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Warner Home Video presents
The Cowboys: Deluxe Edition (1972)

"Sometimes it's hard to understand the drift of things. This was a good boy. He'd have been a good man. He didn't get his chance. Death can come for you any place, any time. It's never welcomed. But if you've done all you can do—and it's your best—in a way I guess you're ready for it. "
- Wil Andersen (John Wayne)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 23, 2007

Stars: John Wayne
Other Stars: Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst, Roscoe Lee Browne, Alfred Barker Jr., Nicolas Beauvy, Steve Benedict, Robert Carradine, A Martinez, Sean Kelly, Slim Pickens, Richard Farnsworth, Mike Pyeatt, Sam O'Brien, Clay O'Brien, Stephen Hudis, Norman Howell Jr., Sarah Cunningham
Director: Mark Rydell

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language, violence)
Run Time: 02h:14m:15s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 085391145356
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B+ A-

DVD Review

My dad has always been a big John Wayne fan, and when I was a kid growing up he took me to the dinky Normal Theater, whether it be for Duke-styled action in westerns like True Grit and Rio Lobo or a Vietnam classic like The Green Berets.

I was always more of a rubber-suited monster fan, but I never ever turned down the chance to see a movie in a theater, and though I was not what you'd really call a western buff, in the dark of the theater I dug the cocky swagger of John Wayne. It was hard not to. My dad took me to see yet another Wayne movie in 1972—The Cowboys—and in the decades since, as I have drifted around the genre as a whole, it is this one that has stuck with me as one of the first I think of when I think "western."

This new deluxe edition of the Mark Rydell-directed title thankfully still tells the same story I remember so well, and I am tickled this didn't turn out to be a case of my memories getting rejiggered over time. The Cowboys tells the tale of Wil Anderson (Wayne), who has lost his ranchhands to the promise of the Gold Rush, and the only way he can get his 400 head of cattle the 1500 dangerous miles he must is to recruit a gaggle of schoolboys (young Robert Carradine and A Martinez among them), teaching them how to be not just cattle drivers, but men. There's a nasty villain (played by Bruce Dern), a wise cook (Roscoe Lee Browne) and enough wide open spaces for three films, all decorated neatly with a twangy John Williams score (including restored elements like a pre-feature overture) and a real whopper of a third act twist.

Wayne's crotchety Wil—one character tells him "if your neck was any stiffer you couldn't bend over to put your boots on"—is getting on in years, and having to rely on the boys is both alien and necessary to him. Yet it's one of those cinematic "circle of life" moments, where what Wil ultimately passes on to the new generation is critical, lifesaving stuff—and though John Wayne never turns into an old softie by any means—he does become something of a proud, towering father figure to the young brood. The boys do more than just play cowboy by the time it's all said and done, and Rydell's ability to eventually upset the moral apple cart is what gives his film a freshness that is sadly lacking in most big-star studio projects of the time.

The thing to remember is that The Cowboys isn't just another macho John Wayne vehicle, where secondary players orbit silently around a giant star until it's time to utter a line or two. First, there's those boys—not all trained actors—who all seem like real, sometimes scared humans, not shrill line readers. That's so essential here that I've often wondered if Rydell realizes how lucky he is, because the film could easily have crumbled if this had turned into an annoying-kids-trying-to-upstage-The-Duke feature. Roscoe Lee Browne's trail cook Jedediah Nightlinger gets to deliver one of the most stirring blocks of dialogue in the entire script, and he continually breathes life into a character that could easily have been a faded Hollywood stereotype. Dern's shifty and violent Asa Watts is easily one of the better genre badasses to have come along in a long while, and he is so much more than just an irritant to be offed in some dramatic showdown. He's genuine bad news, a real dangerous type that—to a 12-year-old me sitting in the theater—is a palpable threat to be reckoned with.

All of you western purists can no doubt argue about the greatest genre title—but I do know that The Cowboys made a lasting connection with me, and I haven't been able to shake it in 35 years. And in revisiting it via this deluxe edition, I've been reassured that everything I remember about it is true.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: An impressive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Warner, made especially enjoyable by a steady palette of deep, vivid colors and warm, natural fleshtones. I can't really stress how bold the colorfields are here, and for a film from 1972 this one really looks outstanding. Edges are fairly crisp and well defined, though some of the big vista shots reveal some edge enhancement and a wee bit of grain, but hardly enough to sink this one. There appears to have been some major restoration work done here, as The Cowboys looks almost brand new.

Very nice.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The main audio track is a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, remastered from the original mono. Not much in the way of surround channel usage, but the enhanced soundstage gets painted nicely across the front three channels, where elements like the John Williams score sounds particularly crisp. The bottom end lacks a little overall, but there's a wide, spacious feel and the clear voice quality gives new life to Rydell's film.

A French mono dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mark Rydell
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 8 collector cards
Extras Review: This new deluxe version comes in a slipcase that closely matches the DVD cover art, though there is a larger black border on the inside cover. Inside is a cool plus, a set of eight 5x7 black-and-white production photos, printed on heavy stock. These are high quality prints, and make a very nice bonus.

Producer/director Mark Rydell delivers a commentary track, and though there are few dead spots he's got nothing but great memories of the project, even as talks about things like breaking the blacklist by hiring Sarah Cunningham to play the staunch conservative wife of Wayne's character. He does do some explaining what's happening onscreen, but the guy has a very pleasant and energetic approach that proves to be a fun listen.

The Cowboys: Together Again (28m:37s) is a new anamorphic widescreen doc from December 2006, and Rydell and most of the cast sit around together (or by video) and relive the project. A lot of the same info here as is found in the early part of the Rydell commentary, but hearing from the cast offers some additional insight. A grainy 1972 short entitled The Breaking of Boys and The Making of Men (08m:50s) is referred to as a "vintage featurette" on the back cover. It can also be found on the 1998 DVD release, and while the condition is a little coarse, it does a decent job covering the selection and training of the boys.

The disc is cut into 37 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or French. The original theatrical trailer is also included.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

I'm not what you would call a fan of the western, and this one is hardly standard issue for the genre, but it made a big impact on me when I was 12 and it still plays exceptionally well. The Cowboys is great bit of family entertainment, with The Duke forced to hire a bunch of inexperienced young boys to help move his cattle more than 400 miles.

This deluxe edition carries a new half-hour reunion doc, a Mark Rydell commentary and a set of eight high-quality black-and-white stills.

Highly recommended.

 


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