The Cowboys (1972)

GP | 126 or 128 mins | Western | February 1972

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HISTORY

Although onscreen credits include a copyright statement that reads "Sanford Productions, Inc. and Warner Bros., Inc.," the copyright registration lists the claimant as "Warner Bros., Inc. & Sanford Productions, Inc." Prior to the opening credits, a title card reading "Overture" appears onscreen as John Williams' score is heard on the soundtrack for approximately two-and-a-half minutes. Approximately eighty minutes into the film, just after "Dan" is sent back to the drive by "Long Hair," the action stops, followed by a title card reading "Intermission," then another reading "Entr'acte," which remains on screen while the score is heard for approximately two more minutes until the action resumes. After the cast credits at the end of the film, a final title card reading "Exit music" appears on screen for two minutes while the score again is heard on the soundtrack.
       In the opening cast credits, the young actors portraying "The cowboys" are presented after the name of actress Maggie Costain, while the end credits list them after actress Colleen Dewhurst. According to a 10 Dec 1970 HR news item, producer-director Mark Rydell purchased the rights to William Dale Jennings' novel The Cowboys prior to its publication. Jennings (1917--2000) had written numerous articles and plays prior to publication of The Cowboys , which was his only work to be adapted for the screen.
       According to a 9 Nov 1970 DV news item, Rydell's Sanford Productions, which Rydell co-owned with director Sydney Pollack and former agent Robert M. Sherman, received financing for the production and distribution of the film by Warner Bros. Some news items in 1971 indicated that The ... More Less

