Cockfighter (1974)

R | 83 mins | Drama | 1974

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HISTORY

The film begins with voiceover narration by the mute character “Frank Mansfield,” who describes his passion for cockfighting because the birds will fight to the death without making a sound. Although Frank does not speak until the end of the film, his thoughts are intermittently expressed in voiceover.
       A 5 Oct 1972 HR news item announced that producer Roger Corman purchased the film rights to Charles Willeford’s novel, Cockfighter (New York, 1972) and shooting was set to begin in Florida during the first months of 1973. Willeford was contracted to write the screen adaptation. As reported in a 14 Dec 1972 HR news item, the picture, which was referred to as The Cock Fighter , was the first feature film to be developed after a $10 million, eight movie deal was brokered between producer Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Adolphus Hawkins, Jr.’s Hawkins Land Development. Corman was set to direct. A 4 Mar 1974 Box news item reported that writer Bill Norton completed the script and Monte Hellman was hired to direct the film in Georgia. Norton is not credited in the picture.
       According to an interview with Monte Hellman from a 1976 edition of Jump Cut , Corman gave the director an early script of the film and he began rewrites in early 1974. Hellman soon employed an unnamed writer to polish the dialogue on his revised script, but Willeford is the only contributor to receive writing credit in the film. Willeford was cast in the role of “Ed Middleton” during the shoot, as noted in a ... More Less

The film begins with voiceover narration by the mute character “Frank Mansfield,” who describes his passion for cockfighting because the birds will fight to the death without making a sound. Although Frank does not speak until the end of the film, his thoughts are intermittently expressed in voiceover.
       A 5 Oct 1972 HR news item announced that producer Roger Corman purchased the film rights to Charles Willeford’s novel, Cockfighter (New York, 1972) and shooting was set to begin in Florida during the first months of 1973. Willeford was contracted to write the screen adaptation. As reported in a 14 Dec 1972 HR news item, the picture, which was referred to as The Cock Fighter , was the first feature film to be developed after a $10 million, eight movie deal was brokered between producer Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Adolphus Hawkins, Jr.’s Hawkins Land Development. Corman was set to direct. A 4 Mar 1974 Box news item reported that writer Bill Norton completed the script and Monte Hellman was hired to direct the film in Georgia. Norton is not credited in the picture.
       According to an interview with Monte Hellman from a 1976 edition of Jump Cut , Corman gave the director an early script of the film and he began rewrites in early 1974. Hellman soon employed an unnamed writer to polish the dialogue on his revised script, but Willeford is the only contributor to receive writing credit in the film. Willeford was cast in the role of “Ed Middleton” during the shoot, as noted in a 3 Jun 1974 Publishers Weekly news item; he did not write the part with himself in mind.
       Hellman told Jump Cut that the production took just four weeks, but HR production charts published on 17 May 1974 reported the start date of principal photography as 29 Apr 1974 in Atlanta, GA, and the film was still listed on HR production charts as of 13 Sep 1974. However, a 20 May 1974 Box article announced that filming would be complete on 25 May 1974 in Roswell, GA. Box also lists Toccoa, GA, as a primary location.
       As reported in Box , cockfighting was illegal in Georgia at the time of production, and the Atlanta Humane Society appealed to Governor Jimmy Carter to halt the shoot. Although the filmmakers admitted to staging fights, they claimed to be using rubber spurs to reduce injuries for the birds and the law enforcement in Stephens County, GA, argued that no law had been violated. When Governor Carter requested the Humane Society send an observer the set, the controversy subsided.
       According to Hellman, the crew consisted of recent film school graduates, hired by Corman, who were “incompetent” and “inefficient,” and this resulted in shots that were out of focus. He said that he was not able to fire crewmembers because he was obliged to pay their full salaries even if they were let go and he did not have extra money in the budget, which was approximately $400,000. Hellman stated that the film was finished well under budget because of Corman’s decision to hire inexperienced crewmembers. Hellman noted the exception of seasoned photographer Nestor Almendros, who was paid close to his regular salary because Corman was insistent on using him.
       Hellman told Jump Cut that the film’s post-production was accelerated because he and editor Lewis Teague cut the film simultaneously. Teague edited all of the cockfighting scenes and received sole editing credit in the film. According to the director, Corman made editorial changes after the picture was complete to make the cockfighting scenes “more brutal and more bloody.” A second unit was hired to shoot footage of blood that was cut into the film, but, as reported by Hellman, audiences reacted negatively to the violence and some of Corman’s additions were removed. Hellman stated that in reality, there is little bloodshed in cockfighting, and the insertion of the bloody footage was disingenuous, particularly because he wanted the picture to emulate documentary filmmaking. Hellman also noted that he would have preferred to rewrite the script before shooting, giving the story more structure and bringing out the plot earlier in the film, but the producers were not interested.
       Cockfighter made its world premiere in Roswell, GA, on 30 Jul 1974, as reported in a 5 Aug 1974 news item in Box . The event was a benefit for the town’s high school Boosters Club and actor Warren Oates made a personal appearance. According to a 7 Jul 1975 Box news item, the film was unable to draw audiences in the South, so it was re-released as Born to Kill . Box noted that the titles Wild Drifter and Gamblin’ Man were also associated with the picture at this time to enhance its marketability. A 31 Aug 1983 LAT review of a tribute to Oates reported that when Cockfighter was re-released as Born to Kill , “a key love scene was truncated and some fantasy chases (were) added for inclusion in the trailer in order to disguise the fact that the film… is most definitely about cockfighting.”
       On 27 Jul 1984, DV announced an $8.5 million lawsuit filed against Cinerama International Films by an American investment group who claimed they bought the exclusive rights to Gamblin’ Man for $1.3 million in 1974. However, they were not informed that the film had already been released. According to DV , a member of the investment group, Sterling Associates, renamed the picture to Born to Kill in late 1974, after the deal was negotiated. The investors learned that the film, which was distributed in Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, Kansas, Washington, DC, and New Orleans, LA, between 5 Aug 1974 and 30 Nov 1974, grossed $61,664.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Mar 1974.
---
Box Office
20 May 1974.
---
Box Office
5 Aug 1974.
---
Box Office
7 Jul 1975.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jul 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1974
p. 23.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 1974
p. 19.
Jump Cut
1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Aug 1983
p. 3.
Publishers Weekly
3 Jun 1974.
---
Variety
10 Apr 1972.
---
Variety
4 Jun 1975
p. 19.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
2d unit cam
Cam asst
Cam asst
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Props
COSTUMES
Ward
Asst ward
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Loc coord
Cecomobile
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Tech adv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Cockfighter by Charles Willeford (New York, 1972).
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Born to Kill
Gamblin' Man
Wild Drifter
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Roswell, GA: 30 July 1974
Production Date:
29 April--mid September 1974 in Atlanta
Physical Properties:
Sound
Ryder Sound Service
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
83
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

