The Culpepper Cattle Company was a surprise for me, and one that I looked forward to immensely. I love a good western, and I’m particularly fond of anything post-Leone. A western doesn’t have to be spaghetti, however, for me to like it. I just feel that, for all Sergio’s overblown proportions, he did instill an accurate degree of nastiness in his films, which I’m sure was prevalent in that time of American history. Once Sergio came, westerns grew up, even if they were playing closer to the American style of fi…mmaking. Gone were the days of the fired gun, the clenched chest, and the instant kill. A similar renaissance affected the war film genre with the arrival of Saving Private Ryan, and I feel the recent war-time efforts have been much the better for it. After the glut of Saturday morning western chicanery found in John Wayne’s early films and others of that period, it was a relief to see westerns on the silver screen with the right amount of intensity. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And The Culpepper Cattle Company falls somewhere in that descent.
That doesn’t mean the film is without merit. I enjoyed parts of it very much. It is, most of the time, an interesting coming-of-age tale, as it follows a young boy with a dream. That dream? He wants to be a cowboy. But as the film progresses, he gets a bitter taste of what it means to fulfill that dream. The boy (Gary Grimes) tags along with a gang of cut-throat cattlemen on a drive to Colorado. As they trek westward, the harsh realities of the prairie – be it man-against-man, or man-against-nature – start to set in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any more interesting than that. One event after another occurs and forms an episodic monotony instead of a coherent storyline. Still, things do heat up for an exciting and well-arc’d conclusion. Where the character ends up from where he started out is a noble writing effort; but everything it takes to get him there is the dull part. The strongest aspect of the film is the ensemble of veteran character actors, led by Billy Green Bush and Bo Hopkins. These are cowboys from the days when all cowboys were straight, and any suggestion otherwise would get you punched in the teeth faster than you could say “Brokeback Mountain.” While they don’t seem like very open-minded chaps, they do represent a rugged nature that would have been essential to their way of life.
The 1.85:1 presentation has its moments, but there is too often a faded feeling around the edges. Night scenes show up okay, but the day leaves much to be desired. The frame is a radial explosion of color, but unfortunately, the after-effects don’t make it all the way across. While as a whole, the picture offers much more stability than a VHS copy, one can’t help but wonder what this would have looked like had Fox gone all-out. A film such as this is capable of the restoration quality of, say, a Once Upon a Time in the West, but with Fox’s lagging effort, this catalog title’s lack of fanfare destines it for the $4.88 bin at Wal-Mart.
The 2.0 track, much like the video transfer, is a no-frills piece of work. Dialogue levels could certainly use a touch-up, as exchanges between the characters often sound muddled and low-key. The action plays to a nice level – not timid, but not bombastic either. I wish Fox would have tried to rid the track of some of its aging, but I suppose fans of this forgotten western should be happy it even made it out of the vaults – not commendable work for a major studio, but luckily, the film hasn’t deteriorated enough for the technical features to be unbearable.
Don’t get excited. Just because this disc has three individually listed special features on its menu, don’t think there is anything “special” about it. Two of these bonus materials are simple galleries: a production gallery and a behind-the-scenes gallery. Both take all of a minute each to get through, but I will say the quality of these photos trumps that of the video transfer. Rounding out this content is the theatrical trailer, which goes on too long, and suffers from the same problem most trailers of those days suffered from – it sells too much of the story up-front through overly long voice-over, and playing whole portions of the movie without any sense of salesmanship in the editing – shoddy stuff.
The disc is wrought with problems and areas for improvement. Still, it’s nice to see someone in Hollywood hasn’t forgotten the old days – completely. Now if only we could get a shift towards character development in our films of today. That’s the one thing I really appreciate about The Culpepper Cattle Company – despite its faults, it still remembers the essentials of good storytelling, and that for your audience to care about your story, you must spend time giving them characters worth caring about. Too bad Fox didn’t spend any time caring for the other areas of the disc, which is only worth a purchase if you’re a rabid fan of the film.
Special Features List
- Production stills gallery
- Behind-the-Scenes stills gallery
- Theatrical trailer
- Previews for other FOX Westerns