Cowboy


1h 32m 1958
Cowboy

Brief Synopsis

Real-life writer Frank Harris signs on as a ranch hand and learns the ropes from an experienced cowboy.

Film Details

Also Known As
Frontier, Reminiscences of a Cowboy
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 1958
Premiere Information
Oklahoma City premiere: 7 Jan 1958; New York opening: 19 Feb 1958
Production Company
Phoenix Pictures
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel On the Trail; My Reminiscences as a Cowboy by Frank Harris (London, 1930).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

When the manager of a luxurious Chicago hotel learns of the imminent arrival of trail boss Tom Reece, he tells hotel clerk Frank Harris to clear out a wing of the hotel to make room for Reece. Harris then goes to the suite of Mexican cattle baron Vidal to ask him to move to a different part of the hotel. Harris is sternly greeted by Vidal, who has just learned that the clerk has been romancing his daughter Maria and, consequently, orders Harris never to see her again. Soon after, Reece arrives, fresh from a cattle drive, and makes a deal with Vidal to buy his herd in Guadalupe, Mexico. Later, as a trail-weary Reece soaks in a hot bath, Harris delivers a tray of whiskey and eagerly asks to join the trail drive to Mexico. As Reece idly shoots cockroaches off the bathroom wall, he derides Harris as an idealistic tenderfoot whose head is filled with romantic delusions about the West. After attending the opera that night, Reece settles in for a game of poker in which he loses the majority of his profits. When Harris offers to give Reece his life savings of $3,800 if Reece will make him his partner, Reece accepts and uses the money to win back his losses. The next morning, Reece and his men go to the freight yard to catch a west-bound train. When Harris meets them there, Reece tries to renege, but Harris insists that he honor their agreement. At Wichita, Reece and his foreman, Paco Mendoza, are met by his trail gang: Charlie, Paul Curtis, Joe Capper and Peggy, the cook. New to the crew is Doc Bender, a former marshal of Wichita. After Harris struggles to tame a bucking bronco, the cowboys head for Mexico. When they stop to make camp, Reece asks Doc why he quit his job as marshal. Doc, who has gained notoriety for being fast with a gun, replies that too many men came to test his prowess, and he was sick of all the killing. For amusement, Paul teases the men with a live rattlesnake. Harris watches in horror as the snake digs its fangs into one of the cowhands. As the men hold vigil over their wounded compatriot, Joe recalls the time that he was so hungry he ate an Indian. After the cowhand dies, Reece utters a few gruff words over his grave and then comments that death awaits them all. Seven weeks later, they reach Guadalupe just in time for the town's big fiesta. While the trail hands wait in town, Reece, Harris and Paco ride to the Vidal ranch to arrange to pick up the herd. There, Harris learns that Maria has married Manuel Arriega. When Maria tries to explain to Harris that she had no choice, Arriega sees them together and warns Harris never to try to see Maria alone. The final event of the fiesta calls for a ring to be slipped over the horn of a killer bull. When Arriega, the first contestant, challenges the Americans, Harris immediately volunteers. Arriega then enters the bullring and, although he successfully puts the ring over the bull's horn, his horse is gored in the process. Reece then initiates a round of betting and insists on answering Arriega's challenge himself. To spare his horse, Reece approaches the bull on foot and after a grueling contest, slips the ring around its horn. As the crowd watches the festivities, a young boy hands Harris a note from Maria asking him to meet her at the mission that night. There she explains that her father arranged her marriage to Arriega. When Harris asks if she is in love with her husband, Maria kisses him and leaves. Disconsolate, Harris rides to the cantina where Charlie is flirting with another man's woman as a group of Mexicans glower at him. When he tries to help Charlie, the Mexicans escort Harris to his horse. Upon returning to camp, Harris tries to rally the men to help Charlie. When Reece orders him to go to bed, Harris denounces him as caring more about his cattle than his men. The next morning, Charlie rides into camp, his arm in a sling from being wounded by one of the Mexican's knives. As they begin the cattle drive back to Wichita, Reece tries to console Harris over his loss of Maria. After they bed down for the night, Harris rides out to an arroyo to round up some strays. Reece, concerned about a group of Indians that have been trailing them, tells his men to prepare for an attack. When the Indians bypass the camp, however, Reece realizes that they have decided to steal the strays from Harris. To save Harris' life, Reece orders the cattle stampeded into the arroyo, prompting Paco to warn that they will never be able to retrieve all the scattered cattle. Stating that Harris is more valuable than cattle, Reece gives the go-ahead for the stampede. The stampede routs the Indians, but after Reece is wounded by an Indian bullet, Harris assumes command and drives the men day and night until they have recovered all but 200 cows. Harris then declares that the missing cows belong to Reece and will be deducted from his profits. When the drive reaches Wichita, Doc decides to settle down there. As the cattle are being loaded onto the train, word comes that Doc hanged himself after an old friend challenged him to a gunfight, thus forcing Doc to kill him. When Harris appears unmoved by the news, Reece accuses him of "not giving a damn." On the train trip to Chicago, several steers are in danger of being trampled to death after losing their footing and falling to the floor of the cattle car. After Harris risks his life by climbing into the car to right the steers, Reece goes to help him and finds Harris trapped on the floor, surrounded by a herd of restless cows. Reece jumps into the car and helps Harris to his feet, after which Harris agrees to split the loss of the 200 cattle with him. Upon reaching Chicago, Reece and Harris check into the hotel and take side-by-side baths while Harris shoots the cockroaches off the wall.

