Vera Cruz – The Politics

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…

Vera Cruz … Denis Darcel / Francais Fatale …

Denise Darcel (1925–2011)

“All my life I go up, down, up, down, I am indestructible.”

Denise Darcel
Denise Darcel

Celebrating Denise Darcel:

I admit it. I was stuck.

I couldn’t figure out whether Denise should be viewed as yet another fallen Star who passed through the Hollywood mills before falling to earth and facing the reality that the rest of us peons know on a day to day basis. This perception is probably exaggerated by the sizable cast of very successful Stars who appear in Vera Cruz: Lancaster, Cooper, Montiel, Romero, Bronson, Borgnine … most of who had enjoyed long and illustrious film careers.

And although Denise played the conniving and unsympathetic Countess Marie Duvarre in Vera Cruz, I ultimately found her to be the most accessible and REAL person in the film: a charming lady of great humor and resiliency who cared dearly for her two sons – and did what she needed to do – a survivor.

Vera Cruz - Cooper, Montiel, Darcel, Lancaster
Vera Cruz – Cooper, Montiel, Darcel, Lancaster
Vera Cruz - Coop, Darcel, Lancaster
Denise Darcel

Denise Darcel Bio:

Born in Paris, Sept. 8, 1925
Passed: Dec. 23, 2011, Los Angeles County, California

Best known for her sensual parts, she will be remembered as Countess Marie Duvarre in the film “Vera Cruz” (1954), which starred Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Born Denise Billecard, she attended the University of Dijon and launched her career in entertainment, initially as a cabaret singer and became a featured vocalist at Paris’ La Comedie Francaise. This popularity along with her radiant looks earned her the distinctions as “The Most Beautiful Girl in Paris” and “The Most Photographed Girl in France”. After marrying an American serviceman, she moved to Hollywood where she marked her motion picture debut with a small role in the picture “To the Victor” (1948). She found more substantial parts with “Battleground” (1949), “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950, opposite Lex Barker), “Westward the Women” (1951, co-starred with Robert Taylor) and “Dangerous When Wet” (1953), while simultaneously appearing on Broadway and TV in the play “Pardon Our French” (1950 to 1951) and the programs “Naked City” and “Combat!”. She retired from acting during the early 1960s to raise her family.

Bio: “Internet Movie Database:

“She never took herself or her image too seriously during her prime and was known and admired for her fine sense of humor …

“Hollywood folklore has it that Ms. Darcel gave the cold shoulder to the heated romantic advances of both Columbia mogul Harry Cohn and producer playboy Howard Hughes, and thereby sealed her own fate. While waiting out the snub, she left Hollywood and made live appearances on stage, in dinner theaters and around the nightclub circuit …”

Denise Darcel - Burt Lancaster
Denise Darcel – Burt Lancaster