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The Cowboys
Director: Mark Rydell
Screenplay: Harriet Frank Jr., Irving Ravetch, William Dale Jennings
Producer: Mark Rydell, Tim Zinnemann
Cast: John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst, Alfred Barker Jr.
Genre: Drama

Running Time: 131
Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1 (NTSC Widescreen)
Sound: AC-3
Subtitles: English, French
Studio:  Warner Home Video DVD Region:  1 PG
DVD Release:  May 2007 Discs:  1 (Cloud) []
Reviews:  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 Shannon"

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