The Cowboys


2h 8m 1972
The Cowboys

Brief Synopsis

When his crew quits, a veteran cattleman trains schoolboys for the big drive.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Feb 1972
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Jan 1972; Los Angeles opening: 6 Feb 1972
Production Company
Sanford Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Canon City, Colorado, United States; Pegosa Springs, Colorado, United States; San Cristobal Ranch, New Mexico, United States; Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States; Colorado, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Cowboys by William Dale Jennings (New York, 1971).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Synopsis

In the late 1870s, just before his annual cattle drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, sixty-year-old Montana rancher Wil Andersen faces the loss of everything he has worked for when his hands quit to mine a new gold strike. Strict but honest, Wil stubbornly refuses to hold his creditors off until the next year's drive, and reluctantly considers general store owner Anse Peterson's suggestion to utilize the only able-bodied males in town, the boys in Miss Ellen Price's school. The next day, a group of the boys arrive at Wil's Double-O ranch hoping to sign on. Skeptical, Wil suggests a grueling test to determine their mettle: staying on a green horse's back for the count of ten. Charles "Slim" Honeycutt, who, at fifteen, is the oldest, is the first to pass the test, and is followed by several others. Then Mexican teenager Cimarron arrives to show Wil that he already is an expert rider. Wil says that he will think things over, then, after visiting the graves of his two sons, goes to the schoolhouse to tell the boys that he will hire them on for the summer and give each $50 when they reach Belle Fourche. On the first day, Wil trains the boys in roping, branding and herding, and eventually accepts all of them, even the youngest, Hardy Fimps. When Cimarron shows up, though, and starts a fight with Slim for calling his mother a "puta [prostitute]," Wil sends Cimarron off, then tells the boys that he will lock up all of their weapons in the chuck wagon until the end of the drive. A short time later, long-haired stranger Asa Watts, whom the boys call Long Hair, arrives at the ranch with two cohorts and asks to sign on, claiming that they have worked on many spreads. When Wil catches Long Hair in a lie for claiming to have worked recently for a man who died years before, Long Hair admits to being an ex-convict. Wil refuses to hire them because they lied, causing the disgruntled men to ride off. A short time later, black former slave Jebediah Nightlinger is hired as the new chuck wagon cook, after proving his worthiness to Wil and his wife Annie. The boys are perplexed by Jebediah because they have never seen a black man before, but soon accept him. On the first morning of the drive, the boys say goodbye to their parents as Annie lovingly makes Wil promise to come home. Off in the distance, Cimarron rides parallel to them, unseen by everyone but Wil and Jebediah. The boys are exhausted by the end of the first day and quickly fall asleep, only to be roused at 3:00 a.m. by Jebediah's biscuits and bacon and Wil's admonition to hurry because they are "burning daylight." One afternoon, as they are crossing a swiftly moving river, Slim, who cannot swim, falls off his horse. Stuttering Bob cannot get the words out to alert Wil, but Cimarron quickly rides into the river and saves Slim. Wil tells Cimarron to bring his gear into camp and join them, then suddenly yells insults at Bob for not being able to make himself understood. Bob starts to sob, but then starts swearing at Wil, thus curing his stammering. That night, Wil confides in Jebediah that he had two sons who died many years ago after "going bad" and wonders