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Cowboys, The: Deluxe Edition (DVD)]]>
Almost in spite of itself, The Cowboys has taken its place among John Wayne's most beloved films. It wasn't always that way: When it was released in January of 1972, the film was widely criticized for appearing to promote the notion that boys become men through violence. From a politically correct perspective, this apparent message is arguably deplorable (and some interpreted the film's young fighters as a reflection of young draftees into the Vietnam war), but there's no denying that The Cowboys remains as invigorating as it ever was, no matter how dubious its thematic implications. Based on a novel by William Dale Jennings, and adapted with Jennings by the married screenwriting team of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. (whose impressive credits include Hud, Hombre, and Norma Rae), the movie opens with aging ranch owner Wil Anderson (Wayne) desperate for ranch-hands to herd 1,500 head of cattle across 400 miles of dangerous territory. With no better options, he reluctantly hires boys from the local schoolhouse (including Robert Carradine in his screen debut), and an experienced, worldly-wise cook named Nightlinger (played to perfection by Roscoe Lee Browne) joins the cattle drive--the first black man the boys have ever seen.
A Hollywood liberal who initially felt at odds with Wayne's right-wing politics, Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond) originally sought George C. Scott for the lead, but studio executives urged him to convince Wayne to take the role. It was a happy outcome for both, as Rydell directs Wayne with an enjoyable mixture of Old West humor and grizzled trail-hardiness, and The Cowboys is a top-drawer production with gorgeous cinematography (on location in Mexico and Colorado) by veteran cameraman Robert Surtees. Colleen Dewhurst appears briefly but memorably as the madam of a traveling troupe of prostitutes (in a scene often cut from earlier TV broadcasts and some home-video releases), and the young A Martinez (who would later star in several TV soap operas and the indie-hit Powwow Highway) makes a strong impression in a prominent supporting role. But the real reason for the film's lasting popularity is the hiss-worthy villainy of Bruce Dern (as "Long Hair," leader of the rustlers), who earned a dubious place in movie history for his character's cheating approach to gunplay. No matter how you interpret its themes of fatherly influence and justified vengeance, The Cowboys (later the basis of a short-lived TV series) is undeniably entertaining, dominated by Wayne's reliable presence and bolstered by a rousing, Copland-esque score by John Williams. --Jeff ShannonSee all Editorial Reviews
- Commentary by director Mark Rydell
- New cast/director reunion featurette: "The Cowboys: Together Again "
- Vintage featurette: "The Breaking of Boys and the Making of Men"
- Theatrical trailer
- Collectible behind-the-scenes photo set
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The cinematography is breathtaking in its richness and scope. The music (John Williams) is exceptional. The rapport between Wil Andersen (Wayne) and Anse Peterson (Slim Pickens) is priceless. Later, the relationship between Andersen and Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) grows to importance. And finally, what goes between Andersen and the cowboys themselves, the oldest being fifteen, is really the stuff Wayne's legend is made of. Especially later in his career, Wayne always played some sort of father figure, a protector, a lawman, a knight. This is Wayne at his purest and finest.
If you're a Wayne fan, and you'd like to step off the Rio Lobo/Rio Grande/El Dorado merry-go-round, here's where to step. Prepare for the ride of your life.
I've got this on Blu-ray and dvd and, unlike many of my films where the Blu-ray is incredibly better then the dvd, with this film I find the quality just a little bit better on the Blu-ray. Maybe my eyes don't see the difference, but if you own the dvd, I would not recommend upgrading - one of the few times I can say this with my movie collection.
Anyway, a great movie, a great cast and a wonderful plot - the boys are mostly amateurs but amazing actors and great horsemen - this may be why I enjoy it so much.
A bit of language (minor) and a lot of violence (evident, but not a lot of blood and gore) but still one of my favorites. If True Grit is a 10, this is an 8. Enjoy!