Robert Aldrich’s VERA CRUZ is essential a heist caper set in Mexico during the rule of Emperor Maximillian I. Starring Gary Cooper as a defeated Confederate Colonel and Burt Lancaster as a degenerate gunslinger, the movie rehabs the defeated racist’s noble cause.
The two lousy Americans are hired by the Royal Court to act as mercenary protection for a Countess’ convoy to the port city of Veracruz. But along the way they discover that the Countess’ coach is loaded with gold being smuggled out of the country. Plots are hatched. Double crosses are interwoven as the gold and the plots are known to all greedy scammers.
The movie ends in a prolonged ambush/shootout that was copied by Peckinpah for THE WILD BUNCH – namely the Gatling gun turned on the entire Mexican army. In addition, the final standoff between Cooper and Lancaster is slightly silly.
The biggest problem with the movie is the Cooper character. He is down in Mexico because he lost everything in the Civil War. He is hoping to make his fortune back to rebuild his plantation – slaves excluded, but one never knows. But he has a soft spot for the Mexican rebels. The audience is asked to forget the racist cause of the Civil War and accept that all rebellions are morally equal. Of course, that is hogwash. And the fact the Cooper leaves the gold with “the people” has more to do with hot ladies than it does with lost causes.