if it was his fault. As the drive continues, the boys soon become able hands, and Wil begins to soften toward them. One day, when Dan, a younger boy called Four Eyes because he wears glasses, chases after a stray horse, he is accosted by Long Hair, who reveals that he and his men have been tracking the drive for days and plan to take the cattle. After dunking the terrified Dan into the river, Long Hair lets him return to the drive but warns him not to say anything or his throat will be slit. That night, when it is Dan's turn to keep watch over the cattle, he says that he is afraid of the dark but Wil insists that he must pull his weight and sends him to watch over the herd. A short time later, kind-hearted Charlie Schwartz comes to join him, and when Dan's glasses fall down into the canyon holding the herd, Charlie offers to retrieve them. Charlie picks up the glasses and tries to remount his horse, but the cattle become restless and trample him to death. After they bury Charlie, Wil comforts Dan, but the frightened boy still says nothing about Long Hair. One afternoon, just three days away from Belle Fourche, while Jebediah and Weedy lag behind to fix a broken axle on the chuck wagon, Wil notices that a group of men have been following them from a distance. He then sends Homer to summon Jebediah and tell him to come as soon as possible, with his guns loaded. Now a tearful Dan confesses everything to Wil, who gently tells him not to worry and warns the others to ride along as if nothing is wrong. That night, when Wil and the cowboys stop, Jebediah still has not returned. Soon after, Long Hair and his men ride into camp with a bruised Homer in tow. Long Hair tells Wil that it will be no trouble to take over the herd from the boys, but when he taunts Dan and breaks the frame of his glasses, Wil angrily challenges him to a man-to-man fight. Although Long Hair initially gains control, Wil soon gets the upper hand and wins. However, as Wil walks away, the beaten Long Hair reaches for a gun and shoots Wil in the shoulder. Undeterred, Wil stands up and starts to walk away again, but Long Hair continues to shoot until Wil collapses. The next morning, when Jebediah and Weedy arrive, the cattle have been taken and Wil is near death. As Wil dies, he says that every man wants his children to be better than he, and they are. After burying Wil, the boys determine to regain the herd and take the guns from the locked chuck wagon while they tie up the protesting Jebediah. As they ride along, the now resigned Jebediah tells them that they must first have a plan and asks them to untie him. Soon the boys ambush and kill several of Long Hair's men, one by one, and disguise themselves by dressing in their coats. When Long Hair rides up to the herd, he quickly realizes that his men have been replaced by the boys and begins to pursue them. He loses the boys, but when he sees Jebediah, apparently alone with the chuck wagon, he goes to him and drags him to a tree to be hanged. Jebediah requests a few moments to atone for his sins, then shots ring out as the boys gallop in with drawn guns, killing or badly wounding all of Long Hair's men. Long Hair himself begs for help to extract his broken leg from his stirrup, but instead, Cimarron shoots into the air, causing the horse to spook and drag the screaming Long Hair away. When the boys finally arrive in Belle Fourche, the townspeople are shocked that the herd is being led by mere boys. After settling the cattle, the boys buy a headstone from a stonemason who suggests the carving "beloved husband and father." When the boys go to the spot where they buried Wil, they cannot find the grave because the prairie winds have obliterated the marker. Jebediah smiles and says that they are close enough, so the boys put the stone down and ride home, led by Slim, who warns them to hurry because they are burning daylight.

