The re-release in cinemas of VERA CRUZ is a unique opportunity to rediscover a western precursor, the cornerstone of essential gender but also to immerse themselves in the work of a Robert Aldrich too often forgotten ceremonies, which will inspire yet generations of filmmakers… of Sergio Leone to Quentin Tarantino by way of Sam Peckinpah.
Mexico, 1866. Benito Juárez leads a rebellion against the troops of the emperor Maximilian (George Macready), who, a little annoyed, committed Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) and his band of robbers, and a former officer of the army of the south, Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) to escort the countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to Vera Cruz. The scenery is planted. In the dust, the tears and the blood. Released in 1954, and co-produced by Burt Lancaster, the part of the mexican revolution stands out in an era where only Elia Kazan (Viva Zappata) and John Sturges (The magnificent Seven) had managed to make the context relevant. Most importantly, it allows Robert Aldrich to provide a filmography already fascinating as VERA CRUZ, succeeded to the western pro-indian (a rarity) Bronco Apache with the same Lancaster generic. On a treatment for Borden Chase (Red River, Winchester’73) and a screenplay by Roland Kibee and James R. Webb (Apache, Cape Fear, the Cheyennes) largely rewritten to even the set, the film looks ahead with more than ten ahead of the revolution, the spaghetti western, led by Sergio Leone (For a Fistful of Dollars, 1964)… a case that will be far from being a coincidence, since in the meantime the latter has been the director second team for the epic Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) directed by… Robert Aldrich.Taking the mythology of the classic western, very americana, to arm the body, the better to wring out, Robert Aldrich offers a movie visually impressive, but to the themes outside zones. Here, the border between the good and the bad has totally disappeared. The cynicism, greed, betrayal are the springs of a humanity caught up in the vortex of History, which is dominated by the greyish a moral decrepitude. The director does not hesitate to pull out the heavy artillery, with a graphic violence rather rare at the time, which prefigured also the Sam Peckinpah of the Wild bunch and the purge of conservatism established. In constant balance, the humor is not absent either, nor the second degree. They give the film a semblance of series B, rather astonishing given the cast led by Burt Lancaster in the free-wheel, in the role of a big guy gunslinger without faith, nor law, but beguiling to the possible in the face of a Gary Cooper (chosen after the refusal of Cary Grant) to the questionings interiors always bright, two years after The Train in high noon (Fred Zinnemann).
By focusing a good part of improvisation, the film deploys a dynamic, exciting rhythm interludes and action scenes pétaradantes, such as the attack of the garrison. The archetypes are obviously painted in a rather traditional, the killer without morals is wearing black, while facing him stands a hero tired who buried his illusions, lost all hope in humanity… before getting back on the flame in contact with the rebels. The face’s more traditional western can then re-appear, and with the face of Gary Cooper, a pan of his own imaging which returns to us.
Film just as corrosive in his remarks, Robert Aldrich returns back-to-back the political, the nobility and the killers in a form of crapulerie and hypocrisy shared. With the ruptures of tone, its freedom asserted both during production and on the shoot (thanks to the success of Bronco Apache), the lightness displayed in spite of the coal-moral being deployed, the director ciselait the Western as he was going to do it for the polar as soon as his next film, In Fourth gear. The gallery of portraits (Jack Elam, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine) is bolstered by a camera feature of his style, with a work sharp on the counter dives and close-ups of exaggerated, who will become a legend in the future for the genus revisited. Apart from the about, the most surprising thing remains this realization rebellious, of large production (hundreds of extras, the sets, the technique) with a superscope gleaming photographed by the dough of Ernest Laszlo (Stalag 17, Fantastic Voyage), a faithful Aldrich. By its diagonals splendid and oppressive, and a space game perfectly mastered, VERA CRUZ remains an adventure movie major, a crucial step in the genre, a Western that’s at once modern and desperate.Robert Aldrich will continue its bright career and will become in spite of himself a great, forgotten by the Oscars. He will wait almost twenty years to work one last time with Burt Lancaster on the superb Fury Apache (1972) to train with VERA CRUZ and Bronco Apache, a trilogy must. But this is another story…
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• Production : Robert Aldrich
• Screenplay : Borden Chase, Roland Kibbee, James R. Webb
• Main actors : Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper
• Release Date : 1954
• Duration : 1h34min