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The Cowboys (1972)

3:08 | Trailer
Rancher Wil Andersen is forced to hire inexperienced boys as cowhands in order to get his herd to market on time but the rough drive is full of dangers and a gang of cattle rustlers is trailing them.


Mark Rydell


William Dale Jennings (novel), Irving Ravetch (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
1 win. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
John Wayne ... Wil Andersen
Roscoe Lee Browne ... Jebediah Nightlinger
Bruce Dern ... Long Hair
Colleen Dewhurst ... Kate
Alfred Barker Jr. Alfred Barker Jr. ... Fats - Cowboy
Nicolas Beauvy Nicolas Beauvy ... Dan - Cowboy
Steve Benedict Steve Benedict ... Steve - Cowboy
Robert Carradine ... Slim Honeycutt - Cowboy
Norman Howell ... Weedy - Cowboy (as Norman Howell Jr.)
Stephen R. Hudis ... Charlie Schwartz - Cowboy (as Stephen Hudis)
Sean Kelly Sean Kelly ... Stuttering Bob - Cowboy
A Martinez ... Cimarron - Cowboy
Clay O'Brien ... Hardy Fimps - Cowboy
Sam O'Brien Sam O'Brien ... Jimmy Phillips - Cowboy
Mike Pyeatt Mike Pyeatt ... Homer Weems - Cowboy
Learn more

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When his cattle drivers abandon him for the gold fields, rancher Wil Andersen is forced to take on a collection of young boys as his drivers in order to get his herd to market in time to avoid financial disaster. The boys learn to do a man's job under Andersen's tutelage; however, neither Andersen nor the boys know that a gang of cattle thieves is stalking them. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


All they wanted was their chance to be men...and he gave it to them. See more »


GP | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


About half the boys had experience on the junior rodeo circuit and the rest were taught what they had to know during production. See more »


When Charlie is lying in the blanket, dead after falling off his horse, you can see the blanket rise up and down with his breathing. They then fold the blanket over his face and bury him with the appearance of burying him alive. See more »


Wil Andersen: Now... this is the "Double O", this is Belle Fourche. In between is four hundred miles of the meanest country in the West. And the only way we're gonna get through is if you take orders. Is that clear?
School boys: Yes, sir.
Wil Andersen: Bring a bed roll, couple of good ropes, horse if ya got one. You'll get the best food in the territory, no rest, damn little sleep. And fifty big silver dollars, IF we make it to Belle Fourche. Now, you'll show up at my place first Monday after schools out at 5:00 a.m. And come with grit ...
See more »

Alternate Versions

When the film was originally released in the UK it carried a 'AA' rating, preventing an under-14 year old audience from seeing the movie. When the distributors asked the UK censor if this could be changed he suggested removing the scene with the wagon full of prostitutes, thus deleting Colleen Dewhurst's entire role in the film, and in doing so the film was re-certified with an 'A' rating (suitable for all). Additionally cuts were made to tone down some of the more violent scenes including the fight between Wil and Long Hair, the shooting of Wil, and a man being dragged by his horse. Later cinema showings and all video versions restored the Colleen Dewhurst scene but retained the violence cuts (totalling 1 min 30 secs). For the upgraded 12-rated 2005 DVD the film was passed fully uncut. See more »


The Star Spangled Banner
Music by John Stafford Smith
Lyrics by Francis Scott Key
Sung by school children
See more »

User Reviews

Above average , enjoyable western with a great cast and awesome John Wayne as a tough cattle rancher
26 January 2017 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

Wayne stars an upright cattle rancher , Wil Andersen ; when his cattle drivers abandon him for the gold fields , he is forced to hire 11 school boys (Sean Kelly , Clay O'Brien , A. Martínez , Robert Carradine film debut , among others) whose ages ranging from 9 to 17 to help him drive his cattle 400 miles to market . As the pre-teenaged boys in New Mexico Territory fight off grownup cattle rustlers under the tutelage of rancher Wil (John Wayne who strides the flick like a dinosaur) and his helper Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) . As they are recruited to work for the cattle rancher , all they wanted was their chance to be men and he gave it to them . But they are pursued and finally attacked by a group of rustlers led by Long Hair (Bruce Dern). With Wil Andersen and ranch-hand Mr. Nightlinger as father figures , as they wet-nursing an entire crew of sub-teenagers on a cattle drive , as the boys learn to become men through hard work , discipline and the usual Western battles with robbers .

Nice and agreeable western with a great cast and a sensational John Wayne against his nemesis magnificently played by Bruce Dern in one of his meatiest roles as the villain . Top-notch Western packs clever plot , thrills , family feeling , slightly stylized action , shoot'em up , and turns out to be pretty entertaining ; in spite of the over-sentimentality inherent in this project produced/directed by Mark Rydell . Besides , it contains good feeling as friendship , faithfulness , companionship , and enjoyable father-adopted sons relationship . And the results make extremely amusing and thundering entertainment . Furthermore , an anti-racism subtext on Roscoe Lee Browne role was written into the script in response to ongoing criticism of John Wayne , it makes this one of Wayne's better Westerns . Wayne's image still remained impervious during the seventies surviving through an overlong career . Wayne unmistakeably a legendary figure of the West and by that time he would go playing good Westerns , as he triumphantly survived his own era with titles as ¨True grit¨ in which he won an Academy Award ,¨Big Jake¨, ¨Train robbers¨ , ¨Rooster Cogburn¨ , his last film ¨The Shootist¨, and ,of course , this ¨The cowboys ¨ . In some ways is a companion movie to posterior ¨Cahill , United States Marshal¨ also involved John with kiddies . The screenplay is plain and simple , with a conventional plot , but ultimately gets overcome . Gorgeous outdoors with decent production design , shot on location in Castle Rock , Durango Colorado , Chama , Galisteo , New Mexico , Sonoita , Elgin , Arizona , and Empire Ranch , Arizona . Colorful and spectacular cinematography in Panavision by Robert L. Surtees . Rousing and emotive musical score by John Williams in his ordinary style . And you'll love both the lightning unexpected finale and the performance of Roscoe Lee Browne as Wayne's friend and food supplier . It inspired the TV series with similar cast as Robert Carradine , A Martínez , Sean Kelly , Clay O'Brien and Moses Gunn as Jebediah Nightlinger .

This well-paced film was compellingly directed by Mark Rydell . Pic contains Rydell's usual themes as familiar feeling , a little bit of charming humor , friendship and and sense of comradeship among people . Mark does the human touch and full of insight that accompanied him during most of his films and the story develops pleasantly in large frames with an interesting plot and fully adjusted to the requirements of the action . Mark Rydell directed a lot of films as ¨Even Money , ¨Crime of the century¨ , ¨Intersection¨, ¨For the boys¨ , ¨Harry and Walter go to N.Y.¨, ¨Cinderella Liberty¨ and ¨The ¨Reivers¨, though his winning years were the 70s and 80s with successes as ¨The rose¨(79) , ¨On Golden pond¨ (81) , ¨The river¨(84) and this ¨The cowboys¨ .

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English | Spanish

Release Date:

13 January 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Cowboys See more »

Filming Locations:

Durango, Colorado, USA See more »


Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (35 mm prints)| 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| 4-Track Stereo (some 35 mm prints)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.20 : 1
See full technical specs »

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