vera cruz (1954)
Within a few short years in the mid 1950's, Robert Aldrich directed a crop of exceptional genre pictures which kicked-off with 1954's western Vera Cruz. The picture is a high achievement of the genre and the era and is yet another Gary Cooper picture that sees the downtrodden American hero in a sea of moral corruption. Vera Cruz paints a world where loyalty and honor are weakness, the journey is of Cooper, as a plantation owner ruined by the fall of the Confederacy in the American civil war, returning to his core values, inspired by the Juaristas in the Franco-Mexican wars. Aldrich excels at balancing the narrative and especially with turning any simple moment into a set piece. This is the cinematic western in some of its finest moments and elements, a harder edge than Ford without delving into ultra violence of the subsequent decade's spaghetti iterations. Aldrich is able to fill the picture with a strong and potent punch without resorting to obvious elements for his effect, rather maintaining his narrative power on solid construction alone. As the alliances volley between our wide cast of characters, the narrative weaves itself from one high point to another, double-crossings abound and Aldrich keeps us steady all the way.