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I have to agree that this is a film that is not as good as it should
be. Robert Rossen is a fine director ("All The King's Men", "Alexander
The Great", "The Hustler"), but he is not a popular one. His films do
tackle weighty themes and characters, but too frequently he gets talky
and loses his audience. Such a thing happens in "They Came To Cordura",
where the theme of what is courage is overdeveloped. From what one of
the earlier comments on this thread suggested Rossen's movie was half
an hour longer than it is. Since many viewers lose their interest in
the film at it's current length, why would a longer version improve
In 1916, while World War I was occupying most people's attention, President Wilson was concerned with the continuous unsettled state of Mexico, then in the sixth year of it's Revolution. Initially he was delighted with the first head of the Revolution, Francisco Madero, who was trying to make the country a nation ruled by constitutional law. But in 1913, Madero was overthrown and murdered by the head of the Mexican army, General Huerta. Huerta had support by the then Ambassador to Mexico, a gentleman named Henry Wilson (no relation to the then President-elect), who openly cooperated in the assassination. After Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated, he replaced Henry, but the damage was done to Mexican-American relations. The new President was too ham handed to improve matters. In 1914 he had the Marines land at Vera Cruz after our flag had been insulted. Many lives were lost in this battle. Wilson worked to force Huerta out of his office. This brought him into considering someone to replace Huerta.
Why a puritanical prude like Woodrow Wilson thought of supporting Francisco "Pancho" Villa as the corrective to Huerta has never been adequately explained. Although the two men never met, it is inconceivable that Wilson would have found the hard drinking, bloody minded, and woman chasing Pancho as an ideal type to run Mexico. But he did, and for a year or so (until Huerta left Mexico) Villa was given arms and supplies from the U.S. This honeymoon lasted until a new figure arose - General Venusiano Carranza. Carranza (like Madero) wanted the adoption of a permanent national constitution to run the country. Wilson liked this (he did not notice that Carranza did not hesitate to feather his own nest while stressing the constitution. So in 1916 Wilson began aiding Carranza, and slowly ceased assisting Villa.
Villa was angered by this, and decided to teach the gringos a lesson. He raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing about a dozen citizens. It was the first foreign invasion of American soil since the War of 1812, and would be the only invasion of the continental territory of the U.S. between 1814 and 09/11/2001. Wilson was furious, and demanded that President Carranza arrest the bandit/revolutionary. Wilson might as well have demanded that Carranza arrest the winds of Mexico. He had fought several battle against Villa, and knew that Pancho was no pushover. When Carranza gave some half-baked reason for not catching Pancho, Wilson decided to take the matter into his own hands: he sent troops into Mexico under General John J. Pershing to catch the bandit revolutionary. For a year or so Pershing tried to catch Villa, but the wily Pancho managed to keep escaping. Finally the U.S. troops were called back. Mexicans were incensed at American arrogance in invading their country (sound familiar?). The only good thing was that it enabled us to test our army out here, under if's future Expeditionary Commander's leadership, before we went into the European conflict.
Except, possibly, "The Three Amigos", this is the only commercially made film that is set in the Anti - Villa expedition of 1916 - 1917. As such it barely touches the reasons for the expedition. Instead it concentrates on Gary Cooper's assignment to find five men who should receive the U.S. Medal of Honor for gallantry and bravery in action. It is a cynical act by Washington, because 1) the purpose is public relations cosmetics for a botched armed intervention; and 2) Cooper's Major Thorn is actually given the assignment because he acted cowardly on the field of battle. For the Major to be given this quiet assignment is actual an insult - his own courage is being questioned.
Soon he finds a battle going on and picks out his five men (Van Heflin, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Tab Hunter, and Dick York). This gives him some problems with an old friend, Robert Keith, who planned the attack, and hoped it would lead to him getting the award (actually, Cooper was only impressed at how slapdash and badly planned the attack was, and cannot think of it's architect getting any type of award as a result). Keith ends his friendship with Cooper as a result.
Taking his five men with him, Cooper starts trying to get to know them. He soon discovers that the men are not interested in the medal, and (as they have a long trek to Cordura, where they have to go to finalize the awards), Cooper learns that the men are not very noble at all. To worsen things, they capture a hacienda owner who is American (Rita Hayworth), who gave assistance to Villa's men. The woman reawakens sexual tensions and rivalries between the five men, as well as Cooper.
