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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
They Came to Cordura (1959)

"Lady, you're definitely much too logical for a woman."
- Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: July 28, 2004

Stars: Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth
Other Stars: Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, Dick York, Robert Keith
Director: Robert Rossen

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, scenes of sexual suggestion)
Run Time: 02h:03m:15s
Release Date: July 27, 2004
UPC: 043396078765
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

"The brave person is unperturbed, as far as a human being can be. Hence, though he will fear even the sorts of things that are not irresistible, he will stand firm against them, in the right way, as reason prescribes, for the sake of the fine, since this is the end aimed at by virtue." -Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics

This quote of Aristotle's may be the best definition of a brave person ever given, but it does not answer the question: what makes someone a hero? Why is it that he is unperturbed? Such questions are the subject of They Came to Cordura, a striking western from Robert Rossen (the man who gave us All the King's Men and The Hustler). Rossen not only focuses on heroes, but on the hero's natural counterpart: the coward.

Set in 1916, They Came to Cordura begins with the U.S. Army sending an expedition cavalry force into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa after he launched a surprise attack on Columbus, New Mexico. Major Thomas Horn (played by the screen's iconic hero, Gary Cooper) survived the attack on Columbus, but he harbors a dark secret about his conduct during the attack. His superior, Colonel Rogers (Robert Keith), has covered up Thorn's behavior and given him the job of recommending soldiers for decoration. Thorn takes this duty seriously, because the country will soon need heroes when the U.S. enters into World War I.

Eventually the U.S. Cavalry corners Villa's troops at a ranch, whose operator is American expatriate Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth). Col. Rogers leads the charge and thanks to the heroic deeds of four soldiers—Lt. Fowler (Tab Hunter), Sgt. Chawk (Van Heflin), Cpl. Trubee (Richard Conte), and Pvt. Renziehausen (Dick York)—it is a success. However, the charge was a reckless maneuver and Thorn refuses to recommend Rogers for a promotion. Angrily, Rogers orders Thorn to take the four heroes (whom Thorn plans to recommend for the Medal of Honor), a hero from the Columbus attack (Pvt. Hetherington, played by Michael Callan), and the newly imprisoned Adelaide Geary to the Army's base in Cordura, Texas.

The seven people begin their journey across the desert, gorgeously photographed by Burnett Guffey, as a cohesive whole. Thorn aims to deliver all the men to Cordura, so they can be examples for the thousands of soldiers that will soon sit in the dark trenches of Europe. Initially he refuses to tell them that they will be nominated for the Medal of Honor, because he wants to learn what it is that makes them heroes. The script, written by Rossen and Ivan Moffat from a novel by Glendon Swarthout, does not offer easy answers to the questions posed by Thorn. None of the men gives a coherent answer, and what little they do say to Thorn is normally forced upon them by their commanding officer.

Despite the heroic deeds in battle of these men, they prove themselves to be vile creatures. Chawk and Trubee resent Adelaide and eventually their umbrage leads to lust; Thorn defends Adelaide and punishes the men for an attempted rape. As the convoy continues onward, the men turn on Thorn. Chawk intends to kill him when the opportunity arises, and it raises the question: are these men truly heroes? Can one act of bravery make a man a hero, or is there something more? Many films have asked these same questions, but none treat them with as much intelligence as They Came to Cordura does. There is a scene in which Thorn and Adelaide discuss these issues; initially, it sounds as if Adelaide's dialogue is the message of the film, but then Thorn responds and a whole new dimension is opened up that forces the viewer to think, even after the film has ended.

The casting is perfect here, with Cooper bringing his Quiet Man persona, the anchor on which the film rests. Equally impressive are Hayworth, who abandons her trademark glamour for a performance full of despair, and Heflin, who brings a despicable quality to Sgt. Chawk. Rossen's casting is as purposeful as his plotting, which brilliantly presents the harshness of the desert through editing, score, and cinematography (though the day-for-night photography is not always successful). In making a film that examines the nature of heroism, Rossen proves himself to be a hero of sorts. Instead of delivering a flag waving, Americana western, Rossen truly delves into the genre in a way that a lesser director would be afraid to. By film's end it isn't clear that any of the characters are heroes and it's even less clear if any of them are cowards. From a filmmaking standpoint, that is an act of incredible bravery.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationoyes

Image Transfer Review: For this DVD release Columbia TriStar has provided both a pan-and-scan transfer and an anamorphic widescreen transfer on a DVD-18 disc. The widescreen presentation preserves the film's original ratio of 2.35:1 with noticeable flaws in the print. Grain, mosquito noise, and print defects are constant throughout but the image looks film-like. Depth is well maintained and skintones are accurate. Detail is strong at times, such as in the raid on the ranch, and weak at others, such as during night scenes. The beauty of Burnett Guffey's cinematography is recognizable, but not realized. Fans of film should not bother with the pan-and-scan transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in Dolby Stereo 2.0, They Came to Cordura sounds respectable. The mix is based entirely in the front soundstage with no noticeable sound separation. Dialogue is clear and the score comes across nicely. The battle scenes do not offer the excitement of other mixes, but this mix gets the job done. It would be nice to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but this is a more accurate presentation of the film's original soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cowboy, Gilda, Silverado: Special Collector's Edition Video and DVD
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extras Review: There is little in the way of supplemental material on this disc, with only three theatrical trailers being provided. First is Cowboy, starring Glenn Ford and Jack Lemon, next is Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, and Silverado: Special Collector's Edition Video and DVD, starring Kevin Kline, rounds out the trio. Each is presented in 1.33:1 with Dolby Stereo surround. The three trailers play consecutively and are not particularly interesting.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

They Came to Cordura is a forgotten film from maverick director Robert Rossen. Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth turn in some of their finest work in this intelligent, provocative western. The transfer and sound on this DVD are not impressive, but are not distracting either. The only real complaint with this release is the lack of decent extras.


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