I will buy almost any DVD priced at $10 or less. I made a 99-cent exception for “The Cowboys,” a movie I loved when I was 15, a book I loved even more. I bought the book in paperback at the downtown Hutzler’s, then a 10-story, two-building compound of wonders. (Now: The Department of Human Resources.) I loved “The Cowboys” so much that it inspired me to try my hand at fan-fic, although I didn’t know the term at the time; I just wanted the story to continue. (And the short-lived television series never truly satisfied.) But now, with the film in hand for the first time in at least 20 years, I wondered if it would satisfy or reveal to me just how low my standards were as an adolescent.
The film is actually better than I remember. Although it lacks the bloodlust of the novel — and, therefore, the full melancholy of watching these boys become men via violence — it is well-written, fairly spare. Bruce Dern, the villain (inevitably) takes a pair of spectacles from one boy and tries them on. He then says: “I can see all the way to home from here, back to where I had to call the carpetbaggers ‘Mister.’” That’s the only personal information we receive about Asa. Do we need any more?
Good score. Lovely performance by Roscoe Lee Browne. I have to part with my hero Pauline Kael on this one, as she said dismissively that no one who wants to see a John Wayne movie wants to see him teaching little boys become cowboys. (By the way, I fall in line with David Thomson on Wayne, whose genuine achievement in film was overshadowed by his regrettable views on Vietnam. That, and “McQ.”)
And I’m not the least bit ashamed of having a crush on A Martinez as Cimarron. He was the Orlando Bloom of his day.
So, to put those old cliches on their heads: What childhood fave-place-treat is better than you remember? Bigger? Tastier? Cuter?