Review: 'Vera Cruz' Worth a Look for Cooper and Lancaster

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 12, 2021

I was excited to finally see Robert Aldrich's 1954 film, "Vera Cruz," as someone who is now a big Gary Cooper fan as well as a great admirer of Burt Lancaster's work. While both actors do not disappoint, the movie itself is little more than an epic-wannabe reduced to small morality tale about the dangers of greed.

Apparently, "Vera Cruz" may have inspired the entire Italian Spaghetti Western movement (of which I am not a super fan) and Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" (also, not a fan), as well as being ridiculously popular with 1960s French critics (my only comment would be: Jerry Lewis). And even, contextualizing, the frenetic direction seemed to more skew away from a hole-ridden plot, as well as silly romances that go nowhere. I also found the film to be rather dull until the final third.

The narrative has two mercenaries, one kinda good — Benjamin Train (Cooper, of course) — and one kinda bad, Joe Erin (Lancaster) who take off to Mexico during the 1866 revolution looking for fortune. They team up when the Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) hires them as an escort for her three million in gold that she must get to Emperor Maximilian's army. Toss in a host of characters who also want the gold (played by Cesar Romero, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Charles Bronson, and Sara Montiel), and you have a convoluted plot filled with betrayal, avarice, and, well, plenty of killing.

Lancaster chews the scenery with relish as Joe, delighting in his desire for gold at any cost. Cooper, always the hero, really isn't here. He's pretending to be, which makes his performance all the more fascinating. He makes deals, but is he really planning on staying true to any of them? In addition, I detected a little flirtation between the two men — a little May/September queer thing going on. They certainly seemed more interested in each other than the women they're supposed to be wanting.

Aldrich had an odd career with action films like "Apache" (also with Lancaster), "Kiss Me Deadly," and "The Dirty Dozen," but then "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" and "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte." There are those who would argue his work deserves more respect. I'm not one of them.

The movie was filmed in "Superscope" (I know, what?); the Kino Lorber Blu-ray 2K master transfer still shows some signs of wear and odd framing issues, but for the most part looks fine. The audio is okay, but I needed to put the subtitles on for some of the dialogue.

Director Alex Cox provides audio commentary (with a bit too many lapses). He's an expert who wrote the book "10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western," so he has a lot of background info to relate. If you're a fan, you will enjoy it.

On the surface, you'd think a nasty, cynical western would be right up my alley; alas this one is, for me, is only worth a look for Cooper and Lancaster. But if you're a Spaghetti Western or "Wild Bunch" fan, I'm sure you will love it!

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master
  • New Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox
  • "Trailers from Hell" with John Landis
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English Subtitles

    "Vera Cruz" is available on Blu-ray on October 12, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.