Vera Cruz (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 10, 2011 by Dennis Amith
An exciting western pairing up two of Hollywood’s top actors Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. “Vera Cruz” may not be the best western ever made but you don’t find too many on Blu-ray, nor do you find many westerns that take place during the Franco-Mexican war. While a barebones Blu-ray release, if you are wanting more westerns on Blu, then definitely give “Vera Cruz” a chance!
Images courtesy of © 1954 Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved
TITLE: Vera Cruz
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1954
DURATION: 94 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:00:1), English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish and French Mono, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
RATED: Not Rated
COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists/Twentieth Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2011
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Story by Borden Chase
Screenplay by Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb
Produced by James Hill
Co-Producer: Harold Hecht, Burt Lancaster
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography by Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Alan Crosland Jr.
Production Design by Alfred Ybarra
Costume Design by Norma Koch
Gary Cooper by Benjamin Trane
Burt Lancaster as Joe Erin
Denise Darcel as Countess Marie Duvarre
Cesar Romero as Marquis Henri de Labordere
Sara Montiel as Nina
George Macready as Emperor Maximillian
Jack Elam as Tex
Ernest Borgnine as Donnegan
James McCallion as Little-Bit
Morris Ankrum as Gen. Ramirez
James Seay as Abilene
Henry Brandon as Capt. Danette
Archie Savage as Ballard
Charles Bronson as Pittsburgh
Charles Horvath as Reno
Jack Lambert as Charlie
Juan Garcia as Pedro
Cooper and Lancaster portray Benjamin Trane and Joe Erin, two daredevil mercenaries who journey to Mexico in search of adventureand cold hard cashduring the 1866 revolution. But they get more than they bargained for when the wealthy and beautiful Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) hires them to escort her (and a fortune in gold!) to Emperor Maximilian’s fighting forces in Vera Cruz.
The pairing of two great actors in America cinema.
Gary Cooper (“High Noon”, “Meet John Doe”, “Sergeant York”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”) and Burt Lancaster (“From Here to Eternity”, “Judgment at Nuremberg”, “Airport”) team up in the 1954 Roger Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen”, “The flight of the Phoenix”, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) Technicolor western film “Vera Cruz”.
A bit of a backstory of “Vera Cruz”, the film takes place during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867) in which the Second French Empire invaded Mexico (originally supported by the UK and Kingdom of Spain) as a response when President Benito Juarez suspended any interest in payments made to foreign countries, in this case, Mexico’s biggest creditors were the coalition which included Spain, France and Britain.
While America was growing to become a major power, the country was also engaged in Civil War and thus Napoleon III of France looked at this opportunity to expand free trade to Mexico (but also using Mexico as a source for silver to finance his empire). In order to allow for free trade, Mexico would be sending payments to the coalition.
When payments stop, the French invaded and when the British and Spanish found out about French’s plan to invade Mexico, they withdrew from the coalition. This would eventually lead to Mexico trying to reviving the monarchical form of government and thus, Maximilian of Austria (which Mexico felt would try to make better relations with the French who defeated Austria in the Franco-Austrian War in 1859) became the Emperor of Mexico in 1864.
In the end, with USA backing the Republicans who were fighting the French, the French would be defeated in several areas and would withdraw from Mexico in 1866 and the Republicans wanting to send a message that no foreigner will be a leader of their country captured Maximilian and eventually the former leader would be executed the following year.
In the film “Vera Cruz”, an ex-confederate soldier named Ben Trane (played by Gary Cooper) travels to Mexico to seek a job as a mercenary (to raise money for a plantation in which many are depending on him for financial assistance). He forms an uneasy alliance with Joe Erin (played by Burt Lancaster), a gunslinger who is the leader of a group of thugs. Both men don’t trust each other but they know that in order to make money, they must work together.
Together they are recruited by Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (played by George Macready) to escort Countess Duvarre of France (played by Denise Darcel) to Vera Cruz. While both men meet with Maximilian’s officers and try to impress the Emperor with their gun slinging skills (and also competing with each other), both men do impress him and the Emperor wants to recruit them, but with Trane’s great negotiating skills, he is able to up the ante of payment by the Emperor.
Giving him the idea that there is a lot of money possibly in the Countess’ stagecoach. So, while both men sneak to search the Countess’ carriage in which they discover a lot of gold.
The Countess ends up confronting both men and she tells them that she has millions in that carriage which would be used to finance the French war in Mexico and thus the reason why it is important for her to have these men protect her.
Both men agree but in reality, both are more interested in the gold hidden in the carriage and neither men trust each other.
As both try to figure ways to steal the money, the two are unaware that the Marquis Henri de Labordere (played by Cesar Romero) is hiding and now aware of the hidden money. Also, wanting the money are the Mexicans fighting against the French, who want their money to stay in Mexico.
As Benjamin and Joe join the Marquis in protecting the Countess on their way to Vera Cruz, will either men steal the money? And in the end, who will get the money? Or will both men end up killing each other for it?
