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Cowboy

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    Mark Tolch
    Senior Member

  • Cowboy



    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: February 16, 2016
    Director: Delmer Daves
    Cast: Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, Anna Kashfi, Brian Donlevy, Dick York
    Year: 1958
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Thirty-three years before a rough-and-tumble trail rider named Curly taught two city slickers a thing or two about being cattle herders, there was COWBOY, the 1958 film about a well-off city boy who learns to get down and dirty with an experienced cowpuncher. In an Odd Couple match-up of another kind, Jack Lemmon plays Frank Harris, a clerk at a ritzy Chicago hotel that caters to some of the wealthiest people in the world. He's also in love with Maria Vidal (Anna Kashfi), the daughter of a very rich Mexican ranch owner, and takes advantage of his proximity to her by sending romantic poetry to her suite. Unfortunately for Harris, Maria's father intercepts his letters, and denies his heartfelt marriage proposal, announcing that Harris' monetary savings may be impressive to some, but not enough to sway him on the subject of his daughter.

    Senor Vidal is, however, very much impressed by Tom Reese (Glenn Ford) a trail boss recently arrived in town to sell off his herd. Reese cuts an imposing figure; a man's man, the HMFIC, a no-nonsense businessman whose word is his bond and who isn't afraid to get a little messy. Realizing that he comparatively fails in every way as a suitor for Maria, Harris plans to join Reese on his ride back to Mexico, planning to pick up enough skill and manliness to win over Senor Vidal by the time the men ride into his village of Guadalupe. Reese isn't the type of guy to take on such a city slicker...more the type to drink, gamble, and use his six-shooter to rid the world of cockroaches...but he finds himself caught off guard when he drunkenly runs out of poker money and Harris stakes him his entire savings in exchange for being made a partner on the cattle run.

    Leaving his cushy job behind him, Harris hits the trail with Reese and his men, the butt of many jokes as he wrestles with getting his chaps on, and finds out that his romantic vision of "riding all day and all night" isn't a viable option when your saddle sores start bleeding. Despite the humour surrounding his situation, Reese continues to drive Harris mercilessly, remaining devoid of emotion even when one of his men is accidentally killed as an extension of the group's hijinks. But it's when they reach Guadalupe that the trouble really begins, with Reese refusing to get involved when another of his cowhands (Dick York) faces the potential of being murdered because of a stupid mistake, prompting Harris to man-up in an explosion of outrage that results in a showdown between the two unlikely acquaintances; And in a bizarre role-reversal, the two men will have to work together to bring the herd safely back home.

    Based on Frank Harris' book, "My Reminiscences As A Cowboy", and adapted for the screen by Edmund H. North and an uncredited-at-the-time-because-he-was-blacklisted-as-a-communist Dalton Trumbo, COWBOY is a bit of an anomaly when compared to what passes for a "Western" film. You won't find too much action here; no catch-phrases uttered before a six-shooter drops a man where he stands. No heroine to speak of, for the most part, and even the whiskey drinking and gambling, staples of most films of its ilk, are colourful and light-hearted. If anything, Saul Bass' opening credits can be defined as the antithesis of what we would see later with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, with bright colours, cheery fonts, and whimsical score. But neither is COWBOY a comedy, which would've been an easy film to do; a prequel to THE ODD COUPLE. And that is really the only flaw with the film (outside of the exaggerated stage stunt-fighting), that it walks a very nonchalant line in telling the story. It works in that it comes off as factual and real...until the actions, motivations, and resolutions of the characters, some quite drastic, are realized as pretty out there, unrealistic. This could, however, be a product of the time, with most later films pushing envelopes and crossing boundaries; in comparison, COWBOY is a pretty safe, pedestrian story with a bow-tied pleasant ending.

    None of this makes COWBOY unpleasant to watch. It's slow, it's fairly predictable, and there are no revelations to be found. It's also a story told by some incredibly talented people. Delmer Daves, who had previously directed the very excellent 3:10 TO YUMA shows off some real skill here, taking full advantage of the locations and beautifully crafted sets...check out those hay pyramids. And that talent that he's directing, with Jack Lemmon keeping himself reigned in appropriately (okay, he does go off the rails here and there) but still providing enough of a diverse character to interact nicely with Ford, another star talent. Flaws in the momentum and ho-hum approach of the writing can be overlooked with a film this beautifully made.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time presents COWBOY in a 1.78:1 (transferred from it's OAR of 1.85:1) AVC-encoded transfer that looks wonderful. Technicolor indeed, the palette is rich and vibrant, glorious looking for approaching its 60th birthday. Grain structure is very much intact and evident, and though there are a very few scenes that come off as being of lesser quality, the detail is stupendous. Check out the individual strands (?) of hay in those pyramids. Crystal clear. I can't honestly say that I saw even one speck of dirt or any damage pop up. This is simply a fantastic transfer.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio mono audio track is surprisingly robust for using one channel, with dialogue remaining clear throughout, well-balanced with a boisterous score. No cracks, pops, hiss, etc. were noticed.

    English Subtitles are provided for the feature.

    In the extras, we find the usual Twilight Time goodies; an isolated score track (I guess technically, this is an audio option), the Twilight Time Catalogue, and a trailer for the film. Also common to Twilight Time releases is the essay booklet written by Julie Kirgo.

    Kirgo can also be found on the feature-length commentary track (not subtitled) with commentary favourite Nick Redman and Paul Seydor. They discuss a number of topics including Harris as an author, other westerns and Sam Peckinpah, as well as the Director, cast, and every aspect of the film and others that you can imagine. There's not a quiet moment to be found, and people who like informative commentaries will love this one.

    The Final Word:

    As a film, COWBOY has its issues, and is not going to be for everyone. Twilight Time has done a stunning job with this transfer, however, and the commentary is top-notch.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






















    • Andrew Monroe
      #1
      Andrew Monroe
      Pallid Hands
      Andrew Monroe commented
      Editing a comment
      I really, really like this one. It can be seen as somewhat of a precursor to MONTE WALSH. They both are nominally westerns that tell somewhat unusual or atypical western stories. Love the oddball pairing of Ford (probably one of the most natural western actors ever) and Lemon. Love that scene where they are in the tubs...haha. Nice review, Mark!

    • Mark Tolch
      #2
      Mark Tolch
      Senior Member
      Mark Tolch commented
      Editing a comment
      The tubs are great, and those pyramids of hay are great. I wasn't blown away by the film as a whole, but it's always interesting to me to see the way the earlier movies influence the later ones.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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