As mute cockfighter Frank Mansfield drives his prized rooster to a match, his girlfriend, Dody White, says he talks in his sleep. When he arrives at the fight, Frank bets his car and mobile home against his competitor, Jack Burke. Before the fight, Frank underhandedly slices the cock’s beak with a razor so it will appear cracked and people will bet against him. However, Frank’s plan backfires when his rooster’s beak breaks during the fight and Jack’s contender wins. After Frank lays his fighting cock to rest in a dumpster filled with dead birds, Jack comes to collect his winnings. When Dody protests giving up their mobile home, Frank hands her over to Jack as well. Frank hitches a ride with referee Ed Middleton, who reveals his knowledge of Frank’s trick with the cock’s beak and suggests that Frank made too deep an incision. Showing off his medal for “Cockfighter of the Year,” Ed reminds Frank that it could have been his two years ago if not for his “mouthing off.” Frank remembers the incident to which Ed refers. The evening before the championship tournament, Frank brags to Jack that he is the best trainer in the world. Jack challenges Frank to an impromptu cockfight, but Frank’s rooster loses and he is unable to compete in the tournament. When Jack gloats that Frank is guilty of drinking and talking too much, Frank vows to remain silent until he wins the medal. Back on the road, Frank arrives at Ed’s farm and selects a large, white rooster to be his new champion fighter, but is unable to afford ... +


