Cannon for Cordoba (1970)

 

 

 

Director:    Paul Wendkos.

Starring:    George Peppard (Capt. Rod Douglas),  Giovanna Ralli (Leonora),  Raf Vallone (Cordoba),  Pete Duel (Andy Rice),  Don Gordon (Jackson Harkness),  Nico Minardos (Peter),  Gabriele Tinti (Antonio),  John Larch (Warner),  Francine York (Sophia),  John Russell (John J. Pershing),  Lionel Murton (Colonel Hammond),  Hans Meyer (Major Svedborg),  Richard Pendrey (Adam),  Takis Emmanuel (Campo).

Around 1912  -- chasing Mexican bandits on the Texas border.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In 1912 the border between Texas and Mexico was aflame with the raids of the Mexican bandit hordes who called themselves revolutionaries.  To combat them, the American government dispatched Gen. John J. (Blackjack) Pershing to deal with the bandit raider, one of the most dangerous of who was Gen. Hector Cordoba!"

Soldiers are waiting to get on the train to try to catch General Cordoba.  Captain Riggs tries to give Captain Rod Douglas's men orders, but they won't obey.  Rod says his men only obey him.  His men don't drill, don't salute and don't work. 

The train moves out.  Major Svedborg, a sadist kicked out of Sweden, confers with Cordoba on a hill.  On the train there are six field pieces, enough fire power to blow a town apart.  Cordoba says he wants those guns. 

Douglas, Jackson and Jackson's brother change into civilian dress.  ackson and Douglas split off from Jackson's brother. Bringing a bunch of new recruits in for Cordoba Douglas and Jackson meet with Cordoba himself.  At the place the people are having a big celebration and making a lot of noise.  Currently they are torturing a prisoner.  The unfortunate man is hanging upside down over a fire being swayed back and forth through it.  Jackson realizes it's his brother.  Jackson is going to try to save his brother, but Douglas stops him.  The brother is shot to death by one of Cordoba's soldiers.  Jackson now has a grudge against Douglas.  He says he will respond in his own time. 

Harry Warren introduces Gen. Pershing to Fred Tate, Mayor of Harmon Springs.  Warren is the spokesmen for the civilians' concerns.  He says the senator asked him to set it up.  Pershing explains to the Mayor that there are 1,200 miles of border with Mexico.  The army does not have enough men to guard the entire border.  He says Harmon Springs will have to set up it's own defensive border and if they get into too much trouble, they are to call in the army. 

Douglas goes into town.  Jackson comes in later riding in a wagon filled with Mexican peasants.  Major Svedborg wants Douglas to come into the house of prostitution with him to have some amusement.  Svedborg tells the Madame to get Douglas a girl and he pays her for it.  Douglas is reluctant to go.  The Madame virtually has to drag him up the stairs. The madam and another prostitute will take care of him.  But first they give him a bath. 

Outside Jackson watches Cordoba's men planting dynamite. 

Douglas gives the prostitutes half of a bill and says they can have the other half when he gets back.  He goes out a window.  Douglas finds Captain Riggs and tells him that General Cordoba and his men have come for the artillery pieces.  Pershing will be hit from behind.  Get ready for the attack.  Douglas leaves.  A man who is a one-man band musician comes up to Captain Riggs and talks to him.  Then he knives the Captain to death.  Cordoba's men start taking out the American guards.  

At the house of prostitution Cordoba and his men take over the place.  They capture all the American soldiers and other Americans.  Douglas sneaks back into the room with the two prostitutes, but he doesn't stay.  He finishes completely dressing and then goes downstairs to be with Cordoba.  Cordoba's men start lighting the fuses.  Jackson knocks a couple of the men out and snuffs out some of the fuses, but he can't get them all.  Big explosions go off and Cordoba's men attack.  They gain control of the machine gun posts, so they are well equipped for the attack.  Soldier pour of the train to fight the Mexicans.  The Mexicans kill the two railroad engineers.  They then take the whole train.  Douglas has to jump on the train to tell Pershing that the train has been lost to the enemy and they have to jump off, which they do. 

Pershing is mad.  He says they suffered 38 killed, 26 wounded and a loss of 6 artillery pieces.  And it's all Douglas's fault.  Douglas responds that his mistake was relying on Captain Riggs.  An officer says that Riggs was a good man.  Douglas shoots back:  "He got himself decoyed and butchered."  They now want Douglas to get to Cordoba's main camp.  Douglas has already some information to give them.  The camp is well fortified.  It sits on top of a mountain.  Harry Warren tells Pershing that the place is 200 rough miles away from them.  And the last 40 miles is open, barren country.  Pershing tells Douglas:  "I want those guns destroyed."  He wants Douglas to get inside the fortress and bring Cordoba back alive to him.  Pershing wants Douglas to take with him Lt. Gutierez, liaison from the government of Mexico.  Douglas says he won't take him.  Gutierez objects, but Douglas remains firm.

