The Cowboys (USA 1970)

Director: Mark Rydell

Starring: John Wayne, Bruce Dern, Roscoe Lee Browne

Bit Part: Slim Pickens (as genial bar tender)

Music: John Williams

Fact: Actress Laura Dern was beaten up whilst at school because her dad had killed 'The Duke' .

Bechdel Test? Fail. 

In One Line: Rancher employs teenagers to move cattle across dangerous country. 

Summary/Commentary (Spoilers!) 

Gold fever hits Will Anderson's (John Wayne) town and all his usual cattle herders leave to seek their fortunes. Anderson takes barman Slim Pickens' advice and recruits some teenagers to herd his cattle over hundreds of miles to the point of sale.

Bruce Dern ('Longhair'*) and his gang are straight out of prison and want the boys' jobs. Dern tries to bluff his way into Anderson's employ. Wayne tells Dern: 

"I don't hold prison against you son, but I hate a liar."

And sends them packing, but not before Dern's ominous logistics poser:

Longhair: Sir? Before you get back to your work I’d just like to ask you one more little question. What are you going to use for hands on this drive of yours? Huh those little bitty boys down there? Come on you know better than that Mr. Anderson, you know what you’re going to need to trundle them boys across the prairie don’t you? A baby carriage.

Will Anderson: Well what ever I need I’ll get it.

Longhair: I’ll bet you will. Good luck to you Mr. Anderson..

Wayne's 'cow boys' herd the cattle and have various adventures including a (excised from the usual print) meeting some naughty ladies, getting pissed and encountering death. The usual 'maturation' plot device.

Wayne employs mysterious, eloquent trail cook Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) for comedy/racial differences plot purposes and also to prevent him from Shakespearian soliloquising in the absence of another adult character.

Dern's gang track the cattle herders across Montana and corner them one evening as darkness falls.

In the best scene of the film Andersen fights with Longhair. The fight is precipitated by Dern's perverted bullying of the boys. Although Longhair's gang have Anderson's group at gunpoint, Anderson suggests a straightener:

Will Andersen: We've seen what you can do with boys; now let's see what you're like when they're a little bigger.

Longhair suggests that Anderson maybe a little over the hill. Anderson cocurs, but:

Will Andersen: I've broke my back once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could still beat the hell out of you.

Much of the dialogue in this scene was 'appropriated' almost verbatim in Ridley Scott's White Squall.

Anderson wins a very violent (for its time) fight, but is gunned down by the perverted Longhair.

Wayne's death scene was appropriated for the death of Murphy in Robocop.

In the most notorious section of the film, the boys regroup, and with the aid of Nightlinger, dispassionately kill Longhair and his gang before reclaiming the herd and selling them off.

They have become men.

It's a very, very dodgy message. The whole film is incredibly suspect for a myriad reasons, but if you can avoid kicking your telly screen to bits, there's good performances all round (particularly from the three main stars) and a rousing core from John Williams and enough talking points to make this an ideal tea-time murder/torture/borderline sociopathy revenge western.

Particularly good is Wayne's unorthodox approach to problem stammers in the young:

Stuttering Boy Wilson: Son-of-a-bitch.
Will Andersen: What did you say?
Stuttering Boy Wilson: You god-damned son-of-a-bitch!
Will Andersen: Say that again.
Stuttering Boy Wilson: You god-damned, mean, son-of-a-bitch!
Will Andersen: Say it faster.
Stuttering Boy Wilson: You god-damned, mean, dirty, son-of-a-bitch!
Will Andersen: I wouldn't make it a habit of calling me that, son.

The boy is cured and it is this form of therapy which has been adopted world wide by all reputable speech therapists.


*In no way a political statement vis a vis John Wayne's short haired Republicanism v 'long haired' radicalism.