My Favorite Westerns

A Celebration of Western Movies … Pardner!

Robert Aldrich - Director

Robert Aldrich – Director

The Politics of Vera Cruz 

It’s often the case that movies have a message that has gotten foggy over time. Vera Cruz was such a movie – with plenty to say about the politics in 1954.

A director with a message –
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson / DVD Savant

Vera Cruz shows Robert Aldrich at his subversive best. It played right in the Eisenhower years of CIA ‘adventurism’ in Central America, and the director has a field day showing interloping imperialist Maximillian as a slightly depraved schemer in contrast to his deification in William Dieterle’s Juarez. One can’t help thinking that the director was expressing his own radical outrage when he has moral icon Cooper participate in such unsavory deeds as holding innocent children as hostages. Outgunned by Colonel Fielding’s, I mean, General Ramirez’ troops, Lancaster acknowledges that his gang can’t fight its way out, “But they can stop an awful lot of little kids from growin’ up, amigo.” Ramirez backs down because it’s clear that Lancaster’s action is no bluff; In one fell swoop Aldrich shows his American ‘adventurers’ behaving with a ruthlessness usually reserved for depictions of Nazis. Since the French are presented as greedy murderous parasites, Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb’s script points audience sympathy to the conventionally virtuous Juaristas. “Wars are not won by killing children,” Ankrum intones nobly, but we are already expected to know better.

Lancaster / Cooper

Lancaster / Cooper and gang 

Vera Cruz’s tension (and thrills) indulge our delight at seeing how cynically outrageous things can get. The moral center weakly returns to Cooper’s Ben Trane when he eventually sides with the Juaristas against the doublecrossing Lancaster, but this development smacks of insincerity. Trane keeps claiming his intentions are just as mercenary as Lancaster’s, but it is Jo Erin who does all of the backstabbing, murdering several of his own gang. Lancaster’s most loyal follower Ballard, a black ex-soldier still in Union uniform, is his most sympathetic victim. The shaky triumph of Gary Cooper’s iconic ‘goodness’ defeats what seems to be Aldrich’s aim: To totally sully audience expectations of American Heroism and conclude with a cynical apocalypse. In reality, the cynicism appalled sensitive critics like Bosley Crowther while thrilling Western fans, who undoubtedly saw nothing ironic or troubling about the picture!

Plotting in the shadows...

Darcel, Cooper, Lancaster – Plotting in the shadows…

5 thoughts on “Vera Cruz – The Politics

  1. Teepee12 says:

    Reblogged this on Serendipity.

  2. Garry Armstrong says:

    Always thought “Vera Cruz” was underrated because the stars, Coop & Smilin’ Burt, played against type. The line between hero and villain is, indeed, murky as Aldrich intended. Wonderful supporting cast and, even as a lad, I appreciated Denise Darcel’s attributes. I think “The Professionals” is my favorite Aldrich western. The theme of good and bad is again criss-crossed with a nice twist ending. Lee Marvin’s closing verbal snipe at Ralph Bellamy is one of the most memorable film wrappers in my estimation.

    1. jcalberta says:

      By today’s standards I guess some of this seems pretty tame, but in 1954 it was pretty shocking. Though the scene where Lancaster is slapping Darcel around is still pretty strong.

      “The Professionals” !! Yes indeed. Possibly my favorite Western. Period. Another stunning cast with Lancaster, Marvin, Palance, Ryan, Cardinale, Strode, Belamy … WOW!

      “Marvin” made some great stuff and he’s superb here.

  3. Teepee12 says:

    It’s another award. Actually, it’s the same award … another star for your Blog of the Year, 2012 award. It’s my fifth. I don’t know how many you have, but I hope is at least a bit of a Christmas gift! Happy, merry and joyous celebrations!

  4. Teepee12 says:

    Santa has way too many awards, so he’s dropping a bunch of them for you to do with as you choose. There are some real goodies in there, including another star for the Blog of the Year 2012, and 4 or 5 others. Take’em all, take your pick, enjoy. It’s Christmas, almost!

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