Douglas takes Jackson with him.   He then takes two of his men who just did manage to escape from the stockade:  Andy and Peter the Greek.  Douglas tells the jailer that the two escapees are released into his custody.  Douglas explains the mission to his three men.  They will be heading up into the Sierra Occidentals.   Peter is not sure he wants to go along.  He sympathizes with the peasants against the Mexican government in the Mexican Revolution (that is also a Civil War).  Douglas convinces him to go with them. 

The fellows hear a noise outside and jump out of the windows to capture whoever is there.  It turns out to be Gutierez.  Douglas tells the men to throw him out again.  Gutierez tells Douglas that he can get someone who can isolate Cordoba by himself.  Douglas relents upon hearing that.  Gutierez says that he will introduce him to this person in two day in Madera.  he also says he has a personal grudge against Cordoba for destroying his military unit through betrayal. 

Douglas goes to see the performance of a belly dancer. After her act Douglas gets her in bed.  Apparently, they already know each other well.  Douglas sees a photo of Harry Warner on a desk and the belly dancer tells him Harry's a sweet guy. 

The next day Douglas pays a visit to Harry.  He accuses Harry of accepting from Cordoba 80,000 acres in Mexico for his cooperation.  He then slugs Harry and he goes down.  He ties his hands behind his back.  Douglas then tells him that he should never trust a lady.  And certainly never trust a belly dancer.  Douglas takes Harry with him and the men. They come to an area that looks perfect for an ambush.  So Douglas sends Peter to go around and attack from the rear.  He then puts Harry in the front and they head straight into the area.  Harry gets scared and tells them that an ambush awaits them.  But they still force Harry to go first.  The Mexicans open up on the group of four.  Douglas jumps from his horse onto Harry to bring him to the ground.  The Mexicans withdraw into the buildings around them.  Peter kills one of them and Andy gets another.  Douglas gets another, but not before he is wounded in the neck.  Jackson kills the last bandit who was just about to shoot Douglas in the back.  One of the dead Mexicans is a Major in Corboba's army.  Harry Warren is dead, hit by a bullet. 

At a rest place Jackson removes the bullet from Douglas's neck.  Madera is some three hours away.   

Arriving at Madera the guys go over to the Hotel Madera, room 23.  Douglas goes up and enters the room through a window.  He still doesn't trust the Mexican.  Gutierez introduces Douglas to Miss Leonora Cristobal.  She is a beautiful woman and she will use her attractiveness to get Cordoba alone at the right time.  Douglas asks why?  She says because his men killed her father and brother and Cordoba himself raped her.  She wants him dead.  But Douglas has to tell her: "We're not going to kill him."  Their orders are to bring him in alive.  Gutierez explains that the government of Mexico wants Cordoba tried and executed, not martyred.  Douglas tells Leonora to make a map of Cordoba's personal quarters.  He leaves.  Leonora comments that with luck Cordoba and Douglas will kill each other. 

Gutierez gets himself and Leonora in to see Cordoba.  He poses as a deserter from the government's side and Leonora says she's basically here to see Cordoba because ever since he took her, he has stayed in her mind.  Cordoba is very skeptical.  He actually remembers the beautiful Leonora.  Suddenly Leonora says she will prove her loyalty.  She tells him Gutierez is working with the Yankees and they have come to destroy the artillery pieces and take Cordoba back for trial.  Gutierez is furious with her saying she has betrayed him and the others. Gutierez is put in jail.

Douglas and Andy show up.  Major Svedborg asks Douglas where was he?  Douglas says he got wounded and had to walk back.  And Andy is another volunteer.  The Major comes over to examine the wound.  He slaps it with his gloves and it starts to bleed.  Svedborg says the wound is fresh.  He tells Sgt. Ortega to keep the two men under guard until he gets back.  The Major ides out with some of the men to find the other two Yankee spies. 

Douglas and Andy see Cordoba come out with Leonora.  Behind them comes a roped up Gutierez being take to the jail.  Douglas creates a diversion so Andy can get free.  He goes over to Sergeant Ortega and hits him twice.  Other Mexicans jump on Douglas and in the confusion Andy just walks away.  Meanwhile Jackson and Peter are climbing up the side of the mountain.  Andy stays on the mountain top in hiding. 

A guard comes to check on Douglas in his cell.  Douglas hides in a corner so the jailer does not see him.  The jailor opens a protective cover over the jail bars and puts his face right between two of the bars to get a better look.  Douglas knocks him down with a blow to the face.  He then slides the bolt keeping him imprisoned.  The guard wakes up but Douglas knocks him out with a kick to the head.  He takes the guard's gun.  Then he frees Gutierez, who quickly tells him that they have been betrayed by Leonora.  Douglas tells him to never trust a woman.  He then has Gutierez make him a map of Cordoba's residence in the fortress. 

Outside a guard hears noises (made by Jackson and Peter), but he doesn't find anybody.  Andy comes in with a Mexican guard to free Douglas and Gutierez, but quickly learns they are already free.  Douglas takes the uniform of the Mexican guard and puts it on. 

