“What is courage? What is cowardice?” These lines appear onscreen before They Came to Cordura begins. The nature of bravery is an essential component of any war film but rarely has it been examined as directly, or as penetratingly, as it is here. Directed by Robert Rossen, Columbia’s They Came to Cordura was disliked by critics and ignored by audiences in 1959, but its contemplative, relentless burrowing into its themes should find more appreciative audiences today since moviegoers are now more accustomed to characters consumed with self-examination (and interested in analyzing others). As war movies go, this one is talky, but in its verbiage it offers an unusually probing look at human behavior under inhuman circumstances, specifically combat and its ever-after repercussions. They Came to Cordura has a massive, superbly executed battle sequence, yet the film stands out more for its willingness to tackle uncommon psychological issues than for its action. It’s a cerebral war movie without clear-cut heroes or cowards, and it emphasizes introspection, ambiguity, and conscience over victory and glory.
excerpted from John DiLeo’s
Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery
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