The film ends with Cooper and the men coming to turns (after several nearly deadly confrontations) with their own views of the values of true courage and it's being honored. It is not a dull matter, but one questions a full two hour about it. Because of the covering of this dismal incident of the diplomatic history of the U.S. and Mexico, and the acting (all the leads are good), and Rossen's direction - it is worth a "7" out of "10".
Due to showing cowardice in battle, Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper)
has been assigned the degrading task of "Awards Officer" to the Mexican
expedition of 1916 against Pancho Villa...
Thorn witnesses the U.S. Army attack on a ranch house which results in an American victory, and selects five men as candidates for the Congressional Medal of Honor...
Since Washington wants heroes in a hurry, for a World War I recruiting campaign, Thorn has to guide these men through the perilous border country to the 'out of danger' base at Cordura...
Since Villa's men were given shelter in the ranch house of the beautiful Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth), she is accused of treason and is forced to accompany the men on their difficult journey...
Before the seven get to the Texas border town, the five heroes are given ample time to show their true colors (cheats, thieves, rapists and murderers) and Cooper (always under great danger) discovers, far from crossfire, their true characters... Thorn also discovers that he has respect and affection for his prisoner...
Rita Hayworth seems, on screen, to be a woman who has seen too much, lived too hard There are circles under her eyes now, and an indefinable sadness about her presence But she remains more delicious than ever She had been the greatest girl of them all, a living summary of all our sexy, dreamy ideals Now she is a reminder, for an aging generation, of the generous visions of youth In "They Came to Cordura," Rita gives the best performance of her career as the shady lady surrounded by six men, substituting acting for sex and glamor...
They Came to Cordura is one of the very few films I've seen about our
intervention in Mexico after Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico
and shot the joint up. President Woodrow Wilson authorized our
intervention under the command of John J. Pershing who went on to a
more serious military intervention shortly.
It was a real comic opera affair. We fought a few skirmishes, chased Villa around halfheartedly, even the Mexican government under President Venustiano Carranza was against us even though Villa was very much against him. It was over with few casualties.
In the initial raid on Columbus in our story, Gary Cooper froze under fire and hid in a railroad ditch. Because his father was a big shot in the army and was killed there, Cooper's actions were covered up and he was given the non-combat assignment of awards officer.
So on a raid on Mexican sympathizer Rita Hayworth's ranch where some Villistas have taken cover, Cooper's job is to find worthy candidates for medals. He finds Van Heflin, Richard Conte, Tab Hunter, Michael Callan, and Dick York. His job is then to bring them back to the American base in Cordura.
The journey reveals the less than sterling character of these men of courage. Quite a bit happens on the way to Cordura, some of it a little too unbelievable for me.
This was one of Gary Cooper weakest films in his last years. He is horribly miscast, he's way too old for the part he's playing. He's 58 when this film is made and shows every bit of it. The film mentions his father being killed at Columbua, he must have been 80 if he was still on active duty. Someone like Montgomery Clift should have been in his role.
Director Robert Rossen doesn't have a tight grip on the rest of the cast, they all overact outrageously. Of course since the whole story is rather incredulous, what else were they to do.
For fans of Cooper and Hayworth only.
This is in response to comments on 'They Came to Cordura' regarding its
dramatic weakness and flawed camera work and editing.
The flaws may be real, but they might not be the fault of the filmmaker (writer-director Robert Rossen).
Reportly, the film was taken out of Rossen's hands by the studio and drastically cut and re-cut. The director's original version, about 1/2 hour longer, was apparently much better, making much more dramatic sense.
Further, the movie was shot in CinemaScope, and comments on its poor cinematography and editing are likely based on viewing a crude pan & scan video copy. Such artificial flaws are common with panned & scanned widescreen movies.
What exactly is courage? How can a man know if he will act bravely
when the supreme test comes? These are the questions occupying the mind of
Major Tom Thorn as he escorts a detail of medal-winning troopers out of
Mexico and back to the USA. "What made you do it?" is Thorn's repeated
question to the heroes. He once lost his nerve in combat, and his
subsequent life has been one long meditation on the nature of bravery, and
how a man comes by it. In the wilderness of Mexico, Thorn's moral fibre is
put to the sternest of tests.
Set in 1916, the film centres on a US military expedition deep into Mexico, a punitive response to Pancho Villa's raid on American territory. Gary Cooper plays Thorn, and though he invests his character with a certain quiet dignity, he can hardly be accused of acting.
Thorn is despatched back to the USA with a small group of men, each of whom is to be decorated for valour. As the Cavalry's Awards Officer, Thorn will have to prepare citations, and he obsessively quizzes the men about why they did what they did, how they felt at the time, and so forth.
