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Troubled children on a dude ranch set out to save a buffalo herd.
At the Box Canyon Boys Camp in Arizona, sixteen-year-old John Cotton has a nightmare in which he and his cabin mates are placed in a corral and brutally shot down by hunters who turn out to be the boys' parents. Cotton awakens to find the other boys, Lawrence Teft, Sammy Shecker, brothers Steve and Billy Lally and young Gerald Goodenow, also awake and tense. Earlier that week, counselor Wheaties had taken the boys to a nearby buffalo preserve where people pay a fee to join state representatives in a ritual slaughter of buffalos to control the animals' population. Knowing the boys' trauma mirrors his own, Cotton suggests that they take action and return to the preserve to free the remaining buffalos scheduled for massacre. The others quickly agree and soon are riding away on camp horses. Later, Cotton stops the group to emphasize that they will be committing an illegal act, but the boys remain united. As they ride on, each of the boys reflects on his first few weeks at the camp, whose snappy motto, "Send Us a Boy, We'll Send You a Cowboy" emphasizes their dedication to athletic ability: Shecker, son of a famous television comedian, repeats his father's jokes and, being overweight, is uninterested in sports; Goodenow, whose mother has constantly babied him is, at fourteen, still wetting his bed at night; and the laconic Teft resents the forced camp games and consistently sabotages his own performance. After the first two weeks, the camp director calls a "pow-wow" to assign boys to the cabin determined by their abilities during the competitions. As they are filled, each cabin is given a Native American tribal name and awarded a mounted animal head trophy. The misfits cabin, whose occupants have scored the lowest in the games, are dubbed The Bedwetters and presented with a chamber pot. Back on the trail at sunrise, Cotton realizes that the boys will never reach the preserve by the day's end if they continue on horseback and declares they must leave the horses behind and hitch a ride. After several trucks pass the boys by, Cotton grows frustrated until Teft suggests that they stop at the next town and steal a car. In town, they find a battered large jeep used by a pest control company, which Teft easily hotwires. The Lally brothers, known as Lally 1 and Lally 2, bicker constantly throughout the trip, as Steve resents the sweet-faced Billy for being spoiled and indulged at home. As the trip proceeds, the boys again reflect on their life at camp: When Wheaties suspects the boys have been smoking pot, he threatens to turn them in until he is sidetracked by Shecker's gift of new radio headphones. Later, The Bedwetters' attempt to steal the trophy from another cabin fails and the boys suffer a group paddling, then are doused by the contents of the chamber pot, filled by each camper. After Goodenow is kicked out of another cabin for the second time, he walks into the lake, declaring he will kill himself, but finds the water too cold. Cotton invites Goodenow to join The Bedwetters and vows if anyone taunts the younger boy, he will beat them up. In the present, Shecker pleads for Teft to stop at the next town for food and Cotton reluctantly agrees. The boys enter what they believe is a deserted diner, but after ordering hamburgers, discover two pool- playing hustlers who, sizing the boys up with their camp T-shirts, immediately begin harassing them. The hazing reminds Teft of his sarcastic father, an obsessive stockbroker who has no patience or understanding of his son. Cotton urges the boys to take their food with them, but after the boys drive off, the men follow and force them to pull over. Unknown to the others except Cotton, Teft has brought along a BB gun, but when he threatens the men with it, they only laugh. Teft then shoots out a tire on their car, enabling the boys are able to resume their journey. That afternoon, however, the jeep comes to a halt and Teft realizes that he has completely forgotten about keeping the car fueled. Cotton grows hysterical and insists the car will restart. His distress prompts Cotton to think of his mother, a beautiful but insecure woman who has divorced Cotton's Marine officer father to carry on romances with several men. Prodding Cotton out of his panic, Teft urges the boys to begin walking, but Cotton declares the mission is a failure. One by one, however, each boy renews his dedication to try to reach the preserve and, pleased, Cotton rejoins the boys, who walk on into the night. Hours later, as the boys suspect they may be lost, they hear the sound of buffalos snorting and mingling in a large corral. Overcome with happiness, the boys rush to look at the beasts, recalling the tragic slaughter witnessed a few days earlier: Shocked by the callous salvo by several inexperienced shooters, including a child, the boys stagger away from the corral. Later, a young boy who had joined the shoot-out proudly displays the head of one of the victims and tells the boys the animals are useless and deserve to die. That evening, Wheaties lambastes the boys for their weakness until Teft intercedes. Throwing open Wheaties' footlocker, whose lock he has picked, Teft displays the counselor's vast pornography collection and a loaded pistol, vowing to report him unless he leaves them alone. In the present, Cotton surveys the area in the moonlight and maps out a rough plan for Teft to pick the gate's lock and the others to send the animals out of the pen. Teft then examines the lock and confesses that he cannot open it, sending Cotton into another emotional frenzy. As dawn breaks the next morning, the boys awaken as Teft roars into the preserve with a stolen truck. Reinvigorated, Cotton ties the gate chain to the truck and after prying the gate away, the boys blast their portable radios to rouse the buffalo. As the startled animals move out of the corral, the boys begin to cheer only to pause in dismay as the animals walk only a few yards away, then begin grazing. While the sheriff, Wheaties and several preserve representatives approach, Cotton jumps into the truck and races off to herd the buffalo away. Alarmed, the sheriff orders the men to shoot out the truck tires, but one shot goes amiss and kills Cotton. Horrified, the boys surround the truck as the buffalo gallop away to freedom.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||GP||Premiere Info:||not available|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
A Stanley Kramer Production
AFI-DVD*; UCLA has 16 & 35 prints
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||Columbia Pictures|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Columbia Pictures|
|Duration(mins):||100-101, 106 or 109||Country:||United States|
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User Ratings & Review
This would have made more sense (and soothed Roger Ebert) if Kramer had stuck to the original ending -- Cotton drives the jeep through the fence &...
Better than most newer coming of age movies!
This movie has remained one of my all time favorite "coming of age" movies. I rank it up there with "Teach your children well" and the...
A Good Coming-Of-Age Film
This film was a mainstay for the nineth grade classes at my high school. Like the classes before mine, we saw this movie after reading the book for our...