Vera Cruz (Blu-ray)
Vera Cruz stars two of the biggest Hollywood stars at the time the film was shot, Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper. The tagline for the film “The Giants Battle it out in the Biggest Spectacle of Them All” says it all. When Vera Cruz opened in 1954, the biggest stars in the genre were arguably Lancaster (for APACHE) and Cooper (HIGH NOON). The film also features Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, a young Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, and Charles Bronson (credited as Charles Buchinsky for the last time).
Almost 57 years later there are some surprises when you look back at this film. It was one of the first westerns to take place (and be completely shot) outside of the United States. This was also one of the first buddy movies, an old-timey bromance brimming with charm and the questionable ethics assumed of the old west. While these two things are essentially clichés today, they were relatively unheard of at the time.
The movie opens with a brief set up scrolling on the screen. In the wake of the Civil War, many Americans left and joined up with either the government or the rebels during the Mexican Civil War to make money. Our film follows two such men, Ben (Cooper) and Joe (Lancaster). Ben rides into the area and immediately meets up with Joe, who takes Ben for a sucker and sells him a stolen horse. This meeting establishes their tenuous relationship. Ben is the quiet man – preferring the slow burn of a glare to pulling his gun. Joe is the gunslinger – all flash and grins but dangerous in his own right.
From this very first scene, the entire film is filled twists and turns, crosses and double-crosses, and some great cinematography. Joe and Ben set out with a team of outlaws, are hired by Emperor Maximilian and take the job of escorting a French Countess out of Mexico through the port town of Vera Cruz. This is the point where the film should really take off. But as much as I liked it, this is the one place that the movie just doesn’t work. They’ve already established the characters, the stage is set – but it’s just too clear that the Mexican Emperor is American. The court is too British. This whole section of the film feels disjointed. Thankfully, we don’t stay there too long and after these scenes we’re back on track. We get to see some beautiful country, some good action scenes, and the tension builds as alliances are forged and broken. The ending even gives you a bit of a surprise. A pretty great action sequence, even by today’s standards, leads into a poignant finale.
What surprised me the most about this film is how much fun I had watching it. Joe and Ben are constantly riding a fine line between friendship and backstabbing. Their scenes are alive, right from the start. Every new person they meet offers a new level of deception. The action is over-the-top, like the later “spaghetti westerns” of Sergio Leone, but for the time must have really turned some heads. All in all, VERA CRUZ is a really fun time from a completely different old west than you might remember.
Video: The video here is a nice transfer. While VERA CRUZ isn’t the type of movie that’s going to show off your new HD television simply due to its age, it looks nice and clean. The original “SuperScope” aspect ratio is maintained here, 2.00:1 Widescreen.
Audio: The audio is nice but it doesn’t meet today’s high end standards. The sound track is nice but was recorded and mixed for mono. English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with included Spanish Mono and French Mono tracks.
Theatrical Trailer: Included on the disc but kind of hard to find – this is one of my favorite things about movies from this era. The movie doesn’t claim to be too big – just the biggest feature of all time. Enjoy it – this was an era of movie stars and epic features that had a message. The trailer is fun for the same reasons.