It’s December 17, so that means that it’s time for one last round of “Film Legends Of Yesteryear” featuring Rita Hayworth for 2021! For this series’ last post of the year, we’re focusing on the 1959 film They Came To Cordura, also starring Gary Cooper, Van Heflin and Tab Hunter.
Note: After doing this series for two years (on films from 1939 in 2019 and films of actress Rita Hayworth for 2021), I have decided to change up how I do this series. Both years left me feeling like keeping up with this extra series was a little overwhelming (granted, this year, I’ve done a HUGE number of posts compared to previous years, which doesn’t help). So, starting in 2022, I will be doing it a little differently. Instead of a special focus, I will instead use this series in place of either my Sunday or Wednesday posts whenever I have a movie from 1939 or one featuring Rita Hayworth. I will also be adding a third subject, which will fit in with some of my planned Star/Genre Of The Month blogathons (and which was a plan I hinted at when I put together this series’ logo): screen teams. I can’t guarantee posts in this series every month, but I will try to fit them in when I have a film that fits.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Woody Woodpecker (1941)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 58 seconds)
The woodland animals think that Woody Woodpecker is crazy, and so he goes to see a psychiatrist. So far, I haven’t had much opportunity to see too many Woody Woodpecker cartoons, but I certainly enjoyed this one! It was Woody’s first solo outing (following his appearance in the 1940 Andy Panda cartoon Knock Knock), with him still being voiced by Mel Blanc (the second of three shorts that Blanc voiced the character for). The character’s design is far different than what it would later become (and what I currently identify with the character), but the fun and insanity is there (similar to some of the Looney Tunes types of cartoons). At least, I look forward to seeing more of the cartoons included in this set!
And Now For The Main Feature…
It’s 1916. Pancho Villa has been terrorizing places along the U.S.-Mexico border, so some U.S. troops under the command of Colonel Rogers (Robert Keith) have been sent to stop him and his men. The Colonel has assigned one of his officers, Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper), to be a battlefield observer, and nominate men for the Congressional Medal Of Honor (an assignment intended to cover up an act of cowardice by the Major). The Colonel and his men catch up with some of Villa’s men (led by Arreaga, as played by Carlos Romero) at the hacienda Ojos Azules, which is owned by Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth). As the Colonel is facing forced retirement soon because of his age, he prepares to lead his men in an old-fashioned cavalry charge (with Major Thorn and his Medal Of Honor nominee Private Andrew Hetherington, as played by Michael Callan, watching on the sidelines). However, the Colonel prepares for it poorly, with the men riding into a trench and being picked off by Arreaga and his men. It is only due to the brave actions of four men that they pull off a victory (although Arreaga and some of his men escape). Afterwards, Major Thorn decides to nominate the four men for the Medal Of Honor, but refuses to do so for the Colonel (who was bucking for a promotion to general before he had to retire). Feeling stabbed in the back (since he had helped cover up the Major’s act of cowardice), the Colonel orders the Major to take the five Medal Of Honor nominees (and their new prisoner Adelaide, who was being accused of treason for harboring Arreaga and his men) to Cordura for the ceremony. However, the trip is not an easy one. Along the way, they struggle with limited provisions, come under attack from Arreaga’s men, lose their horses to Arreaga (which forces them to continue on foot), and then have to carry one of the men when he is stricken with typhoid. And that’s just the external trouble, as all of the nominees would rather not receive the medal (and resent Major Thorn’s leadership upon learning of his past cowardice). Can Major Thorn get them all to Cordura? Or, for that matter, will the men let the Major survive?
