This broadly played, action-packed western teams Cooper and Lancaster as two American soldiers of fortune on a foray into Mexico during the revolution of 1866. Cooper, a former Confederate major, and Lancaster, a constantly grinning outlaw, leave the US in search of mercenary work. It
doesn't matter to them which side they fight for, as long as it pays better than the other. In Mexico they meet a beautiful young girl, Montiel, who falls for Cooper and begs him and his partner to fight for Juarez and the revolutionaries. The American gunslingers are tugged in the opposite
direction by Romero, a supporter of Maximilian, who offers them huge sums of cash. While mulling the offers over, Cooper and Lancaster encounter Darcel, a seductive and extremely rich countess who asks them to escort her while she transports a gold shipment from Mexico City to Maximilian's forces
in Vera Cruz. The men agree and quickly assemble a motley crew of gunfighters and government regulars to accompany them through the rough territory. On the trail, the wily Darcel suggests that they steal the gold and split it three ways. The Americans agree to the plan, with each suspecting the
other of planning double crosses. Maximilian loyalist Romero discovers the plot and takes off with the gold to make sure it gets delivered. The Americans chase Romero to the fort in Vera Cruz, and after a bloody battle, Lancaster manages to get his hands on the gold. Cooper, however, has had a
change of heart due to Montiel's revolutionary fervor, and demands Lancaster hand over the gold to Juarez's forces. Lancaster doesn't buy Cooper's commitment to the revolution and refuses to release the gold. Cooper is forced to kill Lancaster in a showdown and then gives the gold to Montiel.
The film is directed with an emphasis on action by Aldrich (who had just guided Lancaster through APACHE the year before), and most of the actors in VERA CRUZ are allowed to ham it up quite a bit. For contrast there is Cooper, forever the tight-lipped, serious professional wary of those around
him, especially Lancaster's grinning gunman. The film was produced by Lancaster's own company on a budget of $1.7 million and became quite a hit, grossing more than $11 million worldwide, though critical opinion at the time was extremely negative. Lancaster gladly gave top billing to Cooper, well
aware of the older actor's box-office pull. As is typical with director Aldrich's work, the violence is well staged and frequent, going a bit overboard at times specifically with regard to Darcel, who is shown being slapped and knocked about by Lancaster more than once. Aldrich and Lancaster would
collaborate again in the 1970s with ULZANA'S RAID and TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING.
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