Vera Cruz theme /Hugo Friedhofer
Cooper was warned by a friend not to take this role because Lancaster would steal every scene. Lancaster's charisma is undeniable. But Cooper had no shortage of his own - and they proved a perfect balance. No problem.
The Flight of the Phoenix / The Choirboys / The Frisco Kid / Too Late the Hero / Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte / What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? / Twilight's Last Gleaming / Emperor of the North / The Angry Hills / The Dirty Dozen
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(February 15, 1907 – January 1, 1994)
Wikipedia: was an American film and television actor who was active in film, radio, and television for almost sixty years. His wide range of screen roles included Latin lovers, historical figures in costume dramas, characters in light domestic comedies, and as the Joker in the Batman TV series.
In October 1942, he voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served in the Pacific Theater. He reported aboard the Coast Guard-manned assault transport USS Cavalier in November, 1943. According to a press release from the period he saw action during the invasions of Tinian and Saipan. The same article mentioned that he preferred to be a regular part of the crew and was eventually promoted to the rate of Chief Boatswain's Mate.
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.
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!
MFW: these are indeed interesting insights. I watched the film several times and definitely regard it as a Classic Western. But I never noticed (or knew) the political undertones and overtones. And, of course, I did not know about the politics of that era. Lancaster is such a dastardly character that I surely did wonder why Cooper was hanging around with him. This was completely against Cooper usual Heroic Good Guy image - which he earnestly tried to protect in Film. Yet here he is - an outright mercenary. Go figure.
Well, it all turns around at the end I guess as Trane (Cooper) sides with the revolutionaries and guns down Joe Erin (Lancaster).
There are a good many Films (and lots of Westerns) that are laced with Political and Social commentary. Much of which goes right by me unless somebody smarter points it out. Knowing this stuff does change how you view the Movie. Sometimes though, I wonder if I'd almost rather not know?