"THEY CAME TO CORDURA was originally 148 minutes. It was hailed by critics who saw this version, including the NY Times, which gave it a rave. But Columbia grew nervous, it was dark, grim, downbeat. The army looked like it was filled with cowards, rapists, murderers. Columbia took the film away from director Robert Rossen and lopped off 35 minutes, then added back in several minutes of exposition. The resulting film is maddening. At times brilliant, at times clumsy; it's pacing is awkward, the editing downright amateurish. The minions at Comubia hadn't a clue what they were doing whgen they butchered and re-editied the film. Even so, it is still a fine, fine film. The writing is spot-on, some of the dialogue scalding; the acting is flawless, and many of the sequences take your breath away. An extraordinary score. And Cooper is heart-breaking in his depiction of the coward. The scene between him and Rita Hayworth, in which he tells of cowering in the ditch, is screen acting of the highest order. Rossen was in the process of buying the film back from Columbia to return it to his original vision when he died. Perhaps it will yet happen. But not by Columbia, which has dropped this DVD onto the market with no extras and no attempt to restore it. Even so, CORDURA is well worth the purchase. Truly, a butchered masterpiece."
At What Price Courage
hille2000 | USA | 10/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1959 film from director Robert Rossen sets out to define the meaning of courage. Set in 1916 Mexico during General Pershing's Expedition to capture Poncho Villa in revenge for his raid into New Mexico, the US Army sets out to find soldiers worthy of the Medal of Honor. Ironically, a branded coward Gary Cooper is given the task. This is a slow and deliberate movie. It is noteworthy not for its script but for its depth of well constructed characters and their motivations. By the end of the film you may ask yourself if cowards and heroes walk the same thin line. Van Heflin gives a standout performance and he is the real catalist behind Cooper's internal struggle that manifests itself visually on the screen."
"I have a chance to put my hand on the bare heart of heroism
Mary Whipple | New England | 10/09/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"(3.5 stars) Directed by Robert Rossen in 1959, this exploration of the nature of courage has limited appeal in the present day. Maj. Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) is assigned to find five men who deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor and accompany them back from Mexico, where they are fighting Pancho Villa in 1916. The objective of the army is to make heroes of these men so they can serve as examples to other soldiers during the expected US involvement in World War I. Thorn's selection as the man to accompany these five soldiers is ironic--he is regarded as a coward for his behavior when Villa's men attacked US troops in Columbus, New Mexico.
On the long trek back from Mexico to Cordura, the true nature of each of the "heroes" is revealed. Thorn has been interviewing each of these men for the citations he plans to write for them, and he is especially interested in what the men were thinking when they performed so bravely, hoping to discover what is the secret of their courage. Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth), an American living on a ranch in Mexico, has had her ranch occupied by Villa's troops, and she is arrested by Thorn to be returned to the US, along with the medal winners. The life-threatening journey tests each hero once again, and Thorn once again agonizes over the nature of courage.
With an all-star cast, including Gary Cooper, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Dick York, and Rita Hayworth, the film offers a close-up look at many stars from the past, but acting styles and viewer expectations have changed, and Cooper, who won a Laurel Award as Best Actor for his role here, is so expressionless that he sounds, in places, as if he is haltingly reading the script, not acting. With the journey taking place across scrubland, usually under the hot sun, the focus is on the actors, their conversations, pent-up emotions, fights, and resentments of Thorn.
Unfortunately, the dialogue, regardless of its subject matter, tends to be stilted and predictable, rather than realistic, and Thorn's constant pre-occupation with the nature of courage leads to a very "talky" film. Ultimately, all the characters come to new realizations, but by the time they do, many viewers will have exhausted their patience with the pace of this self-conscious film. n Mary Whipple "
Watchable adventure epic, not so arresting as was intended b
Roberto Frangie | Leon, Gto. Mexico | 11/10/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Due to showing cowardice in battle, Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) has been assigned the degrading task of "Awards Officer" to the Mexican expedition of 1916 against Pancho Villa...
Thorn witnesses the U.S. Army attack on a ranch house which results in an American victory, and selects five men as candidates for the Congressional Medal of Honor...
Since Washington wants heroes in a hurry, for a World War I recruiting campaign, Thorn has to guide these men through the perilous border country to the 'out of danger' base at Cordura...
Since Villa's men were given shelter in the ranch house of the beautiful Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth), she is accused of treason and is forced to accompany the men on their difficult journey...
