLUE was not released at the time of the movie being in theatres, after all it was a big movie and did have a great run at the box office, but why was there never an original soundtrack, did the tapes exist? “I don’t know. They did – but where they are now? Your guess is as good as mine”. Said the composer.
At the time of the film’s release an album (LP record) was released, which was ROY BUDD performs his music from SOLDIER BLUE but this was a re-recording, with Roy’s themes from the movie being arranged by the composer, and given a more jazz oriented sound, how did this release come about, because surely the original score warranted a release? “Well, not if you are a record company it doesn’t, the aim of the record company is to obviously sell records, and as many as they can. So, some record company executive at the time, decided that the original score would not appeal to people as a record. So, because of my jazz connections it was decided that the score should be arranged and I should play piano on it – and that is the version of the score that was issued on Phillips, no sorry PYE records. I did not really mind at the time, after all I was new to all of it. I also recorded a lot of other tracks to be featured on the B side of the LP. These were all film themes, such as THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE, and Ennio Morricone’s theme for Metti Una Cera a Cena, which was called HURRY TO ME, there was also a medley from WEST SIDE STORY, I think the record company wanted these included to more or less ensure that some copies of the album sold”.
After the main credits, which is scored with the title song, written and performed by Buffy Saint Marie, Budd’s music does not start until the 1 minute and 56 sec mark, when we hear the track which is entitled KIOWA COUNTRY on the re-recording, this is the music that accompanies the payroll wagon being escorted by troopers, after this at the 5 mins 42 mark, we hear some wonderful action music as the Cheyenne begin their attack on the troopers, bearing down on them and ambushing the patrol, the music for this sequence, is certainly exhilarating and full on.
The composer employing sharp sounding brass, underlying racing strings, strumming guitar and percussion to support and punctuate the proceedings, and all the time there is a background that is up tempo and rhythmic, building the tension and underlining the scenes of violence and action on screen, the cue which has a duration of nearly 11 mins, ending at 16 mins 30 secs, and is typical of what we now come to recognize as Roy Budd in full action mode, and when you think that this was his first movie score, this is a remarkable and inspiring achievement, 11 minutes of pure musical delight. I think that is something I admire about Roy Budd’s music, it fits the images and scenarios perfectly, but it also has the ability to stand on its own and be enjoyed and appreciated without having to go and see the movie. After the massacre of the troopers, Strauss recites Tennyson’s, CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, over his dead colleagues, at 24 mins 34 seconds Budd underscores the poem with a plaintive and emotive piece for harmonica, guitar and strings, which runs for around a minute, and adds emotion and a touch of melancholy to the scene. A version of Budd’s theme for CRESTA begins at.32min 31 secs, which is a delicate sounding piece that resembles something that Ennio Morricone might have written for one of the Leone westerns, or the love theme motif for THE HILLS RUN RED, it is childlike in its make-up and purveys a mood that is warm and calming. This is followed at 34 mins 23 secs, by FIELDS OF GREEN and SKIES OF BLUE, which is a haunting piece for strings, harpsichord and subdued percussion, the soaring strings creating a highly melodic theme, which finishes at around the 37 min 33 secs mark, with a brief comical sounding motif, to accompany Cresta as she parts company with Honus after a disagreement about what route they are taking to the fort. This is repeated and given greater length and development after Honus decides to rejoin Cresta, making the excuse that he had to rejoin her because he feared for her safety. Again, short lived, but an effective piece. Budd employs a trill like motif just for a milli-second, to begin the next cue, Honus, mislays a sock and decides he must go back for it, much to the annoyance of Cresta, he comes across his lost item of clothing, but it is being held by a Kiowa brave, who along with his four companions gives chase to the soldier, accompanied at the 42 mins 53 second mark on the movie by another fast paced and urgent sounding cue, with Budd utilizing tremolo strings and brass accompanied by percussion to increase the tension, the composer underlining the drama with bongos. The cue ending at 43 mins 53. The fight between Honus and one of the Kiowa begins and is supported by Budd, s trademark high pitched strings, at 46 mins 18 secs, which are enhanced by more string performances, the two plunge into the river to continue the fight and Budd increases the drama via, brass stabs that are embellished by strings, and continues to 48 mins 07 secs mark.
The Kiowa is knocked unconscious after falling during the fight and hitting his head on a rock, and then killed by one of his own companions for losing the fight, after this it looks as if the remaining Kiowa will kill Honus, but instead they mount their horses and ride off, accompanied by Roy Budd’s composition entitled RIDE ON, on the re-recording, the version in the movie is slightly slower in tempo, and where there is piano included on the re-recording, this part is performed by guitar, underlined by a slow more or less samba rhythm, then piano is utilized to add poignancy to the cue, strings then make an entry and the composition takes on the guise of a FIELDS OF GREEN AND SKIES OF BLUE, but it is a far more romantic and developed version of Budd’s gorgeous and uplifting theme. Which runs till the 53 min and 34 second mark. 56 min 27 secs to 57 min 28 secs we are treated to another comic sounding theme, when Honus tries to shoot a goat but instead hits a rabbit, the music here is light hearted and more akin to the style of Bernstein or Morross, as it has a certain Copelandish sound to it. Again, the use of a short cue but one that is highly effective within the movie. 61 mins 25 secs to 62 mins 33 secs, drama again raises its musical head, suspense filled strings punctuated by bass and strummed guitar, create an atmosphere of apprehension as Honus and Cresta approach, a wagon and campfire which turns out to be that of Issac Q Cumber, a gun runner. Portrayed by Donald Pleasance. The cue continues at 66 mins, 18 secs to 69 mins 30 secs, again guitar and strings creating a subdued tense piece as Honus becomes suspicious of Issac Q, and searches his wagon whilst he is away hunting for food. But Cresta attempts to stop him because she recognizes the gun runner from the Cheyenne camp, when he was selling Spotted Wolf guns. 71 Mins 49 Secs, to 72 mins 22 Secs, Honus continues to search wagon, but is stopped by the gunrunner, Budd scores the scene with underlying tense sounding strings and jagged brass stabs.
