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Western films, from silent to today

They Came to Cordura (1959)

They Came to Cordura (1959) poster Gary Cooper is Maj. Thomas Thorn, a man asked to nominate the bravest men in battle for the Medal of Honor, after he himself has been branded a coward.

That happened in Columbus, before this film begins. As Pancho Villa attacked and Thorn’s men fought for their lives, he hid in a railroad ditch.

Out of courtesy to Thorn’s father, Col. Rogers decided not to court-martial him. Instead, Thorn’s given the role of medals officer as the U.S. launches an expedition against Pancho in Mexico.

When Rogers launches a bungled cavalry charge against Mexican rebels entrenched inside a hacienda owned by an American woman, Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth), the heroics of four men — John Chawk (Van Heflin), William Folwer (Tab Hunter), Milo Trubee (Richard Conte) and Wilbur Renziehausen (Dick York) — help turn potential disaster into victory.

So Thorn recommends the four men for the medal. Rogers, incensed because he isn’t nominated, orders Thorn to personally march his heroes — including Andew Hetherington (Michael Callen) from an earlier battle — to Cordura. He’s to take along Adelaide Geary; she’s being charged for allowing the rebels to take refuge in her home.

The trip proves more difficult than anyone could have imagined. Hetherington comes down with the fever. The rebels regroup and attack, leaving the small patrol without horses. Pretty soon, they’re running out of water too.

The presense of Adelaide doesn’t help. She smokes when they have no cigarettes. She gets drunk on tequila when they have no liquor. And she’s an attractive middle-aged woman, around men who haven’t had a woman in quite some time.

As it turns out, Thorn’s courage or cowardice is going to be tested again if he’s going to make it to his destination.

Review:

A tiresome, overlong exploration of what makes a hero and what makes a coward, way too talky for its own good. And to think, the original edit checked in at two and a half hours, about a half hour longer than the released version.

Cooper’s character quickly discovers that his heroes are flawed men as well. Knowing about his cowardice at Columbus, Milo tries to bribe Thorn into letting him bed Adelaide for the duration of the trip. Chawk isn’t interested in the attention a medal of honor could bring; he’s dodging a murder charge back home.

In fact, all of the men except Hetherington turn against him over the course of their journey. Even Lt. Fowler is ready to execute Thorn at one point, then blame it on the Mexican rebels.

Cooper was 57 when this film was made and it marked his final Western. In fact, he appeared in just two more films.

Another piece of trivia: Dick York suffered a serious back injury during the filming of the railroad handcar scene, an injury so serious that it affected him the rest of his life and forced him to leave his role as Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband on the 1960s hit series “Bewitched” after three seasons.

Rita Hayworth as Adelaide Geary and Gary Cooper as Maj. Thomas Thorn in They Came to Cordura (1959)Directed by:
Robert Rossen

Cast:
Gary Cooper … Maj. Thomas Thorn
Rita Hayworth … Adelaide Geary
Van Heflin … Sgt. John Chawk
Tab Hunter … Lt. William Fowler
Richard Conte … Cpt. Milo Trubee
Michael Callan … Pvt. Andrew Hetherington
Dick York … Pvt. Wilbur Renziehausen
Robert Keith … Colonel Rogers
Carlos Romero … Arreaga
Jim Bannon … Capt. Paltz
Edward Platt … Col. DeRose
Maurice Jara … Mexican federale
Sam Buffington … War correspondent
Arthur Hanson … War correspondent

Runtime: 125 min.

Memorable lines:

Col. DeRose to the war correspondents: “We’re chasing one man, Pancho Villa, over some of the wildest country on earth. You can quote me as saying that the Punitive Expedition U.S. Army has him completely surrounded… on one side.”

Sgt. Chawk: “Major, you know how long we ain’t had no smokes?”
Maj. Thorn: “I know.”
Chawk: “Well, you tell her (Adelaide Geary) we don’t like it. You tell her she taunts us much more, someone’s going to light those cigarettes and stuff them down her throat.”

Tab Hunter as Lt. William Fowler, Rita Hayworth as Adelaide Geary and Richard Conte as Cpl. Milo Trubee in They Came to Cordura (1959)Pvt. Wilbur Renziehausen: “Came out West to be a cowboy, prospect for gold, fight Indians, anything. The only problem was, I couldn’t ride, I couldn’t rope, the gold was all gone. And every Indian I saw was selling blankets or beads. But I did see the cavalry drill at Fort Sam, so I signed right up.”

Maj. Thorn: “Did you ever see the Medal of Honor?”
Renziehausen, who’s been shot in the ear: “No, sir.”
Tohrn: “It’s the most beautiful decoration of all, as it should be. I’d trade an ear for one any time, two in fact.”
Renziehausen: “Excuse me, sir, but I’d rather have the ear.”

Milo Trubee: “There are two things I’m after, and I don’t see as you can turn me down. One, I don’t want no medal. I don’t hanker to be made a lead mule. Two, I ain’t had a woman since we crossed the border. Now you turn her (Adelaide) over to me and after I get through, she won’t be so damn fancy. You let me put the bit to her.”

Adelaide Geary: “One act of cowardice doesn’t make a man a coward forever, just as one act of bravery doesn’t make a man a hero forever.”

Adelaide Geary: “You still think they deserve …
Maj. Thorn: “They do. They do.”
Adelaide: “Why you’re still in that railroad ditch in Columbus. Unable or afraid to see out of it. Heroes? Saints living in the desert? My God, they tried to rape me. And blackmail you. It’s a wonder they haven’t shot you already. No, Thorne, they’re only men – and damned poor specimens at that.”
Thorn: “I have less right than any man on earth to judge them.”
Adelaide: “Or to judge yourself either.”

Milo Trubee: “He (Thorn) blows up a man awful big, doesn’t he Chawk?

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