Typically for a film of its era, "Cordura" assembles a melange of ethnic tokens, throws them into a difficult situation, then concentrates on the tensions and confrontations which result. Richard Conte is Truby, the crafty latin type, and Van Heflin plays Chawk, the angosaxon brute. Dick York is Renziehausen, the German American from (where else?) Wisconsin. Thorn is hoping to learn the secret of courage from his motley crew, but discovers that the answer to his question can only be found within himself.
Nice angles are developed to open out the plot's basic premise. A cavalry charge against the Mexicans looks like dashing American heroism, but might be no more than cynical fakery on the part of medal-hunting Colonel Rogers. Chawk might be an unfeeling ruffian rather than a hero. The arrival in the group of Mrs. geary (Rita Hayworth) complicates the issues, because the presence of a beautiful woman causes the men's interests to diverge.
The Mexican terrain is spectacular, and the film's central proposition is an interesting one, but the end product is so-so. It is difficult to warm to Cooper as an actor, or indeed to his character. Tab Hunter (as Lieutenant Fowler) goes way over the top. Thorn's sudden perking-up beside the rail track is a ludicrous event.
Verdict - Would-be essay on the wellsprings of human courage peters out into humdrum adventure yarn.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two of filmdom's biggest stars pair up in this rugged 'message western' that tries so hard to delineate the duality of human nature that it almost forgets to be an entertaining movie. Cooper plays a Cavalry major in 1916 who is assigned the task of finding five noteworthy men to receive Congressional Medals of Honor in a bid to increase the country's morale before inevitably entering into WWI. He has one man already, young Callan, from a previous skirmish and quickly finds more when the Colonel he is stationed with heads a battle plan that goes awry. In minutes, he witnesses the gallant heroism of four men as they take serious risks in order to turn the tide of the battle at hand. He is assigned to escort his five men to Cordura, keeping them out of danger, until they can have their commendations approved and awarded to them. Unfortunately, Cooper must also escort Hayworth to the town, so that she can be punished for offering comfort and lodging to the men of Pancho Villa. Her feminine assets, along with her penchants for drinking tequila and smoking, bring out the worst in these men who have been deprived of all three pleasures for over a month. Soon, it is revealed that Cooper is in his position because he, himself, was a coward, yet the men he is rewarding are not exactly heroes in every department themselves. Oddly, most of the men do not want their medal anyway! Personalities clash as the men bicker over the best way to handle the terrain and a remaining gaggle of Villa's men. Cooper looks a bit tired here and it's not easy to watch a man two years away from death take on the type of abuse he suffers. His performance is solid, but awfully underplayed at times. Hayworth does an admirable job through most of the film, especially towards the end. She does have one drunk scene which is horrible and almost embarrassing, but once she casts aside her character's airs and acts from the heart, her performance improves considerably. She still had quite an attractive figure at this late date, as well. Heflin is appropriately despicable and forges a strong, villainous characterization. Conte does well also, as does York. Callan spends much of the film unconscious, which may not be a bad thing considering his fairly drippy character. Hunter, who is at just about his most handsome here, shows a nice amount of range as he goes from obedient soldier to enraged powder keg, though he does take it just a tad too far at the end. There are definite moments of insight and interest in the film, but it tends to wear down the viewer with its nearly relentless cynicism and unpleasantness. The characters at times seem more like stand-in's for various philosophies or points of view rather than real people. This material probably worked a bit more effectively as a book. Still, there's a nice, world-weary chemistry between Cooper and Hayworth and some remarkable Mexican scenery. Fans of theirs will likely get more enjoyment out of it than the casual viewer.
Is "They Came to Codura" (1959) as ill conceived and poorly executed as
it appears to be, or is it an ambitious and well-intentioned western
that falls short because it over-reaches? The problem is that so few
films are ambitious that our brains go into a stall when a rare effort
like this comes along; we don't know quite how to evaluate it.
Compounding this is the extensive trimming that the film received prior to its release; this cutting may not have hurt anything (what was taken out wouldn't have made things clearer or transformed the performances into believable characterizations) but it no doubt accounts for the overall disjointed feel of the story.
Finally there is Glendon Swarthout's source novel of the same title, an allegorical story of human redemption that does not translate well to the screen as most of it takes place inside the tortured mind of the protagonist. The screen play follows the novel almost too closely, keeping Swarthout's weakest elements while replacing his devastatingly ironic ending with a tame "Flight of the Phoenix" finale.