Film Details

Also Known As
Frontier, Reminiscences of a Cowboy
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 1958
Premiere Information
Oklahoma City premiere: 7 Jan 1958; New York opening: 19 Feb 1958
Production Company
Phoenix Pictures
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel On the Trail; My Reminiscences as a Cowboy by Frank Harris (London, 1930).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Editing

1958

Articles

Cowboy


Considered an unsuitable mate by the father of the woman he loves, Chicago hotel clerk Frank Harris (Jack Lemmon) decides to go West in pursuit of his dream to be a cowboy. He also hopes success in a real man's world will change his potential father-in-law's mind and help him rekindle the romance. Harris joins the cattle-driving outfit of Tom Reece (Glenn Ford) ready for adventure but soon realizes he's in for a lot tougher time than he bargained for. Eventually, the tenderfoot comes to appreciate an entirely different way of life with its own codes and values.

By this point in his career, after only four years and ten roles on the big screen, Jack Lemmon was already well on his way to establishing his image as the high-strung urban male. That made him the perfect choice to play Frank Harris in Cowboy (1958) and bring a lot of manic humor to the part of a city slicker struggling to make good in the tough world of the Old West. But it's Glenn Ford who provides the rock-solid center of the picture as trail boss Tom Reece, a decent, no-nonsense guy nearly driven to distraction by the inept rookie cowboy.

Ford was always rather likable on screen and could be counted on to bring a relaxed, genial sincerity to any role. He made his early mark in the 1940s in mostly slick contemporary roles, notably Bette Davis' husband in A Stolen Life (1946) and as the uncharacteristically (for him) nasty and cynical hero who toyed mercilessly with Rita Hayworth (and vice versa) in Gilda (1946). In the '50s, he logged much screen time in urban crime dramas like The Big Heat (1953) and Human Desire (1954), both for Fritz Lang. But he also found a comfortable niche in Westerns. Among the most successful of that genre were the three he made for director Delmer Daves. Jubal (1956) revealed a hardness under Ford's amiable exterior, and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) went even further in that direction, casting him as the villain in a twisted game of psychological cat and mouse with good guy Van Heflin. If Ford wasn't entirely comfortable in that role, Cowboy would make full use of both his hardened toughness and essentially decent nature.

