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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Columbia Record Spends For A Desert Trek


Gary Cooper Seeks Heroes in They Came To Cordura (1959)

A Rare and Unretouched Proof with Guide Markings For Touch-Up 
Damned by traditionalists and auteurism, being not straight western enough, and directed by Robert Rossen, who doesn't wear well among scholarship. Cult-chooser Andrew Sarris thought little of him, Rossen bearing brunt of Communist Party membership, then giving names once unmasked. His output was uneven and he died soon after two good ones (The Hustler and Lilith) that might have meant career resurgence. Cordura was a rock in Rossen's shoe for desire on his part to rework the negative after Columbia released what he called ruination of a script he co-wrote and direction to which he gave lifeblood. The source novel had been bought for $250K and budget was a highest Columbia had yet committed to, producing William Goetz assembling the package with talent thought to appeal across audience boards. In short, a sure thing, which They Came To Cordura didn't turn out being, but it's by no means so weak as obscurity since 1959 would suggest.


Partnering with Goetz was Gary Cooper's company, Baroda; they'd share ownership of the negative, which Columbia got later for purpose of TV and ancillary  distribution. Cooper had suffered lots of late in downer pics like Ten North Frederick and Man Of The West, so further heavy dosage may have been ill-advised. It was antidote to see him play the clown on free-vee to promote these sufferers. There's no arguing that Cooper was doing some of best acting of his life in autumnal projects, but few were paying out and Baroda wasn't in it for art. Virtually every inch of Cordura was shot outdoors on Nevada and Utah location. Action was concentrated in a first act and done by a second unit, with the rest a plod across desert where much bad character is revealed among the ensemble.


The set-up is Cooper's branded coward having to escort heroes he's selected for decoration, gag being that each are venal, with Coop the real deal re bravery, an expected sort-out by the late 50's where frontier convention was regularly upended. They Came To Cordura is much the kind of show we'd get ten years later when H'wood was really sour on heroes as defined by classical filmmaking. Minus the date and knowledge of Cooper's death in 1961, you could almost pass this off as Vietnam-era revisionism. Cordura would make for worthwhile co-billing with The Wild Bunch, their historical settings parallel, and some of same ideas floated. What wounds They Came To Cordura is deterioration of the Eastman negative, a curse visited on other Columbias of the period including several of the Scott/Boetticher westerns. Day-for-night footage, which accounts for a third of They Came To Cordura, has virtually no contrast left, even in HD. It's like watching the most degraded portions of Ride Lonesome, and there doesn't appear to be anything that can be done about it.

1 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The status of obscurity is a wrong. This movie played a lot on television for years and it was among the very first available on VHS. Critical reaction is another thing, specially today when mediocrities are frequently praised. I have no idea how the film could have improve reediting the original negative as it seems it was Rossen intentions. But if that footage does exists, that is more obscure than the stupid and incompetent and irrelevant writings about this film.

11:35 AM  

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