For Hicksflicks.com, Feb. March 14, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a DVD of a movie I have long wanted to see, the World War I-era drama "They Came to Cordura" (1959), which is set in Mexico but much of it was filmed in St. George, Utah.

In 1916 a U.S. Cavalry officer (Gary Cooper), who has been accused of cowardice, tries to redeem himself in his new position as awards officer. He's assigned to observe warfare and recommend for the Congressional Medal of Honor any soldiers that perform exceptional acts of heroism.

During a particularly freewheeling and undisciplined battle, Cooper spots four men (Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte, Dick York) whose acts of derring-do are particularly noteworthy. His aging commander, unhappy that he is not one of the chosen, tells Cooper to take them to a fort in Cordura, where they will remain out of battle until the awards are approved.

He is also to take with him another recommended soldier (Michael Callan), as well as an American woman (Rita Hayworth) accused of aiding the enemy.

But here's the kicker, the petulant commander refuses to allow them to be accompanied by an armed escort. Cooper is to get the six to Cordura on his own and it's a treacherous, life-threatening journey, exacerbated by Hayworth wanting to escape, Callan contracting an illness so that he must be carried and four soldiers who don't want the awards, each with a secret he's hiding.

On the surface, the film is about the taxing trek but it's really about bravery vs. cowardice, about the kind of flawed human beings whose knee-jerk actions in a moment seem to define them but may not really speak to the kind of men they are.

"They Came to Cordura" is a thoughtful film that was, by all accounts, butchered in a strange last-minute re-editing process by the studio after it had opened in New York to glowing reviews. It was reportedly considered too "serious" and might put off general audiences, so it was cut by 20 minutes, with scenes shortened and/or shuffled.

As it exists, the film is still quite interesting, a thoughtful effort of the kind that is all too rare from the major studios, and it is well worth seeing.

But not in its current DVD form.

Although the production was filmed in widescreen CinemaScope and the DVD box clearly states on the back that both a widescreen version and a square-ish full-frame version are on the disc, there is only the latter, a pan-and-scan version, with several scenes that have characters in conversation cut out of the picture, and the scope of several epic moments is completely lost.

It's too much to hope for that Columbia/Sony would fund a restoration of the film; it just isn't as popular as, say, "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Spartacus" or other restored epics that audiences flock to see.

But the least Sony could do is reissue the film on DVD (or better yet, Blu-ray) in a widescreen version.