Friday, August 24, 2012

Cannon for Cordoba (1970)

          Even though it suffers from a muddy screenplay, the sweaty Western Cannon for Cordoba boasts a brisk pace and impressive production values. Another entry in the seemingly endless cycle of action pictures set during the Mexican revolution, the picture begins when ruthless Mexican general Cordoba (Raf Vallone) assaults a U.S. Army train and steals six cannons from troops led by U.S. General John J. Pershing (John Russell). Determined to reclaim the weapons, Pershing enlists maverick officer Captain Rod Douglas (George Peppard) to lead an undercover assault on Cordoba’s fortress. In the course of doing his job, Douglas gets into a romantic hassle with a sexy Mexican double agent (Giovanna Ralli) and alienates his hot-tempered second-in-command (Don Gordon).
          Despite telling a simple story, Cannon for Cordoba feels needlessly complicated, because Stephen Kandel’s script fails to sufficiently differentiate characters and explain motivations; furthermore, the scene that really gets the story moving, in which Douglas receives his orders from Pershing, doesn’t happen until the half-hour mark. That said, Cannon for Cordoba delivers the goods in nearly every other way. The action scenes are tense and violent, with an exciting mixture of close-quarters combat and big-canvas warfare (people get beaten, blown up, shot, stabbed, thrown off high ledges, and so on).
          The movie also looks and sounds fantastic. Cinematographer Antonio Macasoli emulates the look that famed DP Conrad Hall brought to a better picture with similar themes, The Professionals (1966), so the imagery in Cannon for Cordoba is sharp, textured, and vibrant. The music score thunders along nicely, since the producers hired Elmer Bernstein to give this movie the same gallop Bernstein provided for the Magnificent Seven pictures.
          Alas, Cannon for Cordoba cannot boast star power equal to that found in any of the movies it emulates. None of the supporting actors makes much an impression, and Peppard is merely okay, though he seethes with a suitable mixture of contempt and malice. Yet his chilly characterization doesn’t inspire a rooting interest, and there’s not enough humor to leaven his solemnity, which makes Cannon for Cordoba grim when glib might have been the better tonal choice. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Cannon for Cordoba: FUNKY

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