They Came To Cordura is based on the 1958 novel of the same name written by Glendon Swarthout (who wrote military citations during the second World War). The idea for the story came from the United States Cavalry’s last mounted charge (which happened under the leadership of General John J. Pershing against Pancho Villa’s forces). Making the movie itself didn’t exactly turn out to be a smooth process. They started doing some location filming near St. George, Utah, but a record cold-snap forced them to move to the Moapa Valley near Las Vegas (where they had to reshoot everything). Gary Cooper’s participation in the film was against the advice of his doctors, as he was quite ill at the time, yet he still soldiered on. Sadly, making this film was the start of health problems Dick York suffered for the rest of his life, as he injured his back (an injury that would later force him to leave classic sitcom Bewitched partway through its fifth season). And that’s not even including changes to the movie required by the studio (including their demand that SPOILER ALERT Gary Cooper’s character had to live, which differed from the original novel END SPOILER ALERT). The film did poorly in theatres, and director Robert Rossen bought back the film rights, with the intention of putting out his director’s cut of the film. However, after making The Hustler (1961) and Lillith (1964), he died before he had the chance to work on restoring it.
Like a number of the Rita Hayworth films from the set that I’ve been reviewing all year, this was my first time seeing this film. Frankly, I have a hard time not comparing it to similar episodes of various Western TV shows that I’ve seen over the years (the type where the show’s main hero has to transport a prisoner or lead a group across the desert, with the rest of the group turning against him to the point that he can’t fall asleep for fear of being killed). Compared to some of those TV shows, this movie does feel a bit too long and drawn out for the idea. But, it also has the opportunity to be much more adult (at least, within the confines of what was still enforceable for the Production Code at the time). And that’s where all the performances here shine, as we watch Gary Cooper’s Major deal with the fallout from his previous act of cowardice (and, in the process, manages to show courage as he has to face down his men all the while keeping them alive, even if they think that he is trying to kill them). Watching all the men slowly turn against him is rough, particularly at the end (already did a Spoiler Alert, so not going to do anything further). I will admit, it’s not the greatest Western (and particularly for those looking for action, you will get that in the opening minutes, and then not so much afterwards), but I did enjoy it enough that I would certainly recommend it!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… They Came To Cordura (1959)
This movie is available on Blu-ray either as part of a double-feature with The Man From The Alamo (1953) or as part of the twelve film Rita Hayworth: The Ultimate Collection (both releases are from Mill Creek Entertainment). Quite frankly, I think this is one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) transfers in the twelve-film set. The picture is full of a lot of dirt and debris throughout the movie, and the color seems off in a number of places. It’s not completely unwatchable, and does offer some decent detail. It’s just that it looks so much worse than those that it was packaged with (and I assume the transfer is the same for the double-feature). The set is probably not worth it for this movie alone except for big fans of the film or those who want at least a few others from the set as well.
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Rita Hayworth: The Ultimate Collection
The Rita Hayworth: The Ultimate Collection, available on Blu-ray from Mill Creek, includes twelve films starring actress Rita Hayworth (The DVD equivalent features four more movies, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about). The Blu-ray set includes Music In My Heart (1940), You’ll Never Get Rich (1941), Tonight And Every Night (1945), Down To Earth (1947), The Lady From Shanghai (1948), The Loves Of Carmen (1948), Affair In Trinidad (1952), Salome (1953), Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), Fire Down Below (1957), Pal Joey (1957) and They Came To Cordura (1959). These twelve films are spread out over six discs. Three of them (You’ll Never Get Rich, Miss Sadie Thompson and Pal Joey) were all previously available individually from Twilight Time, and this release still uses those really great transfers (albeit with a lesser encoding due to several movies being put on each disc by Mill Creek). Two (The Lady From Shanghai and They Came To Cordura) were already available individually/as part of a double-feature from Mill Creek, and I assume use the same transfers. For the most part, the transfers in this set all look quite good. They could use a bit of clean-up to get rid of some of the dust and specks of dirt, but otherwise are okay. The only transfers that I think could use some serious restoration (and hold the set back from being much better) are Tonight And Every Night and They Came To Cordura. But, for the price, this set provides hours of entertainment, most of which looks really good, and I would certainly happily recommend it for many of these wonderful movies!
Also, if you are interested in joining in on my first month-long “Screen Team Of The Month” blogathon for 2022 featuring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, please be sure to check out my Announcing the Jeanette MacDonald And Nelson Eddy “Screen Team Of The Month (January 2022)” Blogathon post to sign up!
Film Length: 2 hours, 3 minutes
My Rating: 8/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Alias Jesse James (1959) – Gary Cooper
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