Crew

Patricia Abbott

Hairstylist

Jose Abrignani

Plasterer

Henry Alvarado

Laborer

Jim Antunez

Mobile home driver

Joan Arnold

Prod Secretary

Jerry Ballew

Trainee

Raymond Barone

Painter

Dick Barth

Camera Assistant

Harold Bates

Wrangler

Luster Bayless

John Wayne's Costume

Glen Bird

Gaffer

Fred Brost

2d Assistant Director

Red Burns

Riding instructor

Joe Butterworth

Greensman

Don Cady

Best Boy

Jack Casey

Unit Publicist

Joe Catalfo

First aid

Bill Catching

Stunts

Hugh Chambliss

Stunts

George Coleman

S/W driver

James R. Connell

Camera Operator

Jerry Courion

Crane driver

Marty Dark

Timekeeper

Bobby Davenport

Wrangler

Mark Davis

2nd Unit Photography

Bud Dawson

Gang boss/Generator

Joseph De Franco

Constr

Bob Edwards

Transportation capt

Nate H. Edwards

Production Manager

Albert Ellis

Constr gang boss

Hayes Ewing

Constr

Guy Faria

Constr

John Ferguson

Radio man

Bob Forrest

Script Supervisor

Harriet Frank Jr.

Screenwriter

Bill Gallant

Loc Manager

Jim Gavin

Helicopter pilot

Bob Goodrich

Horse truck driver

Dave Grayson

Makeup

Frank Hafemann

Constr foreman

Oscar Hall

Constr

Rolly Harper

Caterer

Donald Harris

Music Editor

Buck Hawkins

Constr Coordinator

Danny Hayes

Special Effects

Robert Buzz Henry

2nd Unit Director

Les Hoyle

2d unit Screenplay Supervisor

Jack Jancich

Painter

Philip Jefferies

Production Design

William Dale Jennings

Screenwriter

John Jensen

Illustrator

Bobby Johnson

Stunts

Bill Jones

Ramrod

Gordon Jones

Wrangler

Ray Kennedy

Wrangler

Joe Kenworthy

Cable man

William Kiernan

Set Decoration

Don Lambert

Key grip

Frank Lane

Wrangler

Maurice Larson

Painter

Emile Lavigne

Makeup

George Leslie

Loc auditor

Jack Lietzke

Bus driver

Joe Lomax

Wrangler

Stanley Mark

Sanford auditor

Lambert Marks

Costumes

Benny Massi

Painter

Terry Meade

Camera Operator

Dick Moder

Unit Production Manager

Dick Moder

1st Assistant Director, 2d unit

Ed Morey Jr.