While never considered one of the great artists among Hollywood filmmakers, Daves had a long and varied career as director, producer, and screenwriter and could be counted on for straightforward, unpretentious storytelling. At only 11 years old he made his film debut as an actor in a silent version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1915). He got a degree in law from Stanford University, but the movies soon called him back. By the 1920s he was acting again, but gave that up after 1932. Daves then penned some of the most popular films of the decade, including Dames (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Love Affair (1939). He made his directorial debut with a war movie, Destination Tokyo (1943), and went on to distinguish himself in thrillers, costume dramas, and romances. But Westerns always remained closest to his heart - in his young days he spent time living on Hopi and Navajo reservations.

By the way, Cowboy was based on a true story, Frank Harris's own account of his attempts to be a cowpoke. Harris's book, My Reminiscences as a Cowboy, was adapted to the screen by Edmund H. North and Dalton Trumbo, who received no screen credit at the time because he had been blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. And check the cast for appearances by Anna Kashfi (then married to Marlon Brando), Dick York (the first Darren on TV's Bewitched), and character actor Strother Martin (Paul Newman's road gang boss/nemesis in Cool Hand Luke, 1967).

Producer: Julian Blaustein
Director: Delmer Daves
Screenplay: Edmund H. North, Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), based on the book by Frank Harris
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Editing: Al Clark, William A. Lyon
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Original Music: George Duning
Principal Cast: Glenn Ford (Tom Reece), Jack Lemmon (Frank Harris), Anna Kashfi (Maria Vidal), Brian Donlevy (Doc Bender), Dick York (Charlie), Richard Jaekel (Paul Curtis), Strother Martin (Trailhand), King Donovan (Joe Capper), Victor Manuel Mendoza (Paco Mendoza), Vaughn Taylor (Mr. Fowler).
C-92m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

