Katie-Bar-The-Door is out of town this weekend, so last night the Monkey sat on the couch with the dog and box of ginger snaps and watched They Came To Cordura, a mediocre late-50s western starring Gary Cooper as a coward ironically put in charge of making Medal of Honor recommendations during America's little-remembered invasion of Mexico in 1916.
Because America will need live heroes to pimp for the coming world war, Cooper is charged with escorting the Medal nominees back to base, giving him a perfect opportunity to quiz each man on the essential nature of courage and to marinate in his own lack thereof. Unfortunately, the nominees aren't really heroes, just deeply (deeply!) flawed men who happened to have had one reflexive moment of extraordinary valor. Given ample opportunity to demonstrate their true nature, they talk-talk-whine gripe-carp-moan all the way home while the supposed-coward Cooper shows them what real men are all about.
Sort of a Red Badge of Courage for people who wished that classic novel had fewer battle scenes and more ham-handed philosophical discussions.
The main attraction of this film for me was its setting. My late father-in-law was pals with John Eisenhower who wrote a series of books about U.S.-Mexican relations including one, Intervention!, about the time Black Jack Pershing, his cavalry aide George S. Patton and half the U.S. Army chased Pancho Villa around the mountains of northern Mexico. Eisenhower sent me a copy of the book, wrote a nice note, and I've since become something of a nut for the subject. The movie doesn't have much to say about that farcical episode in American history, but there are a few location shots and when Cooper mentioned hiding in a railroad ditch in Columbus, New Mexico, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
So in a sense, this review is really about me. As is everything I write.
Also starring Rita Hayworth and Van Heflin.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5.
Trivia note: It was during the filming of this movie that Dick York of Bewitched fame severely injured his back leading to a lifetime of pain and addiction that cut short his career.
Some attribute the quote to Preacher Roe, a major league pitcher from 1938 to 1954. Ian Matthews released an album by that title in 1974. Sam Elliott quotes it to great effect in 1998's The Big Lebowski.
Personally, I think it was William Faulkner in an early draft of his short story "The Bear." If it wasn't, it should have been.
Which reminds me of an article Ken Ringle wrote for the Washington Post many years ago, recalling his days as a graduate student in Faulkner's class:
We would sit there gaping, wracking our under-booked brains for some question that wouldn’t make us look stupid.
“Mr. Faulkner, in your short story ‘The Bear,’ do you consider the bear a positive nature symbol or a negative nature symbol or a symbol both positive and negative like the white whale in Moby-Dick?”
“Oh,” he’d eventually say in his thin, reedy voice, after puffing on his pipe long enough to raise the suspense: “That’s just a story about a bear.”
On this day 200 years ago, during Britain's failed assault on Baltimore, Francis Scott Key looked out from his vantage point in the harbor and saw that the Star Spangled Banner was still flying over Fort McHenry, inspiring him to write what became our national anthem.
Katie-Bar-The-Door and I went to the anniversary celebration this morning. Some pictures.
By the way, the flag is the copy area quilters, including Katie, worked on last year. They used the same materials and techniques that Mary Young Pickersgill used in 1813. The flag is 30 feet by 42 feet. Each star is two feet across. To give you some perspective, the little flag flying with it in this shot is the same size you'd fly on your front porch at home.
One day I'll tell you the story about how in July 1969, my parents went on vacation in Hawaii and left their space nut son (i.e., me, the Monkey, your faithful correspondent) and his brother at the house of the least-imaginative woman on the planet, and how after begrudging us five minutes of all that nonsense on the moon, she put us to bed and I missed the rest of what I still consider the most transcendent historical event of my lifetime.
Forty-five years to the day, I'm still bitter and twisted. But I won't go into it now.
Named for Katie-Bar-The-Door, the Katies are "alternate Oscars"—who should have been nominated, who should have won—but really they're just an excuse to write a history of the movies from the Silent Era to the present day.
To see a list of nominees and winners by decade, as well as links to my essays about them, click the highlighted links:
Look at me—Joe College, with a touch of arthritis. Are my eyes really brown? Uh, no, they're green. Would we have the nerve to dive into the icy water and save a person from drowning? That's a key question. I, of course, can't swim, so I never have to face it. Say, haven't you anything better to do than to keep popping in here early every morning and asking a lot of fool questions?