Camera Assistant

Wayne Morrison

Stunts

Ed Mulay

2d Props

Wilbur Munson

Honeywagon driver

Ship Nicholson

Technicolor laboratory

Skip Nicholson

Technicolor laboratory

Phill Norman

Title Designer

Greg Nowak

2d grip

Gene O'brien

Wrangler

Frank Olmstead

Special Effects/Ward driver

George Peckham

Special Effects

Angel Perez

Constr

Richard Portman

Re-Recording

Neva Rames

Women's Costume

Irving Ravetch

Screenwriter

Chuck Roberson

Stunts

Kay Rose

Sound Editing

Mark Rydell

Producer

Tony Scarano

Costumes

Jack Schroetter

Grip/Electrician driver

Robert Schultz

Props Master

Buddy Sherwood

Wrangler

Andrew Siegel

2d Assistant Director

Nanette Siegert

Secretary to Mark Rydell

Jack Solomon

Sound

Robert Stahler

Assistant art Director

Lynn Stalmaster

Casting

Robert Surtees

Director of Photography

Dave Sutton

Special Photography

Robert Swink

Supervising Film Editor

Anthea Sylbert

Costume Design

Casey Tibbs

Stunts

Neil Travis

Film Editor

Mel Traxel

Stills

Buddy Van Horn

Stunts

Weston Webb

Constr

Joe Wilcots

Camera Assistant

John Williams

Music

Bob Willoughby

Special Photography

Marty Wunderlich

3rd Props

Walter Wyatt

Stunts

Al Yaylian

Boom Operator

Ray York

Stunts

Tim Zinnemann

Assistant Director

Tim Zinnemann

Associate Producer

Photo Collections

The Cowboys - Movie Posters
The Cowboys - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Straight Place And Show (1938) - Rootin' Hootin' Tootin' Cowboys So far we’ve only met the high-society horse-owning foils to the headliners but here the stars are introduced at the track, Ritz Brothers Jimmy, Harry and Al running a kiddie show, with a specialty number by Sid Kuller, Ray Golden and Jule Styne, early in Straight Place And Show, 1938.
Cowboys, The (1972) - Everybody Lit Out John Wayne as 1870’s Montana rancher Wil Andersen, hard at work in director Mark Rydell’s opening, visited by erstwhile cowhands (Matt Clark as Smiley, with Jerry Gatlin and Walter Scott), not up for a cattle drive, then conferring with his wife (Sara Cunningham), in The Cowboys, 1972.
Cowboys, The (1972) - I Don't Go To School 1870’s Montana, rancher Andersen (John Wayne) is trying out schoolboys for his cattle drive, (Alfred Barker Jr. as Fats, Stephen Hudis as Schwartz) when A Martinez, as Cimarron, shows up, with an impressive ride, and a fracas with Slim (Robert Carradine), in director Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys, 1972.
Cowboys, The (1972) - Hirin' Schoolboys Montana rancher Andersen (John Wayne) and pal Anse (Slim Pickens) looking to staff a cattle drive, with most men away chasing a gold rush, so they visit the school, (taught by Allyn Ann McLerie), Robert Carradine and Mike Pyeatt the featured students, in The Cowboys, 1972.
Cowboys, The (1972) - You're A Hard Man Rancher Andersen (John Wayne) is busy training his schoolboy recruits for a cattle drive when they meet Watts (Bruce Dern, a.k.a. Long Hair) and pals (Dick Farnsworth, Wallace Brooks), whose friendly inquiry turns somewhat ugly, in director Mark Rydell’s The Cowboys, 1972.
Last Sunset, The (1961) - Cowboys Aren't Very Bright We know little about the Kirk Douglas character here, except that Rock Hudson's after him, as he introduces himself to Dorothy Malone (Mrs. Breckenridge), daughter Melissa (Carol Lynley) and hired man Wing (Regis Toomey), at a ranch in Mexico, in Robert Aldrich's The Last Sunset, 1961.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Feb 1972
Premiere Information
New York opening: 13 Jan 1972; Los Angeles opening: 6 Feb 1972
Production Company
Sanford Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Canon City, Colorado, United States; Pegosa Springs, Colorado, United States; San Cristobal Ranch, New Mexico, United States; Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States; Colorado, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Cowboys by William Dale Jennings (New York, 1971).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 8m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Articles

The Cowboys (1972) - The Cowboys


Rancher Wil Anderson (John Wayne) has a problem; he has to get 400 head of cattle to a railhead, and all the men in the area have left for the Gold Rush. His own sons have long since turned bad and landed in trouble, so Anderson is left to hire on a group of schoolboys, the oldest of whom is fifteen. With no other recourse, Anderson must take the youngsters and shape them not only into cowhands, but men. The group faces all sorts of hardships along the way, but the biggest problem is a group of thugs (led by Bruce Dern as "Longhair") who want to take the cattle off their hands.

In The Cowboys (1972), what could be a fairly routine Western is saved by the screenplay of Irving Ravetch, adapted from a novel by William Dale Jennings. Ravetch and wife Harriet Frank Jr. comprised one of HollywoodÕs great screenwriting teams, pooling their resources on such films as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), Norma Rae (1979), Hud (1963) and the excellent but rarely-seen Conrack (1974). The pair showed a particular fondness for William Faulkner's work, turning The Long Hot Summer (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959) and The Reivers (1969) into acclaimed screenplays. Their scripts were marked by their intelligence, believable character development and the humanity that they could bring to their characters without ever dipping into mawkish sentimentality.

The Cowboys, under the directorial hand of Mark Rydell, was no exception. Though some don't consider Wayne's performance to be up to his turns in Stagecoach (1939) or The Quiet Man (1952), it's hard to think of a seventies film where Wayne is more in his element than in The Cowboys. Roscoe Browne also excels as Nightlinger, the ragtag group's cook and all-around mule skinner. Ravetch's screenplay deftly brings Wayne's young charges from boyhood to adult life while avoiding the cliches of many coming-of-age movies. The end result is a rousing movie that embraces many of the traditional themes of the Western, while making the point that life on the frontier was undoubtedly a lot harder and more treacherous than the Hollywood Western would have us believe.