As mute cockfighter Frank Mansfield drives his prized rooster to a match, his girlfriend, Dody White, says he talks in his sleep. When he arrives at the fight, Frank bets his car and mobile home against his competitor, Jack Burke. Before the fight, Frank underhandedly slices the cock’s beak with a razor so it will appear cracked and people will bet against him. However, Frank’s plan backfires when his rooster’s beak breaks during the fight and Jack’s contender wins. After Frank lays his fighting cock to rest in a dumpster filled with dead birds, Jack comes to collect his winnings. When Dody protests giving up their mobile home, Frank hands her over to Jack as well. Frank hitches a ride with referee Ed Middleton, who reveals his knowledge of Frank’s trick with the cock’s beak and suggests that Frank made too deep an incision. Showing off his medal for “Cockfighter of the Year,” Ed reminds Frank that it could have been his two years ago if not for his “mouthing off.” Frank remembers the incident to which Ed refers. The evening before the championship tournament, Frank brags to Jack that he is the best trainer in the world. Jack challenges Frank to an impromptu cockfight, but Frank’s rooster loses and he is unable to compete in the tournament. When Jack gloats that Frank is guilty of drinking and talking too much, Frank vows to remain silent until he wins the medal. Back on the road, Frank arrives at Ed’s farm and selects a large, white rooster to be his new champion fighter, but is unable to afford its $500 price. Frank returns home to Mansfield, Georgia, with the intention of raising money to buy the rooster. His brother, Randall, refuses to pay his debt to Frank but encourages him to move back to the Mansfield family home. Frank’s old girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth, comes over and announces that she received a marriage proposal from another man while Frank was away. As the couple makes love, Mary Elizabeth tells Frank she wants to settle down with him but she does not approve of his cockfighting, and he walks away. Sometime later, Frank sells the Mansfield house without his brother’s consent and returns to Ed with cash for the cock, but the referee admits $500 is too much money for one rooster and takes a fraction of the cost. Ed sends Frank to see farmer Omar Baradinsky, who is selling black roosters. When one of the cocks attacks Frank’s ankles, he chops its head off and Omar invites him for dinner to eat it. Omar suggests they become partners and, after receiving an invitation to the cockfighting championship, Frank agrees. The men train their fighters with Frank’s former associate, Buford, who says he prefers Frank now that he doesn’t speak. As the cockfighting season begins, a young man named Junior Hollenbeck challenges Frank to a match. When Junior is disqualified and refuses to make good on his bet, Frank and Omar take his cash by force. Later, Frank writes a letter to Mary Elizabeth. He tells her she needs to see a fight for herself before condemning the sport and includes two tickets for the championship tournament. Declaring his love for her, Frank asks Mary Elizabeth to give him “a fighting chance.” At another match, Jack tells Frank he married Dody, who is still angry with Frank for handing her off as property. When Frank’s cock defeats Jack’s contender in the fight, Dody jumps into the ring and hits Frank over the head with her purse. As the season continues, Frank and Omar enjoy success. In one of the final fights before the tournament, a derby is set up in an apartment to avoid law enforcement. The match participants are held up at gunpoint, but Omar hears the robbers coming and hides his cash in a bathtub filled with rooster corpses. Meanwhile, at another match, Frank learns that the floor of the fighting ring has been layered with linoleum to give the home rooster an advantage, but he puts resin on his cock’s feet to keep them from slipping and wins. The farmer’s son is outraged at his rooster’s death and goes after Frank, who retaliates by nearly drowning the young man in a trough. Back at their cock training camp, Omar, Frank and Buford drink champagne to toast their anticipated victory at the upcoming championship. When they arrive at the plantation hosting the event, Frank hopes to see Mary Elizabeth but instead runs into Ed. The referee warns Frank that he will be keeping a close eye on him to make sure he is not cheating. That evening at a black tie reception, Omar meets Senator Foxhall and learns that Frank’s grandfather was a master cockfighter. On the first day of the tournament, Frank accelerates through the ranks. The next day, as Frank’s white cock fights Jack’s contender in the final match, Mary Elizabeth finds a seat in the bleachers and watches in dismay. Both cocks fight to the death, but Ed declares Frank the winner. Unimpressed, Mary Elizabeth heads to the parking lot. As Frank catches up with her, cradling his dead rooster, she tells him she is disgusted by his lack of emotion. When Mary Elizabeth says the cock’s heart and voice have more power than Frank’s, he pulls the rooster’s head off and forces it into her hand. Realizing the head is a substitute for Frank’s heart, Mary Elizabeth says she was foolish for loving him. Omar runs to tell Frank that Senator Foxhall just announced him “Cockfighter of the Year.” As Mary Elizabeth drives away, a smile comes over Frank’s face and he speaks out loud for the first time since he took his pledge of silence. He tells Omar that Mary Elizabeth loves him. +

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

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