Cannon For Cordoba (1970)
For this Mirisch Company Production, George Peppard and his trusty cigar, take center stage in what amounts to a western variation on The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch and maybe even The Professionals all rolled into one action packed western. Directed by Paul Wendkos and scored by Elmer Bernstein, the film is long on action and short on plot and at times, that’s just what I’m looking for.
The year is 1912. John Russell stars as General “Black” Jack Pershing along the U.S. / Mexico border. In his command is Peppard. An officer who has his own set of rules and a ragtag group of non-conformist mercenaries under his own command. Among them Don Gordon and Pete Duel. Currently heading up the Revolution just across the border is General Raf Vallone. In his employ is the sadistic Hans Meyer handling all of Vallone’s dirty work.
Russell wants information and sends Peppard and his men down into Vallone’s territory incognito. Peppard’s orders are for him and his men to sign on as mercenaries to Vallone’s cause. There’s far too much plot jammed into the first twenty odd minutes leaving me thinking that plenty of footage was either cut or pages in the script were condensed to keep the budget in line.
Here we go ….. Gordon’s brother is sent ahead of Peppard’s platoon. He’s brutally tortured at the hands of Meyer as Peppard and company watch. Gordon swears he’ll kill Peppard after the mission is completed. Vallone hires them on. His goal is to ride north of the border and steal 6 large cannons from Russell’s army. Peppard is to see that a trap is set so Russell’s troop can bring an end to Vallone’s tyranny on U.S. soil without causing an international incident. Nothing goes right and Vallone gets away with the cannons while Peppard and company are left behind with plenty of explosions and bodies lying about amidst the gunplay.
And again, this is all in what amounts to the first chapter!
For the remaining hour plus we’re treated to Peppard ordered back to Vallone’s fortress, destroy the guns and bring Vallone back alive to face a military tribunal and hung all nice and legal like. So now the film turns into the men on a mission style I referenced in the opening stanza above. On the ride south of the border the gang will have to contend with John Larch who rarely plays nice on camera, an assigned officer of Mexico they don’t trust played by Gabriele Tinti and a sexy Giovanna Ralli who is willing to commit both her body and soul to take down Vallone who had her Father murdered during his rise to prominence.
The last chapter of the film is an explosive display of guns, blood and death that if truth be told needed a surer hand behind the camera for the action sequences when comparing to other westerns of the era from the likes of Peckinpah and Aldrich or even Corbucci to name a few. I mention Sergio Corbucci because there is a certain amount of “spaghetti” feel to this filmed in Spain effort. With character actor and spaghetti western favorite Aldo Sambrell turning up that’s an easy connection to make. Corbucci had done The Mercenary which involved Mexico, the revolution and had starred Miss Ralli alongside Franco Nero in that one. Perhaps he was too busy directing 1970’s Companeros anyway. Another south of the border revolution picture.
Director Wendkos was at this point in his career specializing in these men on a mission flicks. Mainly of the “B” variety. He’d just done Attack on the Iron Coast (1968), Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969) and Hell Boats released the same year as Cordoba. In between the two theatrical flicks he also directed a noteworthy Glenn Ford TV movie of the week titled, Brotherhood of the Bell, that I’d love to see again. Wendkos spent much of his time in television. He graduated from 60’s shows like The Untouchables and The Invaders to a brief run of theatrical releases mentioned above before settling back into TV movies of the week in the 70’s and 80’s.
Leading man, George Peppard, is in fine form in a genre that he seemed very comfortable in by this point in his career. Surprising considering this was only his third western by my count since his film debut in 1957’s The Strange One. His first appearance in a western was 1962’s How The West Was Won. A big budget saga that saw him playing the central role for the latter half alongside Debbie Reynolds. His only other western was Rough Night In Jericho released in 1967. He’d follow Cordoba with another oater, One More Train to Rob, released the following year. The balance of the 70’s were a mixed bag for the underappreciated Peppard (in my mind) until he struck gold with his familiar cigar as the leader of The A Team.
By no means a classic and in need of a stronger supporting cast for Peppard’s mercenaries, this one is easy to recommend purely for the George Peppard factor. He’s grinning when need be with his tongue firmly planted in cheek while visiting a cathouse yet when the chips are down, he commands the screen with a tough guy presence. Makes me wish we’d have seen him make more westerns at a time when he could have made a difference for the fading genre.
A first time viewing for me, Cannon For Cordoba was recently put out on blu ray thanks to Kino Lorber. No they didn’t release a reprint of the original artwork to go with it on a 27 by 41 inch poster. You’ll have to find an authentic 1970 original if you want one. And remember if it isn’t folded it’s probably not an original.