Teenager Ben Mockridge feels life in a Wild West farm town has nothing better to offer than horse-cart racing with other hicks, so he naively begs cattle company owner Frank Culpepper to engage him as the youngest cowboy for a long cattle trail to a fort. His mother barely notices. Ben doesn't even seem to get it when he's told to report as 'little Mary' to the old cook, whose words, "Cowboy is something you do only if you have nothing better." gradually become clear. Instead of an exciting heroic macho life, it's endless hard work, dumb chores and embarrassment, even getting literally caught with his pants down, robbed of his horse, and witnessing unpunished crimes...Written by
This is an unduly neglected work that sank quickly into audience oblivion - the Vietnam seventies were not a good time for Westerns. True to the iconoclasm of the period, the producers set out to debunk the mystique of the cattle drive, and in the process take a big swipe at that arch-romancer of the Old West, John Ford. They only half-succeed. Put simply, their stab at realism is undone by too much gunplay, too much blood, and way too much conventional violence. Staples of the ordinary Western, their presence here only serves to reinforce the usual clichés. Much better when the story-telling cowboy refuses Geoffrey Lewis's challenge by quitting the drive, saying a gunfight over trifling matters makes no sense. That's certainly no cliché. The role reversal at movie's end is stunning, given what Hollywood has led us to expect. Nevertheless, it works by bringing out a latent code of honor that at times can guide even the most brutal among us. Here Ford is trumped by Kurosawa. There are many fine touches in the movie. Billy "Green" Bush is totally convincing as the ruthless trail boss; Gary Grimes, appropriately callow; and the four gunsels, alternately abusive and sullen, while Geoffrey Lewis's cold-eyed stare bespeaks a lifetime of casual cruelty. Not the best of anti-Westerns, but deserves consideration.
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