Thursday, May 5, 2022

#2,749. The Cowboys (1972) - John Wayne in the 1970s


With its sweeping panoramas, a larger-than-life star, and a rousing score by John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark), director Mark Rydell’s 1972 western The Cowboys has the look and feel of a Hollywood epic. And while its story may seem implausible on paper, by the time the ending rolls around you’ll have bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Montana cattle man Wil Anderson (John Wayne) is left in the lurch when his hired hands get “gold fever” and abandon him right before his big drive. Spurred on by his friend Anse Peterson (Slim Pickens), Anderson recruits local schoolboys to work as drovers on his 400-mile trek across the rugged wilderness. Though skeptical at first, Anderson soon discovers that the youngsters, including Slim (Robert Carradine), Cimarron (A. Martinez), Stuttering Bob (Sean Kelly), and a mess of others, are eager to prove their worth, and feel they are more than ready to help him take his cattle to market.

After the arrival of company cook Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne), Anderson and his “cowboys” set out, not realizing that former jail bird Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) and his cronies, who intend to rustle the entire herd away from them, are following close behind.

The Cowboys is, at times, an exciting western, and features an amazing performance by Bruce Dern, whose Asa Watts is one of the most loathsome characters ever to pollute the silver screen (Dern said that, as recently as 2015, he still receives hate mail for his role in this movie). Yet what makes The Cowboys a truly unforgettable motion picture is the relationship that develops between Wayne’s Anderson and the inexperienced schoolboys he hires to accompany him on his months-long journey.

Though he occasionally loses his patience (a scene where he berates Stuttering Bob seems especially harsh), Anderson takes on the role of father figure throughout the movie, ultimately transforming a group of awkward kids into self-reliant young men. Wayne is superb in the lead role, as is Roscoe Lee Browne as the cook who is just as much a mentor to the boys as their employer. And while the last act of The Cowboys has moments that’ll damn near break your heart, the final 20 minutes are as satisfying as they come, and will have you cheering out loud.

The Cowboys is an amazing motion picture.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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