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COWBOYS, THE (director: Mark Rydell; screenwriters: from the novel by William Dale Jennings/Irving Ravetch/Harriet Frank Jr./William Dale Jennings; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Neil Travis; music: John Williams; cast: John Wayne (Wil Andersen), Bruce Dern (Asa Watts), Roscoe Lee Browne (Jedediah Nightlinger), Allyn Ann McLerie (Ellen Price), Slim Pickens (Anse Petersen), Sarah Cunningham (Annie Andersen), Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Kate Collingwood), A Martinez (Cimarron), Robert Carradine (Charles ‘Slim’ Honeycutt), Nicolas Beauvy (Dan/Four Eyes), Alfred Barker Jr. (Clyde ‘Singing Fats’ Potter), Stephen Hudis (Charlie Schwartz), Sean Kelly (Stuttering Bob Wilson); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Mark Rydell; Warner Bros.; 1972)
“An engaging late John Wayne Western, though the macho philosophy of the need to kill might turn off the more liberal viewer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An engaging late John Wayne Western, though the macho philosophy of the need to kill might turn off the more liberal viewer. If that doesn’t do the trick, the story being so unlikely should be a turn off. It’s directed with animation by Mark Rydell. Screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. base it on the novel by William Dale Jennings. It’s filmed in Santa Fe, where Robert Surtees provides the colorful shots of the cowboys on the range.

Sixtyish Wil Andersen (John Wayne) is faced with a dilemma when all his cowhands quit to go off chasing gold, as he must get his cattle to market before the winter to pay his bills. His best friend Anse Petersen (Slim Pickens) suggests hiring the schoolchildren since he can’t get anyone else at this late date. Wil chooses eleven schoolboys, with the oldest being 15 and the youngest 9, and before going on the 400-mile cattle drive Wil gives the kids a crash course in being a cowboy. The parents view it as a rite of passage to manhood. Also hired is the crafty African-American cook Jedediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne), who is the only other adult along for the drive.

En route to the market and manhood the kids do some drinking, whoring (they meet on the trail a traveling whorehouse led by the madam (Colleen Dewhurst), and eventually killing). The latter becomes necessary when nasty thirtysomething jailbird Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) and his gang steal the herd and Asa after beaten in a fight with Wil shoots him in the back. Though Duke is shot up pretty bad, he doesn’t die until the next morning after he gives the kids a rousing pep talk. The kids band together to get the herd back for their “father” figure and to avenge his death, which results in an exciting but contrived melodramatic climax as the kids break open the crate with the rifles and gun down Asa’s ten-man gang without even getting a scratch. If it sounds a bit farfetched, pardner, it sure is!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”