Vera Cruz (1954): Aldrich’s Western, Starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster

One of Robert Aldrich’s most popular westerns, Vera Cruz benefits from the appearances of two major stars of different generation, Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, and a serviceable story by Borden Chase.

Veracruz
Vera Cruz Movie Poster.jpg

The tale amoral characters and cynical attitude toward violence (a scene where Lancaster’s character threatens to murder child hostages) were considered shocking at the time.

As such, they had influenced future Westerns like The Magnificent Seven, The Professionals, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and the films of Sergio Leone.

During the Franco-Mexican War, ex-Confederate soldier Ben Trane (Cooper) travels to Mexico seeking a job as a mercenary. He falls in with Joe Erin (Lancaster), a gunslinger who heads a gang of tough guys (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Charles Bronson, Archie Savage, and others). They are recruited by Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero) for service with Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (George Macready) Maximilian offers them $25,000 to escort Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to the city of Veracruz. Trane gets the emperor to double the offer.

In the end, Erin attempts to steal the gold by getting the countess to reveal the location of the ship hired to transport it. However, Trane arrives in time, and they face off in a showdown that results in Erin’s death.

Trane and Nina leave, while the other women search for their loved ones amongst the dead.

The film was hugely popular at the box-office, earning $5 million in the U.S., and scoring especially big in France, where Robert Aldrich was a cult director.

This was the second collaboration between Aldrich and Lancaster (the first was Apache), and despite some disagreements on the set, they would make several more pictures together, most notably Ulzana’s Raid in 1972.

Intertextuality:

The film was spoofed in the 1986 cult comedy Three Amigos, directed by John Landis.

Credits:

Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by James Hill
Written by Roland Kibbee, James R. Webb, Borden Chase
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Alan Crosland Jr.

Production company: Hecht-Lancaster Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: December 25, 1954

Running time: 94 min.
Budget $1.6 million