Cowboy

Cowboy

Considered an unsuitable mate by the father of the woman he loves, Chicago hotel clerk Frank Harris (Jack Lemmon) decides to go West in pursuit of his dream to be a cowboy. He also hopes success in a real man's world will change his potential father-in-law's mind and help him rekindle the romance. Harris joins the cattle-driving outfit of Tom Reece (Glenn Ford) ready for adventure but soon realizes he's in for a lot tougher time than he bargained for. Eventually, the tenderfoot comes to appreciate an entirely different way of life with its own codes and values. By this point in his career, after only four years and ten roles on the big screen, Jack Lemmon was already well on his way to establishing his image as the high-strung urban male. That made him the perfect choice to play Frank Harris in Cowboy (1958) and bring a lot of manic humor to the part of a city slicker struggling to make good in the tough world of the Old West. But it's Glenn Ford who provides the rock-solid center of the picture as trail boss Tom Reece, a decent, no-nonsense guy nearly driven to distraction by the inept rookie cowboy. Ford was always rather likable on screen and could be counted on to bring a relaxed, genial sincerity to any role. He made his early mark in the 1940s in mostly slick contemporary roles, notably Bette Davis' husband in A Stolen Life (1946) and as the uncharacteristically (for him) nasty and cynical hero who toyed mercilessly with Rita Hayworth (and vice versa) in Gilda (1946). In the '50s, he logged much screen time in urban crime dramas like The Big Heat (1953) and Human Desire (1954), both for Fritz Lang. But he also found a comfortable niche in Westerns. Among the most successful of that genre were the three he made for director Delmer Daves. Jubal (1956) revealed a hardness under Ford's amiable exterior, and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) went even further in that direction, casting him as the villain in a twisted game of psychological cat and mouse with good guy Van Heflin. If Ford wasn't entirely comfortable in that role, Cowboy would make full use of both his hardened toughness and essentially decent nature. While never considered one of the great artists among Hollywood filmmakers, Daves had a long and varied career as director, producer, and screenwriter and could be counted on for straightforward, unpretentious storytelling. At only 11 years old he made his film debut as an actor in a silent version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1915). He got a degree in law from Stanford University, but the movies soon called him back. By the 1920s he was acting again, but gave that up after 1932. Daves then penned some of the most popular films of the decade, including Dames (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Love Affair (1939). He made his directorial debut with a war movie, Destination Tokyo (1943), and went on to distinguish himself in thrillers, costume dramas, and romances. But Westerns always remained closest to his heart - in his young days he spent time living on Hopi and Navajo reservations. By the way, Cowboy was based on a true story, Frank Harris's own account of his attempts to be a cowpoke. Harris's book, My Reminiscences as a Cowboy, was adapted to the screen by Edmund H. North and Dalton Trumbo, who received no screen credit at the time because he had been blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. And check the cast for appearances by Anna Kashfi (then married to Marlon Brando), Dick York (the first Darren on TV's Bewitched), and character actor Strother Martin (Paul Newman's road gang boss/nemesis in Cool Hand Luke, 1967). Producer: Julian Blaustein Director: Delmer Daves Screenplay: Edmund H. North, Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), based on the book by Frank Harris Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr. Editing: Al Clark, William A. Lyon Art Direction: Cary Odell Original Music: George Duning Principal Cast: Glenn Ford (Tom Reece), Jack Lemmon (Frank Harris), Anna Kashfi (Maria Vidal), Brian Donlevy (Doc Bender), Dick York (Charlie), Richard Jaekel (Paul Curtis), Strother Martin (Trailhand), King Donovan (Joe Capper), Victor Manuel Mendoza (Paco Mendoza), Vaughn Taylor (Mr. Fowler). C-92m. Letterboxed. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Anybody know the right words? When something like this happens, people start asking how come it happened. Was it his fault...or somebody else's fault? Well, that isn't for us to say. You see, we don't know all the answers. All we know is a man is dead and that's that. In the long run, I don't think it would have made any difference anyhow. I mean, if it hadn't been a snake that got him, it would have been a steer, or a Comanche, or it might have been a...his horse might have stumbled into a prairie dog hole some dark night. He was a good man with cattle and always did the best he knew how. I hope someone could say the same over me.
- Tom Reese
We rounded up most of the herd...that is, all we could find.
- Frank Harris
How many head did we lose?
- Tom Reese
Just over 200.
- Frank Harris
That's a lot of cows.
- Tom Reese
Yeah, it is. It's too bad. It's too bad for you.
- Frank Harris

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Frontier and Reminiscences of a Cowboy. The film's title cards are presented against a background of bold blocks of color. Some of the titles are embedded in a Chicago newspaper page, while others are interspersed with animated drawings of cattle brands, stars in the sky and cows. Frank Harris (1856-1931) was an Irish-born writer who immigrated to the United States in 1869. Harris was known for his novels, short stories and studies of Shakespeare. He also wrote biographies of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, but perhaps his best known work was the multi-volumed novel My Life and Loves (1922-27).
       According to a May 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, John Huston originally owned the screen rights to Harris' semi-autobiographical novel On the Trail: My Reminiscences as a Cowboy, and was planning to star his father Walter Huston in the film. When Walter died in 1949, the project was abandoned. A January 1953 Daily Variety news item adds that the Huston production was also to star Montgomery Clift. The same news item announced that writer-producer Ranald MacDougall was assigned the Columbia project, that would also star Clift. By June 1954, a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Peter Viertel was rewriting the script, and that Jerry Wald would produce the film with Spencer Tracy as its star. A July 1956 Los Angeles Times news item adds that Alan Ladd and Gary Cooper were mentioned for the male leads.
       A February 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that a single recording written by George Duning and Dickson Hall entitled "Song of the Cowboy" was released simultaneously with the film's soundtrack. That song was not performed in the picture, however. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Editing, and directors Delmer Daves and Sam Nelson were nominated for a Screen Director's Guild Award for their work on Cowboy. An August 2000 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the WGA had restored the credit of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who co-wrote the film with Edmund H. North.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring March 1958

Re-released in United States on Video January 30, 1996

Re-released in United States on Video January 30, 1996

Released in United States Spring March 1958