Director/Producer: Mark Rydell
Screenplay: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr., William Dale Jennings (novel)
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: William Kiernan
Music: John Williams
Cast: John Wayne (Wil Anderson), Roscoe Lee Brown (Jedediah Nightlinger), Bruce Dern (Asa Watts), Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Kate Collingwood), Alfred Barker Jr. (Clyde Potter)
C-128m.

by Jerry Renshaw
The Cowboys (1972) - The Cowboys

The Cowboys (1972) - The Cowboys

Rancher Wil Anderson (John Wayne) has a problem; he has to get 400 head of cattle to a railhead, and all the men in the area have left for the Gold Rush. His own sons have long since turned bad and landed in trouble, so Anderson is left to hire on a group of schoolboys, the oldest of whom is fifteen. With no other recourse, Anderson must take the youngsters and shape them not only into cowhands, but men. The group faces all sorts of hardships along the way, but the biggest problem is a group of thugs (led by Bruce Dern as "Longhair") who want to take the cattle off their hands. In The Cowboys (1972), what could be a fairly routine Western is saved by the screenplay of Irving Ravetch, adapted from a novel by William Dale Jennings. Ravetch and wife Harriet Frank Jr. comprised one of HollywoodÕs great screenwriting teams, pooling their resources on such films as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), Norma Rae (1979), Hud (1963) and the excellent but rarely-seen Conrack (1974). The pair showed a particular fondness for William Faulkner's work, turning The Long Hot Summer (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959) and The Reivers (1969) into acclaimed screenplays. Their scripts were marked by their intelligence, believable character development and the humanity that they could bring to their characters without ever dipping into mawkish sentimentality. The Cowboys, under the directorial hand of Mark Rydell, was no exception. Though some don't consider Wayne's performance to be up to his turns in Stagecoach (1939) or The Quiet Man (1952), it's hard to think of a seventies film where Wayne is more in his element than in The Cowboys. Roscoe Browne also excels as Nightlinger, the ragtag group's cook and all-around mule skinner. Ravetch's screenplay deftly brings Wayne's young charges from boyhood to adult life while avoiding the cliches of many coming-of-age movies. The end result is a rousing movie that embraces many of the traditional themes of the Western, while making the point that life on the frontier was undoubtedly a lot harder and more treacherous than the Hollywood Western would have us believe. Director/Producer: Mark Rydell Screenplay: Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr., William Dale Jennings (novel) Cinematography: Robert Surtees Art Direction: William Kiernan Music: John Williams Cast: John Wayne (Wil Anderson), Roscoe Lee Brown (Jedediah Nightlinger), Bruce Dern (Asa Watts), Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Kate Collingwood), Alfred Barker Jr. (Clyde Potter) C-128m. by Jerry Renshaw

Quotes

We're burnin' daylight.
- Wil Andersen
Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let's go! We're burnin' daylight!
- Wil Andersen
Big mouth don't make a big man.
- Wil Andersen
Well, I have the inclination, the maturity, and the where-with-all; but unfortunately, I don't have the time.
- Jebediah Nightlinger
I regret trifling with married women, I'm thoroughly ashamed at cheating at cards, I deplore my occasional departures from the truth, Forgive me for taking your name in vain, my Saturday drunkenness, my Sunday Sloth. Above all, forgive me for the men I've killed in anger, and those I am about to...
- Jebediah Nightlinger

Trivia

Shortly after the film's release, Bruce Dern received death threats for his character killing 'Wayne, John' by shooting him in the back.

When John Wayne informed Bruce Dern that Dern would shoot Wayne, Wayne told Dern that they would hate him for it. Dern's responded by saying, "Yeah, but they'll sure love me in Berkeley."

