They Came To Cordura

(Columbia Pictures, 1959) 
123 minutes, available on both VHS videocassette and DVD.
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Director -- Robert Rossen.  Starring -- Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Dick York.

Watch the movie trailer for They Came To Cordura below.
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This was Columbia's big-budget film for the 1959 Christmas holidays. Gary Cooper plays a disgraced Major ordered to take five "heroes" who had distinguished themselves in the Army's very last mounted Cavalry charge, back to their Mexican base at Cordura to be written-up for Medals of Honor and then be shipped back to the States to receive them. Major Thorn also has to escort Rita Hayworth, who is going to be tried for aiding and comforting the enemy at her Mexican ranch. During their grueling trek they lose their horses to the Villistas and increasingly confront each other as they face the hot desert without many supplies or much water. A great Cavalry battle scene comes shortly into this Western film set in 1916, as the soldiers earn their citations, but the rest is more of a character study into the nature of courage.

Gary Cooper knew he was ill with cancer when he made this and he made only one more British feature before dying a couple of years later, so his wooden performance really suffers from his undisclosed illness. He was also too old for the role, which needed a more dynamic actor. But Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, and the supporting actors, especially Tab Hunter, gave very fine performances in their gritty roles. The ending is softened considerably from the novel's, however, and the film suffers for it.

Cordura remains the first novel and film ever set against the backdrop of 1916's nearly year-long Pershing Expedition down into Mexico to punish Pancho Villa for attacking Columbus, New Mexico; the only time in American history troops of a foreign power have ever encroached our borders in armed combat.

 
Listen to Frank Sinatra’s unused theme song from
They Came To Cordura

 – a real rarity in the vast Sinatra Songbook!

Reviews

"Realistic, controversial action drama. Top names in top performances . . . A bitter and realistic drama of the wry twists life can work on men when they are thrown into situations beyond their control -- in this case the 1916 border action between U. S. troops and Pancho Villa's Mexican rebels -- They Came To Cordura is an important and impressive film. Its story is so provocative there will be some who will be antagonized by it, but there's no question it is compellingly told. The William Goetz production for Columbia is action on a vast scale, and in some ways is the most disturbing picture dealing with the psychological aspects of war since Bridge on the River Kwai."  Variety

"With all this histrionic glory being showered around, there is another to draw his share of credit. Director Robert Rossen, who had a hand in a completely unusual script which pries into men's lives and souls has sought and obtained just about perfection in all performances. The five "heroes"  are filled with contrasts . . . with hates, with lusts, with bravery, with cowardice and  every shading has been captured by director and actor in what builds to a psychological melodrama of hard emotional impact."  W. Ward Marsh, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"They Came To Cordura has been put on the screen with all the force and vicious snap of a steel trap. This harsh version of Glendon Swarthout's good novel is at the Criterion . . . Director Robert Rossen has made both dramatic and spectacular use of desert scenery and spares nothing in conveying the horrors of its blistering heat. This film will rank high among the year's greats."  Alton Cook, New York World-Telegram and Sun.

"From Swarthout's brilliant, compassionate, brutal, introspective novel, Robert Rossen and Ivan Moffat have wrested an almost altogether effective screenplay. They have caught in a few scenes the fumbling, the mistakes, the fever of our abortive 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico against the bandit-revolutionary, Francisco (Pancho) Villa. And with Rossen directing, the film stunningly recreates the battle of Ojos Azules in which a provisional squadron made the last charge on horseback against an enemy in the history of the U.S. Cavalry."   Mildred Martin, Philadelphia Inquirer

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