“Vera Cruz” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:00:1). The film does show its age at times and the print does have its fair share of white speckles and dust. The release is a catalog title and like a lot of catalog releases on Blu-ray, these are not given the special treatment of restoration. In fact, I’m pretty sure if the film was restored and remastered, it could look better but restoration is quite expensive and in the case of “Vera Cruz”, while the pairing of Cooper and Lancaster is pretty awesome, the film is not considered a classic Western.
Still, the film does look better than its previous video counterparts and there is more clarity in the picture quality, more detail but once again, it’s not a pristine print. Colors are a bit saturated at times but if you are looking for the best version of this film to date, the Blu-ray release is the version to own. Although picture quality could have been better.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Vera Cruz” is presented in English Mono DTS-HD and French and Spanish monaural. The film is center channel driven and dialogue is clear. Personally, I chose to have my receiver play the film with stereo on all channels because I wanted the ending fighting sequence to be more immersive.
Subtitles are English SDH, Spanish and French.
“Vera Cruz” comes with its original theatrical trailer.
A pairing of American cinema’s two popular actors Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, together with Robert Aldrich, one would expect the pairing to be loved by western fans.
If anything, both men play amoral characters who are great with guns, the only difference is that Cooper’s character Ben Trane, has more compassion while Lancaster’s Joe Erin, doesn’t. In fact, neither of these men can be trusted but if you had to pick the best person to trust, Ben Trane would be the better of the two and thus, as a viewer, you can’t help but root for Gary Cooper.
Cooper like a few other actors who have been in a good number of western films is well-known and you wouldn’t expect to see Cooper playing any heel-type characters. He is the quintessential western hero. The man is great with the gun, he obviously catches the attention of one of the beautiful Mexican woman named Nina (played by Sara Montiel) and you know he is ready and willing to show off his gun shooting bravado at the right moment.
Burt Lancaster plays the creepy Joe Erin, the person you can’t trust and the person you expect to shoot you in the back. If anything, you’re just wondering when this conflict between him and Ben Trane will take place because you know its coming and no matter how the storyline seems as if he may turn clean, once a snake…always a snake.
While the film does feature a good amount of talent such as Cesar Romero, Ernest Borgnine and even Charles Bronson, you can’t help but feel that these guys are just cannon fodder or someone who will be killed. From anyone who has seen “Johnny Guitar”, Borgnine has been pigeon-holed into those type of roles in westerns and for Charles Bronson, this film was still early in his career but at least he was able to get a credited role.
As for Cesar Romero, he has had an accomplished career even before “Vera Cruz” and although his part was not as significant in this film, he did manage to make his character as the manipulative Marquis Labordere work for the film.
As for French actress and former cabaret singer Denise Darcel, “Vera Cruz” was probably her biggest film that she has ever done. Acting-wise, she was OK but somehow I felt the scenes between her and Lancaster lacked passion and chemistry. In some way, I felt her character would have much more of an impression if she was killed by Joe and to show us how vile a person he really is (because earlier, he even talked about murdering child hostages).
But with “Vera Cruz”, the film was obviously written to focus on both characters of Cooper and Lancaster and everyone else is pretty much up for being killed (or spared). In some ways, the film has elements of “seen this before” and ideas may be a bit contrived but what makes the film different is that it takes place during the Franco-Mexican War and there are cool scenes in which both Ben and Joe are surrounded by dozens (or possibly a hundred) Mexican soldiers.
Another scene that was pretty cool was the escape of the French soldiers who were ambushed by the Mexicans but not more of what took place but actually the cinematography of seeing everyone speeding away for survival. If anything, the shots in Mexico were really well done especially since this film has a lot of short cut scenes.
While the Blu-ray is a barebones catalog title release, it all comes down to how much you are a western fan, especially a Cooper or Lancaster fan. There are not too many classic westerns on Blu-ray, so in some ways, it may be worth checking out! And if you were a fan of the film and owned it previously on VHS or DVD, then the better contrast and PQ may be worthy of an upgrade.
Overall, “Vera Cruz” is a good film but with so many awesome westerns out there, by no means is this one of the best. In a way, for a ’50s western, its typical of a ’50s western but it delves into different territory as it is shot in Mexico and deals with the Franco-Mexican war and sure, we can go on Wikipedia and learn about the war quickly but back then, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film was influential in the fact that people learned about the war through this film.
If anything, my excitement was primarily seeing both Cooper and Lancaster together and the fact that this film was released on Blu-ray is pretty cool! “Vera Cruz” is a western worth checking out!
J!-ENT has not received any compensation from the company for this post. J!-ENT has no material connection to the brands, products, or services that are mentioned in this post.
For Product Reviews:
For product reviews, J!-ENT has purchased the above product for review purposes or may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free by the company which in no way affects our reviews, may it be positive or negative. We only recommend products or services we have tested/reviewed and believe will be good for our readers.
Some of the links in our posts are "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, J!-ENT will receive an affiliate commission.
J!-ENT is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”