Mark Rydell originally sought George C. Scott for the role of Wil Andersen because he despised 'John Wayne' 's views on the Vietnam War and other aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

Notes

Although onscreen credits include a copyright statement that reads "Sanford Productions, Inc. and Warner Bros., Inc.," the copyright registration lists the claimant as "Warner Bros., Inc. & Sanford Productions, Inc." Prior to the opening credits, a title card reading "Overture" appears onscreen as John Williams' score is heard on the soundtrack for approximately two-and-a-half minutes. Approximately eighty minutes into the film, just after "Dan" is sent back to the drive by "Long Hair," the action stops, followed by a title card reading "Intermission," then another reading "Entr'acte," which remains on screen while the score is heard for approximately two more minutes until the action resumes. After the cast credits at the end of the film, a final title card reading "Exit music" appears on screen for two minutes while the score again is heard on the soundtrack.
       In the opening cast credits, the young actors portraying "The cowboys" are presented after the name of actress Maggie Costain, while the end credits list them after actress Colleen Dewhurst. According to a December 10, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer-director Mark Rydell purchased the rights to William Dale Jennings' novel The Cowboys prior to its publication. Jennings (1917-2000) had written numerous articles and plays prior to publication of The Cowboys, which was his only work to be adapted for the screen.
       According to a November 9, 1970 Daily Variety news item, Rydell's Sanford Productions, which Rydell co-owned with director Sydney Pollack, received financing for the production and distribution of the film by Warner Bros. Some news items in 1971 indicated that The Cowboys was supposed to be a Cinema Center Films production, but parent company CBS had shut down production operations of Cinema Center earlier in 1971.
       The South Dakota destination of the cattle drive, spelled Belle Fourche but commonly pronounced "Belfush," as it was in the film, became one of the largest livestock railroad shipping points in the United States in the 1880s and 1890s. Although set in South Dakota, the film was shot on location in and around Santa Fe, NM, according to Hollywood Reporter production charts. News items indicate that three weeks of shooting took place on the San Cristobal Ranch, twenty-eight miles from Santa Fe, as well as the B-B Ranch, with additional locations including Pegosa Springs and Canon City, CO, near the Arkansas River. Other news items state that the film had a $6,000,000 budget
       Narration on an eight-minute short made during production of The Cowboys and included as added content on the film's 2007 DVD release, states that the boys portraying the cowboys consisted of six experienced riders, many of whom had been juvenile rodeo performers and five child or teenaged actors, none of whom had previous riding experience. Within the film, many of the roping and riding stunts featuring the young cowboys were performed by the experienced riders. Most of the cowboys made their acting debuts in the film, although Robert Carradine, son of prominent character actor John Carradine, A Martinez, Nicolas Beauvy and Sean Kelly previously had appeared on television or in minor roles in films. Carradine and Martinez went on to long careers in front of the camera, while Stephen Hudis and others continued as stuntmen as well as actors. Although the CBCS includes actors Frank De Kova as "Chief Joseph" and Charlie Bird as "Warrior," neither the actors nor their roles were in the released film.
       Reviews for The Cowboys, while praiseworthy of John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne and the juvenile actors, were generally critical of the picture's violence, particularly by the boys. This general feeling was expressed by critic Jay Cocks, who wrote in his Time magazine review: "Ultimately, The Cowboys suggests that you are not a man until you have murdered" and by Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, who chided Warner Bros. and director Rydell for being "in the business of corrupting minors, because this movie is about how these schoolboys become men through learning the old-fashioned virtues of killing." They and other critics also expressed dissatisfaction with sequences in which the boys became drunk and met a group of prostitutes led by Colleen Dewhurst.
       The novel and film were also the basis of a 1974 ABC television series, also entitled The Cowboys, which took up the story of the young cowboys after the death of "Wil Andersen." The television series starred Moses Gunn and Diana Douglas, along with Martinez and Carradine recreating their roles from the film and Kelly, who portrayed "Stuttering Bob," and Clay O'Brien, who portrayed "Hardy Fimps" in the movie, appearing as other characters in the series. Modern sources add the following stunt performers: Floyd Baze, Jerry Gatlin, Walt LaRue and Walter Scott.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1971

Remake of "The Cowboys" (USA/1971) directed by Mark Rydell and starring John Wayne.

Released in United States 1971