The Cowboys, starring John Wayne, VHS version
Five out of five stars
Known for punching, shooting and generally being a tough guy on screen, this movie almost certainly demonstrates John Wayne at his acting best. While Wayne throws a few punches, he is not involved in the gunfight and relies on his wisdom and experience in dealing with complex issues.
Wayne’s character is Wil Andersen, a man with a large number of cattle that need to be driven for 400 miles over difficult terrain. When gold fever strikes the area, all of Wayne’s regular help deserts him for the gold fields. Desperate for any help he can find, Andersen hires 11 teenage schoolboys as his trail hands. Wayne becomes their boss as well as their father figure as all the boys take the roles of men during the summer.
Another force making the movie strong is the character of Jebediah Nightlinger, a black man that hires on as the cook. Played by Roscoe Lee Browne, he is a grizzled man that has experienced racial hatred, yet is not bitter and has the will to stand up to Andersen when he feels it is necessary. The two men respect each other and both understand their roles in the drive and the lives of the boys.
In many ways the viewer can see some of what Wayne could have been as an actor if so many of his roles had not relied on fisticuffs and gunplay to make their points. While this is a western, it is really about an old man turning boys into responsible men, something that is far more an inherent component of the human condition that punching and shooting.