So if (for whatever reason) you are thinking about viewing "They Came to Codura" don't expect a typical viewing experience. And don't expect a masterpiece because the mixed description in the first paragraph is a pretty accurate assessment of the film.
That doesn't mean don't watch. The surface story is reasonably entertaining and the themes are extremely interesting even if they are so poorly articulated that they lose much of the power that they should have had.
Like the novel, the film is set in 1916 Mexico with the U.S. Cavalry dashing about in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) is in charge of escorting five prospective Medal of Honor winners back to the base at Cordura where their heroics can be utilized to fan a recruitment campaign for the looming U.S. entry into WWI.
Thorn carries a lot of personal baggage into this assignment. The son of a famous soldier he is deeply ashamed of the cowardice he exhibited during a recent battle. It is his duty to interview each soldier during the journey and to then write up the commendations. His past performance causes him to over-compensate as a leader and to soon alienate most of the men under his command; Lt. Fowler (Tab Hunter), Sgt. Chawk (Van Heflin), Pvt. Hetherington (Michael Callan), Cpl. Trubee (Richard Conte), and Pvt. Renziehausen (Dick York). Being dragged along with the group is a woman named Adelaide (Rita Hayworth), an American expatriate accused of aiding the Villa.
This is not exactly a strong cast, especially for a film that is more character study than action adventure. To be successful, an adaptation of a multi-character novel must go one of two ways with those characters; #1 assemble an extremely talented cast who can nonverbally communicate characterization or, #2 mold most of the characters into movie stereotypes and single out 2-3 for more extensive development (placing your strongest actors in those roles). This film's downfall is that it takes a third path, as none of the characters are predictable movie stereotypes (in fact all seven are extremely strange) and only Hayworth is able to give her character some degree of plausible dimensionality.
Neither the setting nor the story is important. This could have been set anywhere at anytime. What is important is the theme, the nature of courage-its randomness, its situational nature, and its lack of correlation with other character traits. The "heroes" are slowly revealed to be opportunists, bullies, deadbeats, and degenerates, but an isolated act of heroism was their redemption. And the coward ends up behaving like a hero.
A variety of explanations for the individual acts of bravery are illustrated-recklessness, momentary insanity, accident, hatred, fear of being considered a coward, and a need for redemption. The point being that going above and beyond the call of duty is not something that can be predicted or relied upon, and that except for the last reason does alter the basic nature of the hero.
Unfortunately none (ZERO) of these characters ring even remotely true and with the irony stripped out of the ending, the result is a total failure in effectively illustrating the theme. So you watch, and if you can suspend disbelief it is possible to understand what the film is trying to say. But this is hardly great cinema and the viewer ultimately thinks more about the missed opportunity than about the mysteries of battlefield courage and human redemption.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Angered by the US President Wilson's increasing support the rising
Mexican political leader General Carranaza, the former US darling
Francisco Villa sends his group of rebels to raid a town in New Mexico
before coming back over the border. Enraged by the audacity of the man,
Wilson orders his troops across the border to catch and/or kill Villa.
Part of the group he sends is Major Thomas Thorn, who has been given
the job of assessing the men for possible awards a comfortable job
given to him by Colonel Rogers, a friend of his father. Fascinated by
the nature of heroes, Thorn finds himself given command of a small
group of them when he refuses to put Rogers forward for a citation.
Thorn is keen to get to know more of the men but, with a captured woman
in tow, the men are not as simple as their proposed medals would
Despite pretty much ignoring the interesting history that serves as a backdrop to this film, this is actually still quite an interesting film that was a lot rawer than I expected it to be, given the period in which it was made. In the early stages it was too basic and I worried that the whole thing would be as clunky as Thorn's early questioning of some of his "heroes", but gradually it got better as it went on and simple lines such as hero and coward were eroded away. This is not to say it is brilliant because it most certainly is not but it is certainly interesting for what it tries to do. It doesn't help that the script really labours the surface but lacks the ability to go significantly deep to really make an impact. However even with this, it was still interesting enough to hold me and I did enjoy the solid if simplistic moral debate that it delivered.
Rossen and his cinematography do great work with the wide-open landscapes but the former must also carry the can for not bringing more emotion out of the script consistently. As a result the cast do well without really excelling with nobody guiding them deeper, this is really what I could have expected. Cooper is as solid as usual with what I suppose was a brave role for him to take. He deals with it well but perhaps wasn't good enough to really convince in layers although he is superficially good enough. Hayworth doesn't have that great a character and her delivery occasionally gets a bit too over-the-top when asked to deliver more emotionally charged material, she has impact but I was looking for more pain and fear. The support cast work well with what they have been given to do. Conte, Heflin, Keith and Hunter are among those giving solid turns in support of Cooper and the raw story.