After being captured and tied up by the gun runner both Honus and Cresta manage to struggle free from their bonds when the gunrunner is away from the wagon, Honus agrees to just leave but decides to set fire to the wagon, at 79 mins 11 secs to 86 mins 42 secs. the composer re-introduces the use of tense sounding strings, as Cresta gathers supplies, Budd adds more strings which are agitated and enhanced by dark sounding piano and shakers to elevate and increase the drama, as Honus sets the wagon ablaze, trembling strings continue under the scene until the composer re-introduces his RIDE ON theme, which is expanded and again developed further with the addition of percussive elements and horns, with deep and threatening strings giving a dark persona to the proceedings, then typical sounding western music all ‘a Budd with brass, strumming guitar, shakers, strings, and a slow rhythmic background, enters the equation, but soon makes way for slow strings that weave in and out to create an even greater tension.
Honus is shot and wounded in the leg by the gunrunner who is pursuing the couple. However, he gives up his search for the wounded Soldier, because Cresta has hidden both Honus and herself inside a small cave. There is a short break in the music but it then re-emerges at 87 mins 05 secs mark, again tense and slightly apprehensive as the gun runner approaches and Cresta frantically tries to hide Honus. The composer creating the tense atmosphere by a succession of sharp but fleeting strokes of violins. The composer maintains an Aire of tension until the 90 min and 53 secs mark, when, the gun runner finally gives up his search for Honus and Cresta and rides away. The mood of the music alters at 91 mins and 6 secs as Cresta begins to tend to the wounded Honus, the composer employing a music box sound underscored by guitar, that introduces subdued strings, this track continues till, 93 mins 2 secs. The next musical cue, begins at 94 mins 34 secs, a poignant sounding piece for guitar, that develops into a slow and romantic sounding string arrangement that then moves into another arrangement of FIELDS OF GREEN AND SKIES OF BLUE, and becomes the love theme for the couple, ending at 99 mins 14 secs. There is then a short pause as the screen fades and comes back again and we see Cresta walking through the open countryside, accompanied by another version of FIELDS OF GREEN AND SKIES OF BLUE, this time the composer employing a solo female voice, in a style very similar to that of Morricone in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the voice being underlined by guitar and strings, and punctuated by light percussion, the Female voice solo gives way to strings, but soon re-joins these, the light and melodic atmosphere is shut down quickly by taught strings as Cresta is stopped by Indian army scouts, and taken to the camp of the cavalry, Budd underlining this with driving strings and inventive percussive elements that are underlined by up-tempo rhythms and pizzicato strings, which continue till the 104 Min and 29 sec mark. Cresta makes her escape from the Cavalry camp after hearing that they intend to attack the Cheyenne, deciding that she must go and warn them that the soldiers are coming.
This is underlined by dark sounding and tense strings at the 108 min 32 sec mark, and breaks into a rousing ride off theme as she makes her getaway, the cue which is short lived ends at 109 mins 6 secs. At 109 mins 44 secs Cresta arrives at the Cheyenne village, Budd scores this with up tempo percussive stabs that segue into subdued percussion and woods as Cresta is welcomed back by the Cheyenne. The cue ends at 111 mins 34 secs. At 113 mins, 56 secs, Honus is brought into the camp of the Cavalry, escorted by two troopers and riding a horse, he found whilst walking back to Fort reunion. Again, Budd employs dramatic sounding strings with percussive background, the cue being upbeat and once again rhythmic.
The cue finishing at, 114 mins 24 secs. There is another tender theme at 116 mins, 5 secs, melancholy strings underline the meeting between Spotted Wolf and Cresta, which ends at 116mins 56 secs. The cavalry form ranks outside of the village, and open fire, Budds music underlines the scenes, as the cavalry guns get the range of the village, and Honus attempts to stop the actions of the cavalry, the music cue begins at 120 mins 6 secs, action music is employed as the cavalry and Cheyenne begin to fight and the cavalry attack sabers drawn, much of Budd’s score is hidden under the sounds of battle but it runs more or less continuously through the battle scene, but it never detracts anything away from the action scenes or the carnage that is taking place as the cavalry, defeat what Cheyenne warriors there are and enter the village, in fact Budd’s music consists mainly of tense strings and sharp brass stabs. Breaking momentarily, as the cavalry are about to enter the village, but returns in a more martial sounding form to accompany the troopers as they ride through from both sides of the village. As the massacre commences, Budd utilizes a succession of brass stabs underlined or played in unison with strings to underline the graphic horrors that are unfolding on screen. The music, never overpowers the scenes but it certainly elevates and gives the same scenes a greater sense of tension and urgency, and infuses an even greater mood of chaos and fear. For a composer to write such a varied and thematic score for his first foray into film scoring was indeed a remarkable achievement, yet this theme laden work remains un-released in its original form, Maybe, one day soon the original score from SOLDIER BLUE will finally get the release it so richly deserves.