Although onscreen credits include a copyright statement that reads "Sanford Productions, Inc. and Warner Bros., Inc.," the copyright registration lists the claimant as "Warner Bros., Inc. & Sanford Productions, Inc." Prior to the opening credits, a title card reading "Overture" appears onscreen as John Williams' score is heard on the soundtrack for approximately two-and-a-half minutes. Approximately eighty minutes into the film, just after "Dan" is sent back to the drive by "Long Hair," the action stops, followed by a title card reading "Intermission," then another reading "Entr'acte," which remains on screen while the score is heard for approximately two more minutes until the action resumes. After the cast credits at the end of the film, a final title card reading "Exit music" appears on screen for two minutes while the score again is heard on the soundtrack.
       In the opening cast credits, the young actors portraying "The cowboys" are presented after the name of actress Maggie Costain, while the end credits list them after actress Colleen Dewhurst. According to a 10 Dec 1970 HR news item, producer-director Mark Rydell purchased the rights to William Dale Jennings' novel The Cowboys prior to its publication. Jennings (1917--2000) had written numerous articles and plays prior to publication of The Cowboys , which was his only work to be adapted for the screen.
       According to a 9 Nov 1970 DV news item, Rydell's Sanford Productions, which Rydell co-owned with director Sydney Pollack and former agent Robert M. Sherman, received financing for the production and distribution of the film by Warner Bros. Some news items in 1971 indicated that The Cowboys was supposed to be a Cinema Center Films production, but parent company CBS had shut down production operations of Cinema Center earlier in 1971.
       The South Dakota destination of the cattle drive, spelled Belle Fourche but commonly pronounced "Belfush," as it was in the film, became one of the largest livestock railroad shipping points in the United States in the 1880s and 1890s. Although set in South Dakota, the film was shot on location in and around Santa Fe, NM, according to HR production charts. News items indicate that three weeks of shooting took place on the San Cristobal Ranch, twenty-eight miles from Santa Fe, as well as the B-B Ranch, with additional locations including Pegosa Springs and Canon City, CO, near the Arkansas River. Other news items state that the film had a $6,000,000 budget
       Narration on an eight-minute short made during production of The Cowboys and included as added content on the film's 2007 DVD release, states that the boys portraying the cowboys consisted of six experienced riders, many of whom had been juvenile rodeo performers and five child or teenaged actors, none of whom had previous riding experience. Within the film, many of the roping and riding stunts featuring the young cowboys were performed by the experienced riders. Most of the cowboys made their acting debuts in the film, although Robert Carradine, son of prominent character actor John Carradine, A Martinez, Nicolas Beauvy and Sean Kelly previously had appeared on television or in minor roles in films. Carradine and Martinez went on to long careers in front of the camera, while Stephen Hudis and others continued as stuntmen as well as actors. Although the CBCS includes actors Frank De Kova as "Chief Joseph" and Charlie Bird as "Warrior," neither the actors nor their roles were in the released film.
       Reviews for The Cowboys , while praiseworthy of John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne and the juvenile actors, were generally critical of the picture's violence, particularly by the boys. This general feeling was expressed by critic Jay Cocks, who wrote in his Time magazine review: "Ultimately, The Cowboys suggests that you are not a man until you have murdered" and by Pauline Kael of The New Yorker , who chided Warner Bros. and director Rydell for being "in the business of corrupting minors, because this movie is about how these schoolboys become men through learning the old-fashioned virtues of killing." They and other critics also expressed dissatisfaction with sequences in which the boys became drunk and met a group of prostitutes led by Colleen Dewhurst.
       The novel and film were also the basis of a 1974 ABC television series, also entitled The Cowboys , which took up the story of the young cowboys after the death of "Wil Andersen." The television series starred Moses Gunn and Diana Douglas, along with Martinez and Carradine recreating their roles from the film and Kelly, who portrayed "Stuttering Bob," and Clay O'Brien, who portrayed "Hardy Fimps" in the movie, appearing as other characters in the series. Modern sources add the following stunt performers: Floyd Baze, Jerry Gatlin, Walt LaRue and Walter Scott. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Jan 1972.
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 1970.
---
Daily Variety
28 Apr 1971.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jan 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 26-29.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1971
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jul 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 1971
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1972.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
19 Dec 1971
Section F, p. 5, 9.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
7 Feb 1972.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Sep 1971
Calendar, p. 23, 27.
Los Angeles Times
6 Feb 1972
View, p. 1, 26.
New York Times
14 Jan 1972
p. 16.
Newsweek
24 Jan 1972.
---
Saturday Review
18 Mar 1972.
---
Time
31 Jan 1972.
---
Variety
12 Jan 1972
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mark Rydell Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
1st asst dir, 2d unit
Trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Spec photog
Spec photog
Key grip
2d grip
Gaffer
Stills
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
2d prop
3rd prop
Painter
Painter
Painter
Painter
Greensman
Gang boss/Generator
Constr coord
Constr foreman
Constr gang boss
Constr
Constr
Constr
Constr
Constr
Laborer
Plasterer
COSTUMES
Cost des
John Wayne's cost
Women's cost
Technicolor laboratory
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd ed
Boom op
Cable man
Radio man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Opticals
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Riding instructor
2d unit scr supv
Casting
Unit pub
Loc mgr
Loc auditor
Sanford auditor
Transportation capt
S/W driver
Crane driver
Honeywagon driver
Mobile home driver
Bus driver
Grip/Elec driver
Spec eff/Ward driver
Horse truck driver
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Secy to Mark Rydell
Prod secy
Timekeeper
First aid
Helicopter pilot
Caterer
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor laboratory
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Cowboys by William Dale Jennings (New York, 1971).
DETAILS
Release Date:
February 1972
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 January 1972
Los Angeles opening: 6 February 1972
Production Date:
6 April--mid July 1971 in Santa Fe, NM and Colorado
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc. & Sanford Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 January 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41649
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
126 or 128
MPAA Rating:
GP
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In the late 1870s, just before his annual cattle drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, sixty-year-old Montana rancher Wil Andersen faces the loss of everything he has worked for when his hands quit to mine a new gold strike. Strict but honest, Wil stubbornly refuses to hold his creditors off until the next year’s drive, and reluctantly considers general store owner Anse Peterson’s suggestion to utilize the only able-bodied males in town, the boys in Miss Ellen Price’s school. The next day, a group of the boys arrive at Wil’s Double-O ranch hoping to sign on. Skeptical, Wil suggests a grueling test to determine their mettle: staying on a green horse’s back for the count of ten. Charles “Slim” Honeycutt, who, at fifteen, is the oldest, is the first to pass the test, and is followed by several others. Then Mexican teenager Cimarron arrives to show Wil that he already is an expert rider. Wil says that he will think things over, then, after visiting the graves of his two sons, goes to the schoolhouse to tell the boys that he will hire them on for the summer and give each $50 when they reach Belle Fourche. On the first day, Wil trains the boys in roping, branding and herding, and eventually accepts all of them, even the youngest, Hardy Fimps. When Cimarron shows up, though, and starts a fight with Slim for calling his mother a “puta [prostitute],” Wil sends Cimarron off, then tells the boys that he will lock up all of their weapons in the chuck wagon until the end of the drive. A short time later, ... +


