At Loew's State
Just as sitting-rooms are sometimes decorated to bring out the quality of a central picture or object d'art, Vera Cruz seems to have been filmed to highlight the brilliance of Burt Lancaster's teeth. At any rate, they are good-looking teeth.
Despite his blinding smile, Lancaster does not try to deceive anyone about the black heart in his breast. Quite the contrary; he and Gary Cooper spend most of the movie trying to prove that each is a dirtier guy than the other. But they so obviously relish their parts as bad men that the intended touches of the sinister and sadistic fall to the level of good, wholesome farce. Even when a renegade American brandishes a broken whiskey bottle in Cooper's face and growls, "My father always said the bottle could ruin a man," an aura of good-natured jollity pervades the film. The cockles of the heart warm perceptibly when Lancaster's vicious cut-throats drag a group of innocent children into a building as hostages.
All this amiable villainy centers around a red coach containing both three million dollars in gold and Denise Darcel. The gold, which the Mexican Emperor Maximillian is sending to Paris, has various attractions. It could help the patriotic Mexican rebels overthrow foreign dictatorship, it could help Cooper rebuild his southern plantation which was ruined in the Civil War, it could help Miss Darcel deck herself out in greater finery, and it could help Lancaster to be a bigger and better stinker. With so many unscrupulous scoundrels around, there is some difficulty finding anyone who really deserves the money.
While this problem is being resolved there is a good deal of brawling, shooting out of candles, slapping up of Miss Darcel, and smiling by Lancaster--all designed to keep the viewer happy. Since the moral and psychological implications of the picture are almost nil, there are very few of those annoying expository speeches. When they occur they are usually couched in reference to a paragon of ruthlessness named Acc Hanna, whom Lancaster shot to death long before the start of the movie in return for various favors.
Gary Cooper withholds comment on Hanna's fate, and pouts enigmatically to the climax, when he and his partner face each other across the dusty expanse of a SuperScope screen, hands clawing expectantly over their holsters.
After a couple of gunshots the happy ending takes place, and Vera Cruss fulfills its promise of saying very little, in a very entertaining fashion. Lancaster's attire and general behavior make the film's ludicrous violence worthwhile, and without giving away the secret ending--he gets the last grin.