Ernest Borgnine

Vera Cruz (1954) – Super Western

As part of finding the Grandeur-worthy Westerns for Movie Rob‘s Genre Grandeur series (head on over to his page if you want to join), I’ve pulled out a whole pile of DVDs from my collection, hoping I’ll get through a fair number of them.

Vera Cruz is one of the westerns my parents had in their Super 8 collection. I always enjoyed watching it and must admit, haven’t seen it for years (10 years, according to my geeky little movie/DVD database I have). Re-watching movies after such a period of time always leaves me feeling a little like it is a new one – purely because I forget some of the scenes and dialogue.

Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster star in this one, together with Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson, amongst others, in smaller roles. Two drifters, Ben Trane (Cooper) and Joe Erin (Lancaster) form an uneasy friendship as they hire on to serve Mexican Emperor Maximilian‘s (George Macready) soldiers, lead by Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero), to escort Countess Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to the city of Veracruz. Naturally, things are not so straightforward with lots of back-stabbing and ulterior motives all around. Plenty of good shootouts ensue.

Having been filmed and set in its entirety in Mexico (as per the closing credits), it brings across a different feel from the “typical” Western in having lots of music and fiestas. This is wonderfully juxtaposed with the elegant ball held by Emperor Maximilian.

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Likewise, the two ladies of the story, the Countess and Nina (Sarita / Sara Montiel) contrast each other. I absolutely love the scene with Nina driving the supply wagon out of the ambush. I suppose this is to be expected as our leading men likewise are not similar at all: Ben Trane is the former Confederate soldier who appears to be calm and collected whereas gunslinger Joe Erin is the dirty scoundrel with his bunch of just as dirty scoundrels. Oh, the scenes that show these differences…just fantastic.

What always amuses is the big toothy grin provided by a dust covered Joe Erin. He’s introduced to us in another great scene where he sells someone else’s horse to Ben Trane. Perfect character summary I’d say. But, make no mistake, Ben Trane isn’t totally good guy either. As to be expected, all involved have a reason for their supposed support of the Marquis and Countess.veracruz2

So…super Western directed by Robert Aldrich, despite the sometimes “clipped” dialogue. Almost, almost Grandeur-worthy. A whole lot of fun with great one-liners and/or more comical scenes. Ernest Borgnine also has a knack of bringing fun to the screen. And even Charles Bronson makes me smile as he convinces the band to play on at gunpoint.

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Seeking Revenge with William Holden

These Blogathons are interesting…I was oblivious to William Holden being known as the “The Golden Boy” until I came across The Golden Boy Blogathon (hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema). I’m no connoisseur of his works and only know him from 4 works one being The Revengers, the others Wild Rovers, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Wild Bunch. The former is the one I remember most of (the others just snippets) despite the fact that it didn’t seem to have done well at the box-office. But then, for me, reviews and box-office stats don’t matter, my enjoyment does and here I’d say is a movie that isn’t half bad. Possibly, remembering William Holden from this 1972 movie is why I didn’t really see him as the Golden Boy as he was already 54, an older (note, not old) version of the handsome man I see in the various Blogathon banners.

The only scene that has always come to mind when thinking of this western was the one with his son’s lifeless body dangling from the loft near the beginning. Clearly time to dust those memory cobwebs before I continued writing and tada…last night was the night! Lucky for me, a few years back I managed to buy the DVD and I had a good evening remembering various scenes. Amazing how the moment they start they become so clear.

The tagline “He bought six men out of hell and they brought it with them” pretty much sums it up, well, to the extent that “hell” was portrayed in those days (these days, I think the equivalent would be more brutal, bloodier and violent). Beginning with wonderful stereotypical western music, all upbeat and fun, John Benedict (William Holden) rides home with a herd of horses to be greeted by his family. Naturally, something needs to happen. Especially with the title The Revengers. And it does. All too soon – naturally. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen this film but pretty much everything that John Benedict held dear is brutally ripped away from him sending him on a mission to track down the man responsible. From a prison called “The Hole” (hell) he hires 6 convicts to help him do the job. The “prisoner selection” scene is so much fun! They make for a wonderful combination of characters. Especially notable is Ernest Borgnine as William/Bill Hoop. Ah, he balances William Holden’s  ever more serious revenge-driven character perfectly. In fact, all actors make for a wonderful ensemble, each one complementing the other. I’m sure they must have had a good laugh on set. Anyway, the story is about John Benedict’s journey of revenge and therefore one of personal change.

What I really appreciate in this film is William Holden‘s ability to portray a loving father who supports his family. His acting managed to get me to feel with and for him and convinced me that he really was a father. Similarly, as he hardens up and is purely set on revenge, he still manages to bring across to the viewer his emotions and yet again I felt for him, understanding his reactions and decisions even when not necessarily the right ones from an outsider perspective. Especially the scene between John Benedict and Chamaco (Jorge Luke) discussing paternity possibilities brings across such emotion that only great actors can achieve.

All-in-all, a fun western to watch with some great acting.

Directed by Daniel Mann, it also stars Woody Strode, Roger Hanin, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos and a small role from Susan Hayward.

Random info: If anyone has seen the 2002 film Sorority Boys, you won’t believe that Dave’s dad is the same actor, James Daughton, who plays Morgan, John Benedicts’ son in The Revengers.

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