When all his cowhands desert him to take part in a gold rush, John Wayne is left with no alternative but hire a group of schoolboys, between the ages of 9 and 15, to work for him on a long and dangerous cattle drive. Along with all the usual hazards of such a journey, they are also being stalked by Bruce Dern and his band of rustlers.
What a peculiar concoction. All the expected western conventions are present, but most of the cast is a half or a third of the age one would generall… see. And producer/director Mark Rydell has a pretty warped sense of what a coming-of-age entails, in that he seems to think these young boys are men by the end because they are able to dispassionately engage in a mass slaughter. Yay! Perhaps one shouldn’t be too surprised, given that Rydell’s Cinderella Liberty has some rather peculiar ideas as well.
The sound is 5.1, but the vintage is 1971, and the vintage wins out. The score sounds good, the sound is clean, and the dialogue is free of distortion. But there is precious little evidence, beyond the score, of this being a surround track. The music is almost the only time the rear speakers are active.
The picture has some dirt and grain in the early goings, but cleans up very nicely. Other than that beginning, the print is in excellent shape. The colours are absolutely brilliant, with terrific contrasts, flesh tones and very deep blacks. The image is sharp all the way through. This is a great-looking transfer.
Mark Rydell’s commentary is entertaining but rather self-congratulatory, and he still sees no problem with nine-year-olds beating men to death with rifle butts. Hey-ho. “The Cowboys: Together Again” is a reunion featurette that has everyone talking about how amazing Rydell is. “The Breaking of Boys and the Making of Men” is a vintage featurette whose title is even more telling than it things it is. There’s also the theatrical trailer. Inside the case is a nice set of behind-the-scenes postcards.
Though completely screwed up, the film is fascinating in no small part BECAUSE of its offensive ideas.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- “The Cowboys: Together Again” Featurette
- Vintage Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer