Double Crossing Cowboys, Countesses and Chiquitas
With a cast lead by Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster there is plenty which is great about 50s western "Vera Cruz" and by no means is it a run of the mill western. The basic storyline for a start which sees a hero and anti-hero join forces makes for a playful little drama full of double crosses and not just between them as we have further treachery from attractive women and gang members. In fact pretty much the whole of "Vera Cruz" is about double crosses which in itself makes it different to the norm. But then we also have style and whilst there are moments where it seems quite routine we then get some very special looking scenes with clever choices of camera angle which is why "Vera Cruz" is often regarded as a movie which influenced Spaghetti Westerns. All of this is why "Vera Cruz" is a western which commands your attention as it serves up this wonderful mixture of double crosses and style.
Following the American Civil War, gentleman and former soldier Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper - Blowing Wild) finds himself double crossed by hired gun Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster - Ten Tall Men) when he buys a horse from him and immediately finds himself being chased by soldiers as the horse is stolen. It leads to Ben and Joe becoming unlikely partners accompanied by Joe's gang when they agree to escort the Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) to Vera Cruz. But on discovering the stagecoach which the Countess is travelling in is carrying a hidden $3,000,000 they come up with a plan to steal it although can they trust each other and can they trust either the countess, Joe's gang or pretty Mexican Nina (Sara Montiel - Run of the Arrow) who is travelling with them.
So first things first and one of the joys of "Vera Cruz" is that it isn't just another movie which reuses a familiar storyline. We may have this story of Ben and Joe escorting a stagecoach to defend it against Mexican rebels but that is certainly not the real story. The real story is all about double crosses which it sets up early as Joe double crosses Ben by selling him a stolen horse and a little further along Ben double crosses Joe by stealing his horse. Those scenes are important because not only does it set up Ben as a hero and Joe as an anti-hero it also sets up the atmosphere of playful mistrust between the chalk n cheese men.
So as mentioned "Vera Cruz" becomes a movie all about double crosses and whilst Ben and Joe are at the centre of it with both playing each other along whilst also having their own plans we have other double crosses. Now it never gets complex by any means just this playful western drama where between the shoot outs we have a lot of nefarious people from Countesses to pretty Mexican girls. And the joy of this is that you are never really sure who will come out of it a winner if anyone will when it comes to the money.
Now much of this works because of the chalk n cheese characters which Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster play. As Ben, Gary Cooper gives us are hero, are good guy who whilst not averse to a double cross is only to deal with being double crossed himself but because he is such a good guy you do wonder whether there is a twist in the tale. This is heightened by the fact Burt Lancaster plays such a cocky bad guy as Joe, grinning his way through the entire movie with a look on his face which suggests that whilst he likes Ben he is not averse to killing him when the time comes. It is such a full on performance from Lancaster that whilst Cooper does nothing wrong he is acted off the screen as are the likes of Cesar Romero and Sara Montiel.
But the thing about "Vera Cruz" is that whilst all of the above makes it a better than average western what makes it stand out is the style. Now whilst there is plenty of impressive action much of it is filmed in quite a standard way yet then when we get the one on ones between Cooper and Lancaster we get style. It is all about the camera angle, a shot aimed upwards so that one of them is framed by the blue sky or a 360 degree shot as if we are looking over the head of Joe makes it a movie which pushes the look to be different. And it is why "Vera Cruz" is known as one of the movies which would influence Spaghetti westerns with some nice use of off centre close ups.
What this all boils down to is that "Vera Cruz" is not just a good western but a standout one with a different storyline and some different styles to make it feel original. It also features two good performances from Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster with Lancaster commanding your attention with his nefarious Cheshire cat grin.