Sunday, February 13, 2022

#2,708. The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972) - The Wild West


A revisionist western directed by Dick Richards and co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (his first ever credit as a producer), The Culpepper Cattle Co. stars Gary Grimes as Ben, a young man who has always wanted to be a cowboy.

Ben somehow convinces hard-nosed cattle man Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) to hire him on, and joins his new boss and company as they drive a herd of cattle to Fort Lewis, Colorado. Though he finds “cowboying” more difficult than he first thought, Ben is soon accepted by his peers, even the ornery Caldwell (Geoffrey Lewis) and his pals Luke (Luke Askew) and Dixie (Bo Hopkins).

Though adept at handling everything from rustlers to thieves, Culpepper and the others soon find themselves in deep trouble when they move their cattle across property belonging to land baron Thornton Pierce (John McLiam), who orders both Culpepper and some religious pilgrims who have settled on his land to vacate as soon as possible, or face the consequences.

Grimes does a fine job as Ben, a young man learning the ropes and making a few mistakes on his way to becoming a bona-fide cowboy. One blunder results in Ben falling victim to horse thieves, who make off with the company’s horses. It’s the rest of the company, though, almost all of whom blur the line between hero and villain at one point or another, that I found most intriguing.

Expertly played by Billy Green Bush, Culpepper is a determined individual who isn’t afraid to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, even if it means killing a few outlaws. But then, late in the movie, Culpepper backs down from Pierce and his gang, who seem to get a kick out of pushing him around. Having come to respect his strength through much of the movie, Culpepper’s turning tail and running from Pierce has everyone, his employees as well as the audience, scratching their heads, wondering why he won’t stand and fight.

A few of the men working for Culpepper, namely Caldwell, Luke, and Dixie, are just as hard to figure out. As portrayed by the always-reliable Geoffrey Lewis, Caldwell has a short fuse, and we’re never quite sure if he can be trusted. He butts heads constantly with Culpepper, and at one point even challenges another employee to a gunfight. But in the end, when the chips are down, Caldwell, Luke, Dixie and even Ben show us a grit and determination we never quite expected from any of them.

A strong coming-of-age tale forms the nucleus of The Culpepper Cattle Co., but it’s the characters that director Dick Richards and his writers, Eric Bercovici and Gregory Prentiss, surround Ben with that carry this movie to the next level.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

No comments: