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They Came to Cordura

They Came to Cordura is a 1959 Western film co-written and directed by Robert Rossen, starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, and featuring Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Michael Callan, and Dick York. It was based on a 1958 novel by Glendon Swarthout.

They Came to Cordura
They Came to Cordura FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed byRobert Rossen
Produced byWilliam Goetz
Written byIvan Moffat
Robert Rossen
Glendon Swarthout (novel)
StarringGary Cooper
Rita Hayworth
Van Heflin
Dick York
Music byElie Siegmeister
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byWilliam A. Lyon
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
August 20, 1959
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]



In 1916, as U.S. soldiers chase after Pancho Villa, Army Major Thomas Thorn (Gary Cooper) is assigned to be a battlefield observer and reward heroism. He has been suggested for this duty by a Colonel Rogers (Robert Keith), who is 63 years old and impatiently yearning to be promoted to general before mandatory retirement a few months hence.

Rogers leads his regiment in an old-fashioned but poorly planned Cavalry charge on Ojos Azules, a villa owned by Adelaide Geary (Rita Hayworth) where Villa's men withdrew after a victory over Mexican government troops, enjoying her hospitality. Thorn, excused from the fighting, observes through his binoculars various acts of heroism by Lt. Fowler (Tab Hunter), Sgt. Chawk (Van Heflin), Cpl. Trubee (Richard Conte) and Pvt. Renziehausen (Dick York) in defeating Villa's men.

Rogers is proud of having personally led the charge, but furious when Thorn won't nominate him for a citation. Thorn insists that leading his regiment in the charge was "in the line of duty" and refuses to consider a citation for the Medal of Honor, awarded for heroism "above and beyond the call of duty." Rogers reminds Thorn that he protected him from an investigation for cowardice, which he did out of respect for Thorn's father, but does not sway Thorn.

Thorn intends to recommend the four soldiers for the Medal of Honor. He is ordered to take along Mrs. Geary, who is charged with "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." A fifth soldier, a private (Michael Callan) also nominated by Thorn for a medal after an earlier battle, rides with them to the expedition's base at the Texas town of Cordura.

This seemingly simple task becomes increasingly complex as the incessant squabbling between Thorn and the men threatens to destroy them all. Eager to learn more about their acts of bravery, Thorn finds the men to be hostile toward him. A series of harrowing incidents make it clear that the apparent heroes were motivated by ambition, terror, or chance while it is the disgraced Thorn who possesses moral courage. The men soon become insubordinate ultimately turning against Thorn, forcing him to fight the soldiers to save his own life.



Parts of the film were shot at Snow Canyon and Harrisburg in Utah as well as Indio, California.[2]


Author Glendon Swarthout got the idea for his novel after he had obtained eyewitness accounts for Medal of Honor citations while serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in Southern France during World War II.[3] This personal experience was applied to his novel.


Dick York suffered a severe back injury during the filming that caused him great pain in his later years, so much so that he was forced to resign from his longtime role of Darrin Stephens on the 1960s television program Bewitched, and indeed, the injury almost ruining his life. In York's own words, "Gary Cooper and I were propelling a handcar carrying several 'wounded' men down [the] railroad track. I was on the bottom stroke of this sort of teeter-totter mechanism that made the handcar run. I was just lifting the handle up as the director yelled 'cut!' and one of the 'wounded' cast members reached up and grabbed the handle. I was suddenly, jarringly, lifting his entire weight off the flatbed—one hundred and eighty pounds or so. The muscles along the right side of my back tore. They just snapped and let loose. And that was the start of it all: the pain, the painkillers, the addiction, the lost career."[4]


A film tie-in song written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen was recorded by Frank Sinatra and Robert Horton.[5] It was composer Elie Siegmeister's only Hollywood film score.


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  3. ^ "About Glendon Swarthout". Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  4. ^ "Dick York of Bewitched - A Farewell Interview". Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  5. ^ [1][dead link]

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