In the late 1870s, just before his annual cattle drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, sixty-year-old Montana rancher Wil Andersen faces the loss of everything he has worked for when his hands quit to mine a new gold strike. Strict but honest, Wil stubbornly refuses to hold his creditors off until the next year’s drive, and reluctantly considers general store owner Anse Peterson’s suggestion to utilize the only able-bodied males in town, the boys in Miss Ellen Price’s school. The next day, a group of the boys arrive at Wil’s Double-O ranch hoping to sign on. Skeptical, Wil suggests a grueling test to determine their mettle: staying on a green horse’s back for the count of ten. Charles “Slim” Honeycutt, who, at fifteen, is the oldest, is the first to pass the test, and is followed by several others. Then Mexican teenager Cimarron arrives to show Wil that he already is an expert rider. Wil says that he will think things over, then, after visiting the graves of his two sons, goes to the schoolhouse to tell the boys that he will hire them on for the summer and give each $50 when they reach Belle Fourche. On the first day, Wil trains the boys in roping, branding and herding, and eventually accepts all of them, even the youngest, Hardy Fimps. When Cimarron shows up, though, and starts a fight with Slim for calling his mother a “puta [prostitute],” Wil sends Cimarron off, then tells the boys that he will lock up all of their weapons in the chuck wagon until the end of the drive. A short time later, long-haired stranger Asa Watts, whom the boys call Long Hair, arrives at the ranch with two cohorts and asks to sign on, claiming that they have worked on many spreads. When Wil catches Long Hair in a lie for claiming to have worked recently for a man who died years before, Long Hair admits to being an ex-convict. Wil refuses to hire them because they lied, causing the disgruntled men to ride off. A short time later, black former slave Jebediah Nightlinger is hired as the new chuck wagon cook, after proving his worthiness to Wil and his wife Annie. The boys are perplexed by Jebediah because they have never seen a black man before, but soon accept him. On the first morning of the drive, the boys say goodbye to their parents as Annie lovingly makes Wil promise to come home. Off in the distance, Cimarron rides parallel to them, unseen by everyone but Wil and Jebediah. The boys are exhausted by the end of the first day and quickly fall asleep, only to be roused at 3:00 a.m. by Jebediah’s biscuits and bacon and Wil’s admonition to hurry because they are “burning daylight.” One afternoon, as they are crossing a swiftly moving river, Slim, who cannot swim, falls off his horse. Stuttering Bob cannot get the words out to alert Wil, but Cimarron quickly rides into the river and saves Slim. Wil tells Cimarron to bring his gear into camp and join them, then suddenly yells insults at Bob for not being able to make himself understood. Bob starts to sob, but then starts swearing at Wil, thus curing his stammering. That night, Wil confides in Jebediah that he had two sons who died many years ago after “going bad” and wonders if it was his fault. As the drive continues, the boys soon become able hands, and Wil begins to soften toward them. One day, when Dan, a younger boy called Four Eyes because he wears glasses, chases after a stray horse, he is accosted by Long Hair, who reveals that he and his men have been tracking the drive for days and plan to take the cattle. After dunking the terrified Dan into the river, Long Hair lets him return to the drive but warns him not to say anything or his throat will be slit. That night, when it is Dan’s turn to keep watch over the cattle, he says that he is afraid of the dark but Wil insists that he must pull his weight and sends him to watch over the herd. A short time later, kind-hearted Charlie Schwartz comes to join him, and when Dan’s glasses fall down into the canyon holding the herd, Charlie offers to retrieve them. Charlie picks up the glasses and tries to remount his horse, but the cattle become restless and trample him to death. After they bury Charlie, Wil comforts Dan, but the frightened boy still says nothing about Long Hair. One afternoon, just three days away from Belle Fourche, while Jebediah and Weedy lag behind to fix a broken axle on the chuck wagon, Wil notices that a group of men have been following them from a distance. He then sends Homer to summon Jebediah and tell him to come as soon as possible, with his guns loaded. Now a tearful Dan confesses everything to Wil, who gently tells him not to worry and warns the others to ride along as if nothing is wrong. That night, when Wil and the cowboys stop, Jebediah still has not returned. Soon after, Long Hair and his men ride into camp with a bruised Homer in tow. Long Hair tells Wil that it will be no trouble to take over the herd from the boys, but when he taunts Dan and breaks the frame of his glasses, Wil angrily challenges him to a man-to-man fight. Although Long Hair initially gains control, Wil soon gets the upper hand and wins. However, as Wil walks away, the beaten Long Hair reaches for a gun and shoots Wil in the shoulder. Undeterred, Wil stands up and starts to walk away again, but Long Hair continues to shoot until Wil collapses. The next morning, when Jebediah and Weedy arrive, the cattle have been taken and Wil is near death. As Wil dies, he says that every man wants his children to be better than he, and they are. After burying Wil, the boys determine to regain the herd and take the guns from the locked chuck wagon while they tie up the protesting Jebediah. As they ride along, the now resigned Jebediah tells them that they must first have a plan and asks them to untie him. Soon the boys ambush and kill several of Long Hair’s men, one by one, and disguise themselves by dressing in their coats. When Long Hair rides up to the herd, he quickly realizes that his men have been replaced by the boys and begins to pursue them. He loses the boys, but when he sees Jebediah, apparently alone with the chuck wagon, he goes to him and drags him to a tree to be hanged. Jebediah requests a few moments to atone for his sins, then shots ring out as the boys gallop in with drawn guns, killing or badly wounding all of Long Hair’s men. Long Hair himself begs for help to extract his broken leg from his stirrup, but instead, Cimarron shoots into the air, causing the horse to spook and drag the screaming Long Hair away. When the boys finally arrive in Belle Fourche, the townspeople are shocked that the herd is being led by mere boys. After settling the cattle, the boys buy a headstone from a stonemason who suggests the carving “beloved husband and father.” When the boys go to the spot where they buried Wil, they cannot find the grave because the prairie winds have obliterated the marker. Jebediah smiles and says that they are close enough, so the boys put the stone down and ride home, led by Slim, who warns them to hurry because they are burning daylight. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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