Before the seven get to the Texas border town, the five heroes are given ample time to show their true colors (cheats, thieves, rapists and murderers) and Cooper (always under great danger) discovers, far from crossfire, their true characters... Thorn also discovers that he has respect and affection for his prisoner...
Rita Hayworth seems, on screen, to be a woman who has seen too much, lived too hard... There are circles under her eyes now, and an indefinable sadness about her presence... But she remains more delicious than ever... She had been the greatest girl of them all, a living summary of all our sexy, dreamy ideals... Now she is a reminder, for an aging generation, of the generous visions of youth... In "They Came to Cordura," Rita gives the best performance of her career as the shady lady surrounded by six men, substituting acting for sex and glamor...
A Wasted Opportunity
Only-A-Child | 06/22/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Is "They Came to Codura" (1959) as ill conceived and poorly executed as it appears to be or is an ambitious and well-intentioned western that falls short because it over-reaches? The problem is that so few films are ambitious that our brains go into a stall when a rare effort like this comes along and we don't know quite how to evaluate it.
Compounding this is the extensive trimming that the film received prior to its release; this cutting may not have hurt anything (what was taken out wouldn't have made things clearer or transformed the performances into believable characterizations) but it no doubt accounts for the overall disjointed feel of the story.
Finally there is Glendon Swarthout's source novel of the same title, an allegorical story of human redemption that does not translate well to the screen as must of it takes place inside the tortured mind of the protagonist. The screen play follows the novel almost too closely, keeping Swarthout's weakest elements while replacing his devastatingly ironic ending with a tame "Flight of the Phoenix" finale.
So if (for whatever reason) you are thinking about viewing "They Came to Codura" don't expect a typical viewing experience. And don't expect a masterpiece because the mixed description in the first paragraph is a pretty accurate assessment of the film.
That doesn't mean don't watch. The surface story is reasonably entertaining and the themes are extremely interesting even if they are so poorly articulated that they lose much of the power that they should have had.
Like the novel, the film is set in 1916 Mexico with the U.S. Cavalry dashing about in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) is in charge of escorting five prospective Medal of Honor winners back to the base at Cordura where their heroics can be utilized to fan a recruitment campaign for the looming U.S. entry into WWI.
Thorn carries a lot of personal baggage into this assignment. The son of a famous soldier he is deeply ashamed of the cowardice he exhibited during a recent battle. It is his duty to interview each soldier during the journey and to then write up the commendations. His past performance causes him to over-compensate as a leader and to soon alienate most of the men under his command; Lt. Fowler (Tab Hunter), Sgt. Chawk (Van Heflin), Pvt. Hetherington (Michael Callan), Cpl. Trubee (Richard Conte), and Pvt. Renziehausen (Dick York). Being dragged along with the group is a woman named Adelaide (Rita Hayworth), an American expatriate accused of aiding the Villa.
This is not exactly a strong cast, especially for a film that is more character study than action adventure. To be successful, an adaptation of a multi-character novel must go one of two ways with those characters; #1 assemble an extremely talented cast who can nonverbally communicate characterization or, #2 mold most of the characters into movie stereotypes and single out 2-3 for more extensive development (placing your strongest actors in those roles). This film's downfall is that it takes a third path, as none of the characters are predictable movie stereotypes (in fact all seven are extremely strange) and only Hayworth is able to give her character some degree of plausible dimensionality.
Neither the setting nor the story is important. This could have been set anywhere at anytime. What is important is the theme, the nature of courage-its randomness, its situational nature, and its lack of correlation with other character traits. The "heroes" are slowly revealed to be opportunists, bullies, deadbeats, and degenerates, but an isolated act of heroism was their redemption. And the coward ends up behaving like a hero.
A variety of explanations for the individual acts of bravery are illustrated-recklessness, momentary insanity, accident, hatred, fear of being considered a coward, and a need for redemption. The point being that going above and beyond the call of duty is not something that can be predicted or relied upon, and that except for the last reason does alter the basic nature of the hero.
Unfortunately none (ZERO) of these characters ring even remotely true and with the irony stripped out of the ending the result is a total failure to effectively illustrate the theme. So you watch, and if you can suspend disbelief it is possible to understand what the film is trying to say. But this is hardly great cinema and the viewer ultimately thinks more about the missed opportunity than about the mysteries of battlefield courage and human redemption.