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Mark Rydell
John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst, Alfred Barker Jr., Nicolas Beauvy, Steve Benedict, Robert Carradine
Writing Credits:
William Dale Jennings (and novel), Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.

When justice is blind, it knows no fear.

After his cowhands desert him for a nearby gold rush, aging, leather-tough rancher Will Anderson (John Wayne) resorts to hiring 11 schoolboys to help him on a 400-mile cattle run. Setting off with the boys and an eloquent but equally tough black cook (Roscoe Lee Browne), Anderson must get his cattle to their destination while contending with the wilderness and a psychotic, vengeful ex-con (Bruce Dern) who is out to get him. With an amazingly natural performance by Wayne, this stylized, action-packed Western is exquisitely filmed, emotionally sensitive, and highly entertaining. Director Mark Rydell gets solid performances out of not just Wayne (in one of his later screen roles) and Browne, but the group of youngsters accompanying them on the journey, as well as actors like Slim Pickens and Colleen Dewhurst who play smaller supporting roles. Close attention is also paid to the natural beauty of the mountains, wild mustangs, and other often overlooked standard Western fare.

Box Office:
$6 million.
Domestic Gross
$7.5 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 5/22/2007

• Audio Commentary with Director Mark Rydell
• “The Cowboys: Together Again” Featurette
• “The Breaking of Boys and the Making of Men” Vintage Featurette
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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The Cowboys: Deluxe Edition (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 24, 2007)

As part of a massive promotion to celebrate John Wayne’s 100th birthday, we find one of the Duke’s last flicks: 1972’s The Cowboys. Montana cattle rancher Wil Andersen (Wayne) finds it tough to round up hands to help with his spread. The few men around have gold fever and rush out to seek easy money. Wil’s buddy and store keep Anse Petersen (Slim Pickens) encourages him to use local schoolboys to help ride his steer to market. With great reluctance, Wil eventually agrees and takes on 10 or so kids as his workers.

Right off the bat Wil assumes these junior cowpokes will be soft and incapable, but he quickly gets a lesson that there’s more to them. When he challenges them to spend at least 10 seconds on a bucking horse, 15-year-old Slim Honeycutt (Robert Carradine) succeeds and sets the bar for the others. In succession, we meet Homer Weems (Mike Pyeatt), Fats Potter (Alfred Barker, Jr.), “Stuttering Bob” Wilson (Sean Kelly), and Charlie Schwartz (Stephen Hudis). A hotshot teen named Cimarron (A Martinez) soon rides into the scene and establishes himself as the biggest stud of the bunch, though his arrogant attitude chafes Wil. The movie follows their adventures as they ride the 400 miles to market.

When we find lists of Wayne’s most memorable flicks, The Cowboys rarely makes an appearance. This is lesser-known Duke, not something thought of in the same terms as efforts like Stagecoach or Rio Bravo. Indeed, when we hear of it, the movie pops up as a trivia question I won’t mention since it might act as a spoiler.

Given its semi-obscurity and its story, I felt surprised that Cowboys actually offered a pretty solid little flick. A movie in which an aging Wayne leads a bunch of kids on a cattle drive sounds like a recipe for disaster, a big, stinking piece of simplistic cheese served on a tray. How could a story like that work and be anything other than cutesy and precious?

To my amazement, Cowboys provides a rather gritty and rough-hewn wake on its subject. Director Mark Rydell makes sure that we don’t get the usual batch of smug show-biz kids who often mar this kind of flick. There’s not a glib, precocious annoyance in the bunch, as all the young actors play their roles straight. They allow the movie to boast a real feeling of truth and authenticity. Even the comedic moments come about in a reasonably organic manner and don’t feel forced or artificial.

This means the movie also manages to feel truthful and honest. Rydell plays most things in an understated manner. Cowboys lacks the expected syrupy, feel-good tone. Even when the kids learn lessons and Wil turns into a father figure, matters stay low-key. There’s nothing showy or extravagant here, and that greatly benefits the story.

All of these elements come as an exceptionally pleasant surprise. I kept waiting for The Cowboys to come off its rails and turn into something sappy, contrived and/or idiotic. However, this never occurred, as the film remained true to itself from start to finish. Rich and memorable, the flick provides a simple but emotional piece.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

The Cowboys appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the transfer looked great.

Virtually no problems with sharpness occurred. The movie consistently looked crisp and well-delineated. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and only a sliver of edge enhancement was apparent. Source flaws remained largely absent, as I noticed only a couple of small specks in this essentially clean presentation.

As befit the western setting, colors looked low-key. They were always as full as the cinematography demanded, though, and they appeared very solid. The occasional brighter hues seemed vivid and rich within the normally arid confines. Blacks were dark and full, while shadows usually came across well. Some “day for night” shots were a little murky, but they didn’t cause substantial problems. This was a consistently strong image.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Cowboys satisfied. The scope of the soundfield didn’t dazzle but it worked much better than the average movie from 1972. Music always showed nice stereo imaging, and effects broadened matters a little. Though they didn’t boast much specificity, they opened the spectrum a bit and gave us some scope. A little localized speech cropped up through the movie. The music was the best aspect of the track, though, and the score also spread to the surrounds in an effective manner. Though the mix didn’t create a great soundfield, it seemed natural and fitting.

Given the age of the material, audio quality seemed strong. Speech sounded fairly natural, and I noticed no distortion or problems. The music appeared lush and lively, while effects were concise and clean. They presented good range when necessary. This was a more than competent mix for a 36-year-old flick.

A mix of supplements come to us for this “Deluxe Edition” of The Cowboys. We begin with an audio commentary from director Mark Rydell. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Rydell discusses cast and crew, sets and locations, working with John Wayne, training the kids to be cowboys, composer John Williams, reactions to the flick, and other aspects of shooting the flick. My favorite stories involve the interaction between actor Bruce Dern and the kids as well as one about John Ford’s visit to the set.

Rydell offers an amiable chat and parses out decent details along the way. However, at times he just seems happy to watch the movie again, so a fair amount of dead air comes out here. That factor causes some problems, but Rydell provides enough good stories along the way to make this a worthwhile listen.

A new featurette called The Cowboys: Together Again runs 28 minutes, 33 seconds as it examines a recent reunion. Most of the material comes from a December 12, 2006 session with Rydell and actors A Martinez, Bruce Dern, Norman Howell, Jr., and Stephen Hudis. Actors Robert Carradine and Roscoe Lee Browne appear in separate interviews. Here we learn about the project’s origins, Rydell’s work as a director, casting kid actors and rodeo performers, shooting the flick and working with Wayne, acting details and various impressions of each other, locations, and other production elements.

I like the concept of “Together” and think the show includes just enough useful information to succeed. Inevitably, some material repeats from Rydell’s commentary, and we also find a fair amount of fuzzy nostalgic happy talk we expect from this kind of retrospective. Nonetheless, the piece presents some decent notes and proves enjoyable.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, we find a vintage featurette. The Breaking of Boys and the Making of Men goes for eight minutes, 49 seconds. We view Rydell’s casting sessions and see the boys’ training as well as a few other aspects of the shoot. The elements from the production help make this a fun piece. We get many nice glimpses of the filmmaking processes, so it adds up to more than just the usual promotional program.

Though I went into The Cowboys with low expectations, the result proved quite enjoyable. A stark, honest look at an unusual cattle drive, the movie managed to create a memorable and emotional experience. The DVD boasted excellent picture and audio plus a mix of reasonably interesting extras. This is a good DVD for a fine film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7272 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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