They Came to Cordura [1959]

Director: Robert Rossen
Actors: Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte
Runtime: 123 minutes

Gary Cooper's forte--the searching, lone figure beleaguered by conflicts over conscience, truth, and ethics--followed him all the way to the ambitious They Came to Cordura, his third-to-last feature. Cooper plays Thomas Thorn, a career officer in America's fading horse Army of the early 20th century. Thorn's alleged cowardice in battle has been papered over by superiors: He is to identify acts of bravery during an attack on Pancho Villa's troops and lead those designated heroes to a Medal of Honor ceremony in Cordura, Texas. Though Thorn tries to extract the secret behind courage from each man, he discovers a battle-hardened, bestial side to them as well. The Cordura journey becomes fraught with mutiny and near-assaults on a Yankee expatriate (Rita Hayworth). Thorn, reputation aside, redefines courage on his own terms. This widescreen drama (the DVD offers full-screen format as well) is suspenseful, morally complex, and visually rich, but Cooper's performance carries the day. --Tom Keogh

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