The Cowboys: Coming of Age in the Old West
|October 2, 2011||Posted by Ariadne under Westernfilms||
In Westerns, living is a dangerous affair, and this is probably why the films about the Old West rarely have room for meaningful children characters. Taking this in consideration, it is easy to see how The Cowboys (1972) stands out – with its youthful cast, as well as the refreshing plot.
Will Andersen (John Wayne) is a rancher looking for substitutes for his cattle drivers, who abandoned him because of the gold rush. Eventually left without much choice, he reluctantly agrees to hire a group of local schoolboys after they prove to have a good riding ability. Apart from the boys, several shady men led by Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) also show up looking for work, but are rejected. Soon, Andersen, the boys, and the chef Jeb Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) depart on a long cattle drive…
The story actually only begins here, because the center of the plot is the way boys come to age, from learning to work with cattle to overcoming some far worse difficulties on their trail. Here, John Wayne is not in his typical role of a masterful gunman, but rather a hard working rancher and a father figure to the boys.
Perhaps not one of the most famous Western masterpieces, The Cowboys is nonetheless a truly memorable film. From Stuttering Bob’s (Sean Kelly) speech difficulties, to Cimarron’s (A Martinez) redemption after he first fails to join the group, it is easy to engage in the cowboys’ adventures. Still, this is not a children’s film – the events leading to the boys’ maturation are ultimately as serious and harsh as in any other Western film.
Beautiful scenery packed with the large herd of cattle, a well paced Mark Rydell’s direction and excellent acting performances are further reasons why this film makes an enjoyable watch. It’s also notable that The Cowboys caused a bit of controversy at the time. There were two main reasons for this: one was a John Wayne related plot moment, which you’ll discover upon watching the film; and another was the fact boys were depicted in situations that were hardly suited for children characters.
A unique coming of age tale, The Cowboys is a charming, deeply touching film that stands the test of time and provides a wonderful watch even today.