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MGM Studios DVD presents
"I thought your soft spot was only for horses."
DVD ReviewWhile director Robert Aldrich would bring us Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962), Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Killing of Sister George (1968), and The Longest Yard (1974) later in his career, his second feature film teamed two Hollywood legends and a supporting cast of future stars in the backstabbing western, Vera Cruz. The picture, co-produced by Burt Lancaster—as the first of three star vehicles created for him after his Oscar® nomination for his role in From Here To Eternity—pairs him with veteran Gary Cooper (whose name, incidentally, inspired the screen identity of one Archibald Alexander Leach, aka Cary Grant).
The American Civil War now over, an ex-Confederate soldier, Benjamin Trane (Cooper) wanders the west in search of a cause that pays. He stumbles across the sly Joe Erin (Lancaster), and buys a horse to replace his crippled mount. When a legion of Mexican soldiers approaches, Erin suggests the two make tracks, though Trane sees no need to run, until he learns he is now riding one of their horses. The army hot on their tails, they manage to escape, but Trane is shot off his horse, which presents the opportunity for Erin to relieve him of the rest of his gold. A bit of a trickster himself, Trane turns the tables and rides off on Erin's horse instead. He arrives in the nearby town where the locals recognize the beast and are about to take Trane to task for killing Erin, but the "dead man" makes a remarkable reappearance, just in the nick of time. Realizing his foe is one of his kind, he and the others gathered there team up, hearing that there is a profit to be made fighting for the Mexicans. However, their negotiations with Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero) is interrupted by the arrival of the Juaristas, the faction fighting against the army under Emperor Maximillan (George Macready). Through more cunning the desperados manage an escape, and make their way to the palace of the Emperor, who offers them a substantial reward for escorting the lovely Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) back to Vera Cruz, where she will set sail for France. As the convoy makes its way across the Juarista-protected route to Vera Cruz, Erin and Trane realize they are protecting more than a fine lady, and the bounty they uncover will lead to more double-crosses than you can shake a stick at.
Filmed on location in Mexico and shot in SuperScope by Ernest Laszlo (Judgement At Nuremburg, Logan's Run), Vera Cruz is a perfect highlight for Lancaster, as the ever grinning, black-clad outlaw out for no one but himself. Cooper holds up his role equally as the man with a conscience, easily bought out by gold. Watch for appearances by a number of now familiar faces: Ernest Borgnine as Donnegan; a young and almost unrecognizable Charles Bronson (Pittsburgh); Jack Elam as Tex and George Macready as Emperor Maximilian to name a few. Denise Darcel and Sara (as Sarita) Montiel, making her Hollywood debut, turn in fine performances as the two women fighting for the spoils. There is lots of action, alliances are tenuous and fleeting, and the prize is sweet—look for bold adventure on the Mexican outlands in Vera Cruz.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Although the cover states this is anamorphic 2:1, the image isn't this wide, though still wider than 1.85:1. We get real diversity in the image quality, ranging from reasonable to pretty lame. Unfortunately, the Technicolor sources they used for the transfer are pretty faded for the most part, resulting in off color and no real vibrancy - the opening credits, which I assume should feature brilliant red lettering against a green landscape, is instead orange over a greyish green. There are the usual print defects: scratches, dust and dirt, though not constantly. Additionally, a few scenes have frames either missing or damaged here and there. The most disappointing problem is that we have basically three different qualities to the source: what looks like an extremely grainy 16mm print, which gives many scenes an almost abstract, painted look due to the lack of detail; a high contrast, over sharpened image, lacking in any shadow detail yet with excessive grain; and a soft and subpar, yet presentable image. These are intercut shot by shot, giving a distractingly uneven look to the film. While far from unwatchable, it is also far from desirable in terms of overall visual quality.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is serviceable, though not surprisingly, lacking in frequency and dynamic range. The looped dialogue seems out of sync at times, and some, especially Burt Lancaster's part, sounds hollow with an unnatural ambience, though I assume that this is source related. French and Spanish tracks are also available.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The film's full frame trailer is the only extra, and it is in pretty rough shape. The insert duplicates the cover art, with a chapter listing on the reverse. While the film may not be preserved very well, the package is well sealed for your protection.
This disc will not play on a Mac.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThe movie is great, but the presentation is not. This one needs some serious restoration before I could recommend a purchase. Extremely disappointing, though worth a rental for the fine performances.
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