One of the guards is suspicious of the movements around the jail.  He asks Svedborg if he authorized the movement of the prisoners.  No he did not.  Meanwhile, Douglas has made his way over to the residence and office of Cordoba.  He kills a guard.  Cordoba is about to start making love to Leonora when Douglas comes in.  He lets Cordoba know that Leonora is still working for the Yankees and Cordoba calls her a bitch. 

Gutierez and Andy eliminate another guard.  Peter and Jackson say they only have four minutes to get up there and destroy the weapons.  Jackson is the first to get up on top.  He takes out a guard, but he is spotted and fired upon by a guard.  Jackson kills the guard.  Peter gets up on top of the mountain now.  They start working on the guns.  Then they start setting fires and exploding things and people with sticks of dynamite.  They are all to meet at the stables in ten minutes.  Jackson and Peter use one of the artillery pieces to explode more of the buildings. 

Douglas gets Leonora and Cordoba over to the stables.  Peter gets killed while throwing sticks of dynamite.  Andy and Jackson make it to the stables.  Andy goes first and gets shot by Major Svedborg.  Gutierez comes out next and he too becomes a victim of Major Svedborg.  Douglas is on the Major's horse and he takes out his sword.  He races to the Major and slashes him a good one.  The Major goes down.  He then gets himself, Jackson, Leonora and Cordoba out of the fortress, which is almost completely destroyed by now. 

After a long ride they stop for a rest.  Jackson slowly walks over to Douglas who is resting on a rock.  It looks like Leonora is going to use the absence of the two men to kill Cordoba.  Jackson pulls his gun on Douglas and tells him he told him he would pick his own time and place to get him back for letting them kill his brother.  Jackson fires his pistol twice, but doesn't hit the nearby Douglas.  Douglas says he's sorry for what happened to his brother.  Then Douglas starts walking up to Jackson.  When he gets in front of the man, Jackson slugs him, knocking him to the ground.  But he doesn't shoot him. 

They go over to see Cordoba and Leonora.  The General is laying on the ground with a gunshot through his body.  Leonora tells them Cordoba is dead, hit from behind, probably by one of the Mexicans.  And most likely he has been dead since they left the fortress. 

 

Good movie.  Enjoyed watching it.  Lots of action.  But would it have killed them to at least use the name of the "Mexican bandit" Pancho Villa, who was the general of the northern forces during the Mexican Revolution.  Calling Villa a bandit is to belittle Mexico and their Mexican Revolution, in which one million Mexicans were killed (more than our Civil War with over 623,000 dead.)  The first part of the Mexican Revolution was all good from a democratic point of view because it got rid of a dictatorship.  But the second part was more of a Civil War.  Mexico was racked with prejudice against the native Mexican people and the mestizos (mixed races people).  The whites had the power and the other people were screwed.  Pancho Villa and Zapata (who represented the southern forces) took up the battle against the white "liberals" who were part of those forces which won the first part of the Mexican Revolution.  The whites did not want land reform for the peasants.  Villa and Zapata and their people wanted land reform and they fought for it. 

From a democratic and egalitarian point of view, it would have been better for Villa and Zapata to have won the civil war part of the Mexican Revolution.  Then Mexico would have been more characterized by democracy and greater equality.  But no, the whites won and they kept up the great social divide between the rich (mostly white) and the poor (native Mexicans and mestizos).  But because the rich won, Mexico still doesn't have real democracy.  There was virtually a one-party state in Mexico which often used corruption (and still does) to have the elections turn out in their favor.  So is it any wonder that Mexico remained somewhat politically unstable and racked by race-enforced class prejudices and discrimination?

It was the U.S.A. who really defeated the real liberal forces in Mexico.  They had, for instance, supported Pancho Villa for awhile, but then switched over to support the white party.  This left men like Villa angry with the betrayal of the USA of his/their cause and he had much fewer supplies as a result.  Villa gave the USA a little pay back by his attacking American border town like Columbia, New Mexico.  The Americans, always seeing the world only from the direct interests of their own country, designated Villa as just a bandit.  And if he is only a bandit, then he should be stomped out and killed.  The USA sent in General Pershing to get Villa, but he never could catch him.  And then World War I came along to give Villa a much lower threat rating. 

And now the American conservatives complain about poor Mexico, while their conservative ancestors are greatly responsible for Mexico's instability and its inability to control its economy and its borders.  But that's what naturally happens when a superpower chooses to back the side favoring great race, class and power discrepancies in the less fortunate societies.  The Americans should have supported Villa and Zapata, but the Americans themselves were characterized by the same great race, class and power discrepancies as Mexico, so maybe it's not such a surprise that the Americans backed racism, classicism  and weak democracy in Mexico.  (The United States owes Mexico an apology for its negative role in the outcome of the Mexican Revolution/Civil War.  Oh, I can hear the screams of the American racists about that last remark!)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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