The Cowboys (1972)
Director: Mark Rydell
Synopsis: Wil Andersen, a rancher, needs to get his herd of cattle and horses to sell for his annual cattle drive. All of his ranch hands have quit to pan for gold at Ruby River. Mr. Andersen says that the Ruby River is “played out”. He can’t find any other ranch hands because they are either working on other ranches or too old, so he goes to the school and ends up with a bunch of pre-pubescent boys with no experience as his crew to get his herd to market, along with his cook, Jebediah Nightlinger. As Mr. Andersen is training the boys, a group of men come to the ranch and ask for jobs and he realizes that they lied about their previous employment so Mr. Andersen turns them away. These men follow the boys, Mr. Andersen, Mr. Nightlinger, and the herd as they begin their journey. The men take an opportunity to kidnap one of the boys along the way and when they bring him to the camp, a fight ensues between Mr. Andersen and the main bad guy and Mr. Andersen is shot, and dies the next day. The boys and Mr. Nightlinger come up with a plan to get back the herd that the rustlers have stolen, get the herd to market and avenge Mr. Andersen’s death.
Review: I grew up with John Wayne movies and this is one of my favorites. The main character forms a strong bond with the boys and becomes a father-like figure to them. I like this movie because I have always loved the way John Wayne uses humor in his films. It is very subtle, and you are never sure of when it is going to happen. The plan that the boys come up with to get the herd back is very clever and fun to watch. Then of course, there is the inevitable shoot-out between the good guys and the bad guys. Bruce Dern, who plays the main bad guy, does a great job of making you hate him. It is satisfying to see the boys deliver the final blow when the last man standing for the bad guys is Bruce Dern’s character and they send him off with a painful goodbye.
It is pretty comical to watch the interaction between the boys and the character Mr. Nightlinger because he is the first black man they have ever met. To their unspoken question, he responds with “all but the whites of my eyes.” After Mr. Andersen dies, you see the boys really grow up when they want to finish the job that they started.