Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Cowboys (1972)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Long time ago John Wayne used to be the embodiment of everything America wanted to be. These days John Wayne is often perceived as the embodiment of everything America should abandon. Yet, some of his films that reflect the ideology and values associated with him look refreshing even to contemporary leftists and liberals. This is probably due to Hollywood's ability - now lost - to promote simple ideas and simple truths in a convincing way. One of the best examples could be found in THE COWBOYS, 1972 western directed by Mark Rydell.

In this film John Wayne plays William Andersen, old rancher faced with sudden loss of labour force due to a gold rush. This happened at worst possible moment - just before the cattle drive that was supposed to pay his bills. His friend Anse Petersen (played by Slim Pickens) suggests that he hires local teenagers as cowboys and he reluctantly agrees, not being particularly enthusiastic about group of boys, aged 9 to 15, that he would have to train and lead. The group, which is joined by black cook Jedediah Nightlinger (played by Roscoe Lee Browne), faces many obstacles on their trek, the worst being group of rustlers led by sinister Asa Watts (played by Bruce Dern). The boys, faced with hunger, hard work and danger, learn many important lessons that would help them act like grown men.

It would be pointless to name all elements in which this film insults modern-day sentiments of "political correctness". THE COWBOYS, among other things, feature positive attitudes towards child labour, masculine authority, vigilante justice and children using guns. The only potentially subversive scene features a group of young travelling prostitutes led by ageing madam (played by Colleen Dewhurst). Although introduced probably in order to fill the conventional quota of female roles, those characters could be interpreted as some kind of female equivalent of John Wayne's character and his boys. Screenwriters' reluctance to explore this opportunity is one major weakness of the film, while the other is failure to explain how young boys suddenly transform into efficient killing machines.

Despite those flaws and the somewhat slow pace that could be less tolerable to younger audiences, THE COWBOYS is a film that can expect audience even today. John Wayne is great in one of his iconic roles, while the rest of cast features some interesting names. Bruce Dern is great in small, but chillingly memorable role of psychopathic villain. Young Adolph Martinez of future SANTA BARBARA fame is also very good in the role of a boy who must fight racial stereotypes. Rydell directed film with great skill, putting locations of American Southwest to good use. The film is accompanied by very good score of John Williams that adds to the epic character of the film. All in all, THE COWBOYS shows how old Hollywood promoted conservative agenda with the skill and efficiency modern-day liberals and leftists can only dream about.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


Anonymous Steve Rust said...

You raise some powerful points that I think you could elaborate on further. You say that it's hardly worth pointing out all the ways this isn't politically correct, but that's exactly what does need to happen if we're to place the film in it's context of 1972. As the credit's roll, Bruce Dern's character is only listed as "Long Hair" not Asa. The so-called simple truths you claim the film promotes are things like - long hairs are evil, women have a proper place, nice christian white boys are the best people and deserve their success. John Wayne's mannerisms have been borrowed quite effectively by our current president.

All in all I just wanted to say superb ideas and I'd like to see you explore them further.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you brought the fact that the villain in this western is labeled long hair in the credits Steve. I think you can look even further into the conservative message that this film promotes. It basically goes against the 1960's New Left ideology. John Wayne's character represents the World War II generation, and his biological sons and the cowhands that desert Wayne before the cattle drive represent the 1960's generation of liberals. The message this movie sends to the World War II generation is that their sons, the long haired liberal leftists, have abandoned them in search of an impossible dream (gold), and that they need to look to the next generation to carry on the conservative American ideology of male honor and a hard days work. The kids Wayne takes on to drive his cattle represent the new generation that the conservatives should mold after their own image, since the 1960's generation has gone bad. This movie is more than just an advocate for child labor.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im surprised at the level of "Secret Plot" that some like Steve Rust comments about. My god guys this was simply one of the last "good" westerns made in the later 20th Century. John Wayne was a American Icon that "Conservatives and Liberals" could love to watch. I dont think that this movie was about long hairs being evil or white boys being the "best people". I personally look at this movie as a break through for civil rights in some ways. The actor Roscoe Lee Browne was casted in a leading role and given top billing. They also brought up alot of "Black stereo type slang" in the movie to expell ignorant myths. The fact of the matter is those "boys" could have been all "black, latino or any race". But most of all whatever race they were they would have been Americans first and that's what did count.To be American is not "White or black or any "ONE" race. To be American just simply equals One thing = Freedom. The Cowboys is a great classic.

P.S. As far as our current President is concerned. It would be a compliment to the late great John Wayne for Mr. Bush to borrow some mannerisms. Too bad your hatred of the president is so deep it even comes out in movie reviews

Anonymous Forrest said...

I agree with anonymous #2. This movie was not made with any malicious intent, and I think it is very shortsighted of you to think that a movie made that long ago(with that kind of cast)would have the same or similar intent as movies made today, in some of which are notions of conspiracy theories and of other things as well.(Not to say that the actors from the '70s were innocent, but come on! John Wayne isn't THAT bad)Of COURSE it wouldn't be politically correct, it was made in 1972, with the setting in the 1870's and the ideas of political correctness back then and right now are very different indeed; actually, they hardly used any discriminatory terms or used any discriminatory themes throughout the entire movie. Of course, there was the scene in which Mr. Nightlinger was called the "n" word, so to speak,(where the boys are in the cabin and they first meet him)and the scene in the beginning in which Mr. Anderson stated that he wasn't expecting a black man to show up, but that was not an insult to Mr. Nightlinger or any other African American. As you will please note, the visciousness toward Cimarron from Slim was not at all because he was from Mexican American ancestors, or even because he was Mexican American himself.(Even the dislike between them went away after a while) Another thing. Just naming him "Long Hair" on the credits does not specifically mean they were saying that all people with long hair are evil. For one,(of course this can be argued over and over,) we tend to name people by their characteristics. For example, I saw a girl with pink hair slapping a guy in jeans with a belt on. That does not mean that I think all girls with long hair are going to just walk over and start slapping me. The problem is that you, (Steve and anonymous #2) will not just dismiss it as an accident on the part of the credit-rollers. My point is, it is kind of sad you can't just forgive what you feel needs to be forgiven and forget what needs to be forgotten.

President Bush was not born in Texas, but spent a great part of his life in my home state. He tends to stutter a little, and he doesn't always make the best decisions. But he is our President, and the most powerful man in the world, and I think that with him going out of office this coming september that he would appreciate the American people treating him with respect he deserves. Although you may have not voted for him, the American people voted for him.
I'm in 7th grade. I find it a little bit sad that a grown man twice my age would find so many negative things aabout one innocent movie.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Forest,

I appreciate that at 7th grade you can see through the fog of so called popular culture.

There is a reason that John Wayne movies endure, some 32 years AFTER his last movie, "The Shootist." There are values in movies like "The Cowboys," "The Searchers," "True Grit" and many others, that endure. These values and ideas are worthy of Virgil, Sun Tzu and James Fenimore Cooper.

Long Hair is a pretty good example of the hippie culture from the 1960s, deluded and spoiled. The character enjoyed bullying a myopic boy. Yet, when Long Hair was confronted by somebody who stood up to him, Wil Andersen, Long Hair turned into a whiney little cry baby. Typical San Francisco Liberal.


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