Vera Cruz (1954)

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Released 8-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 89:52
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:46) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Aldrich
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Gary Cooper
Burt Lancaster
Denise Darcel
Cesar Romero
George MacReady
Ernest Borgnine
Sarita Montiel
Case DV-4
RPI $36.95 Music Hugo Friedhofer


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.00:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.00:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Magnificent Seven (see my review here) nearly didn't get made, for several reasons. It barely escaped a big actor's strike. It survived some major personality clashes, and actions in court. And then, when they got down into Mexico, they ran into problems with the Mexican authorities. They had to suffer a Mexican censor who was very strict about how they could portray the Mexicans - the villagers could not be shown as dirty, for example. Why? Because the Mexicans had had a very bad experience with the previous film made by Hollywood in Mexico - Vera Cruz. As you can imagine, this piqued my curiosity.  

    Vera Cruz is a simple enough story. It is set in a period immediately after the US Civil War, during the Mexican War of Independence. (We don't get to hear much about the Mexican War of Independence - I guess it is not an appealing subject for Hollywood.) The central pair of characters are a disreputable gunman (played by Burt Lancaster, who looks filthy throughout the film, but with gleaming white teeth), and a Southern gentleman (played by Gary Cooper, looking almost exactly as he does in High Noon). Both have journeyed south into Mexico, ostensibly to seek work fighting in the war on one side or the other. Both are extremely good with a gun. They decide to side with the Emperor Maximilian after a minor confrontation with General Ramirez (a rebel leader). In the Emperor's palace, there is an amusing contretemps between the haughty captain of lancers and the uncouth Burt Lancaster. Gary Cooper's charming manners soothe things somewhat. After demonstrating the capabilities of their Winchester rifles, they are hired to escort a carriage containing a countess to the coast, to a garrison at Vera Cruz. It becomes clear that there is more to this than appears on the surface - the carriage contains gold as well as the Countess. The double-dealing and treachery is extensive.

    It is interesting to see Ernest Borgnine in a supporting role, and Cesar Romero as the Marquis. Charles Bronson, under the name Charles Buchinsky, plays another member of the group.

    It is easy enough to see what upset the Mexicans. They are not portrayed very favourably, acting more as cannon-fodder for the European aristocracy and US gunmen. The government is portrayed as corrupt and manipulative. There is an unpleasant scene where a sniper is captured and played with by lancers. And it is stated that picking pockets is rife, and almost respectable, in Mexico. But it is possible to look past that (not denying that it exists), and appreciate the story, such as it is.

    In a way, I see this movie as similar to The Maltese Falcon - in both movies we have several parties, forced by circumstance to work together, but none trusting any other, and all looking for a chance to betray another to their advantage. Gary Cooper plays a part not unlike Bogart's, as a hard man, speaking only of his own advantage, but apparently driven by other motives as well.

    This is an entertaining film, even if much of what happens is rather predictable. Some of the enjoyment lies in the subtle nuances in how it happens. If you enjoy a good Western, or even a good drama, then you may enjoy this film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.98:1. As far as I can discover, that is the original ratio - it is an unusual one.

    The image is of variable sharpness, with longer shots softer than close-ups, but it is not hard to look at. There is one shot in the final assault which is distinctly out of focus. Shadow detail is limited. There is little or no low level noise.

    Colour is clear and fairly strong, which is not unusual for a film shot in Technicolor. As is usual for Technicolor, blue eyes come out looking a strangely vivid blue. The colours may not be completely accurate, but they are acceptable. There are a couple of scenes (particularly one close-up with the Countess) that look as if they were shot with a different film stock; it is a little jarring.

    There are lots and lots of film artefacts. We get a full catalogue: white flecks, black dots, even some white streaks (scratches?) over a couple of frames at 2:34, a dark streak at 7:24, and a tear in the film at 32:18 (extending about a third of the way across the frame). There are reel change markings, too, indicating that this transfer was taken from a screen print. There is no aliasing, mainly because of the softness. There is quite noticeable shimmer or "mosquito noise" on most backgrounds, though. There are no other MPEG artefacts.

    There are subtitles in nine languages, plus captions in English and German. The subtitles are presented in white with a black border, in a simple sans serif font. Easy enough to read, even though they are placed on the picture, and not in the bar below.

    The disc is single-sided and dual-layered. I'm surprised to see a layer change in a film that's less that 90 minutes in length with only a trailer as an extra. The layer change is to be found at 64:46, in a fade between scenes. On one player it was nearly invisible. On another, it is more obvious, but still acceptable.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    According to the cover of this disc, there is only one soundtrack: English in mono. Yet the first thing you see on inserting the disc is a language menu, offering English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish - all of those languages are provided, and the menu is translated into them, too. Admittedly, they are all mono, but you could hardly expect otherwise for a Western from 1954.

    Dialogue is fairly clear despite a plethora of accents. The occasional word is difficult to make out. I saw a moment or two with slight audio sync problems, but I suspect that to be the fault of the ADR work, rather than an issue in the transfer.

    The score is unsurprising, even clichéd in places. Hugo Friedhofer can't claim this to be a triumph, but it does its job. 

    The surrounds and subwoofer are not used by this soundtrack. In fact, this movie supports the argument that you should spend a decent proportion of your speaker budget on your centre channel speaker, because that's all you'll be listening to during this movie.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The main menu is static and silent - very simple, but functional.

Theatrical Trailer (2:43)

    This is a lovely example of how they made trailers back in the 50s: lots of hyperbole, big statements splashed across the screen. Entertaining to look at. The quality is noticeably worse than the movie.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as we can ascertain, the features of the Region 1 and Region 4 discs are the same.

Summary

    Despite its flaws, Vera Cruz is an entertaining Western, presented on DVD in what is probably the best condition we can expect.

    The video quality is not wonderful, but it is nearly fifty years old.

    The audio quality is reasonable.

    The extra is basic.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Friday, October 12, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDArcam DV88, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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