Overall then this is not a great film but it is an interesting one. Despite being over 45 years old it is surprising raw and willing to turn away from the simple lines of courageous and cowardly towards something that is much realer and well conceived. It doesn't go deep enough but it is strong on the surface could easily have been tighter and dropped 20-30 minutes from the running time but is still worth a look for what it does do well.
Take Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, surround them with a core of actors who are still well-known today, add beautiful scenery, tackle a very interesting philosophical question. What's not to like? As it turns out, there's a lot not to like. Coop's role is to portray a world-weary, duty-bound officer, obsessed with heroism. Diappointingly, "wooden" would best describe his take on the role. Hayworth, as tequila-drinking, cigarette-smoking, comforter-of-America's-enemies is, at times, over the top. She's still got the sexy sizzle she's known for, but the sexual tension between her and the men isn't compelling. The supporting members of the cast are supposed to devolve from heroes to louts, but their hand is tipped so early in the movie, that their later actions are expected--not deplored. It's a dark western that would appear to be yin to "The Magnificent Seven"'s yang. Heroes become brutes--brutes become heroes. The later is a lot more entertaining and--a lot more satisfying.
This particular Western deals with human conflicts about courage and
cowardice . On March 8, 1916, Pancho Villa and his army crossed the
border, destroying the city of Columbus, the state of New Mexico. The
U.S. government in retaliation launches a punitive operation, which
only meets resistance at the ranch called ¨Guerrero¨ . An army officer
(Gary Cooper), himself guilty of cowardice, is asked to recommended
soldiers (Van Heflin , Richard Conte , Dick York , Michael Callan, Tab
Hunter ) for the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Mexican Border
Incursion of 1916 . Meanwhile , they meet on the way a suspicious lady
(Rita Hayworth) with dark secrets .
Coooper is pretty well as an Army major sent to find five men worthy of Medal of Honor and Rita Hayworth is attractive as a shady lady . Robert Rossen directed this unusual Western that explores human conflicts in an intelligent way as representative of this genre such as cowardice and bravery of the soldiers , but is paced with some flaws and gaps , including an unfairly adulterated final . A phrase of Rita Hayworth is developing the evolution of the movie : ¨The man who once was a coward not to say that it is all his life and the man who once was a brave does not mean that all his life living as such". Human conflicts designed by the screen-writers turn tiring , repetitive and somewhat artificial as well as the plot progresses . The search for the contrast between valor and cowardice and reflections on the protagonists results to be forced and unnatural , some discussions are inappropriate for its intended significance . Nice and emotive musical score by Elie Siegmaster with ordinary conductor Morris Stoloff . Colorful and evocative cinematography by magnificent cameraman Burnett Guffey and mostly filmed in Mexico where is set the action . The motion picture is professionally directed by Robert Rossen , though in ups and downs . Rossen was a prestigious writer and filmmaker , directing notorious actors and various successful titles of all kind genres as Noir film as ¨Body and soul¨ with John Garfield , ¨Johnny O'Clock¨ with Dick Powell ; Drama as ¨Mambo¨ with Silvana Mangano, ¨Brave Bulls¨ with Anthony Quinn, ¨Island in the sun¨ with James Mason , ¨Lilith¨ with Jean Seberg , Epic as ¨Alexander Magnus¨ with Richard Burton . His greatest hits were ¨The political¨ in which won Oscar for Broderick Crawford ¨and ¨The hustler¨ with Paul Newman .
The real events in which are based this film are the following : For a time Villa,who seemed in line for leadership of Mexico ,enjoyed the sympathetic interest of the US government who then dropped Villa and supported his rival,Carranza.Villa's resentment resulted in the vengeance raid on Columbus.Villa slapped the United States in the face by mounting a surprise raid on the town of Columbus,New Mexico,on 9 march 1916, killing eight American soldiers and ten civilians.In retaliation,President Woodrow Wilson sent General Pershing and a Punitive Expedition into Mexico in hot pursuit of Villa . General Pershing's column included the Seventh Cavalry and Apache scouts,chased Villa deep into Mexico,the Americans captured and killed several of Villa's lieutenants but failed to catch the guerrilla leader.Because of Mexican protests,Pershing's command returned to the US.Villa was assassinated in 1923 when gunman ambushed his car.
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