Category Archives: movies

The Cowboys – a movie review for grandparents

I’m always thinking back on movies I think will appeal to my grandsons. Beau Geste was a hit and so was John Wayne’s 1972 The Cowboys.

I haven’t seen the movie since I turned voting age 45 years ago but my recollection was that it was a great ride about an old cowhand forced to hire school boys to drive his cattle to market. Being made in the hippy era I thought the worst sins of Hollywood would be modest and for the most part this turned out to be correct. Claudia was worried about Native American’s getting the short end of the stick but I couldn’t recall that they made any appearances at all. One of my Grandsons traces a slice of his ancestry back to the Five Civilized Tribes which calls for a little extra sensitivity.

There was just a hint of the subject. One boy shows up with an attitude and a 30-dollar gun. Asked by Wayne about himself when he tries to join the drive he tells Wayne that he’s “a mistake of nature.” Could he be part Indian? The fight he starts with a school boy moments later starts with his insult in Spanish about another boy’s mother. The other boy knows enough of the language to take exception to the remark. John Wayne takes the “mistake’s” gun and kicks him out despite his remarkable display of horsemanship. What follows is a nod to Horst Buckholz’s role in the Magnificent Seven with the mistake shadowing the Cattle Drive until he rides to the rescue winning redemption, gratitude and acceptance.

The film also deftly handles race when the drive’s cook shows up. He’s not who Wayne’s character hired. He’s black, courtly, confident and a raconteur. The N word is bruited about two or three times in impeccable usage that showed the sting but redounded against its users. After the movie it led to a followup conversation with my youngest grandson. What is the “N word” he asked and without saying the word I explained. Then he wanted to know what the “C word” was.

Unlike boys of my generation my grandsons rarely see cowboy themed entertainment. It took a while for my younger son to get into the story-line of a gold rush emptying out cattle country of cowhands. I particularly enjoyed the short appearance of Slim Pickens as a barkeep. Early on there was some brotherly get-under-the-skin foot-kicking back and forth on our sofa but the movie grabbed their attention by the time the “cowboys” aged 10 to 15 had to prove their mettle by riding a nasty little bronco for a count of ten to be signed up for the drive.

Wayne chews up the scenery as expected in his familiar role as a cowboy icon. At the end of his career he also played Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and a dying ex gunman in his final picture, “The Shootist.” His Wil Anderson in The Cowboys is a satisfying role and the only false note for me was a scene where “Wil” cures a stutterer with a conservative tongue-lashing about growing up. It works, of course, as it never would in reality. However, Wayne’s terse, no-nonsense, screenwriter polished, conservativism is vastly more eloquent and appealing than the vitriol being tweeted today from our seven-year-old Commander and Chief. Sad.

The chief reward for a kid watching this movie is the idea that young kids can step up and take on the tough jobs adults do – even using guns in the heat of battle. Sometimes it comes at a cost, as it does in the movie. My alphabet word curious youngest wiped tears away once, but this movie doesn’t coddle its audience. Instead, it routes Bruce Dern’s nasty cattle rustlers and gets the cattle to Belle Fourche as you knew it would.

Beau Geste

“Wacky Wednesday” continues. Even though vacation bible school has taken the place of school Claudia and I are still hosting our grandsons on Wednesday night. For the past four months that Claudia has checked the homeless into to the CHUM center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I gave up my Wednesday Choir practice to pick the boys up from school and get them to bed. Until this summer that meant gluing ourselves to PBS’s Nature program to watch cameras being inserted into fake animals for closeups, hummingbirds in slow-mo and crocs attacking wildebeests. Last night I was curious to see if the first movie to capture my imagination might entertain them – 1939’s black and white Beau Geste. That movie made Gary Cooper my role model for years to follow. It was an adulation which was only heightened a few years later when I saw the only movie I ever watched with my movie-phobic Grandfather.

Both movies were made in the magical year 1939 but, would the boys, aged 7 and 10, turn up their nose to Geste after Pixar classics too numerous to mention? Not at all. Good story telling wins out every time and Geste had them, like it had me, from the first look at the grim specters lining Fort Zinderneuf’s crenelations.

Even 30 minutes of frustration trying to remember my Amazon Prime password and trying to push the right buttons on the blasted remote followed by the boys pushing each other’s buttons and being sent to their rooms until they apologized didn’t dampen the movie. When they complied with their grumpy Papaw’s demand I gratefully reciprocated with my own apology. Then I told them that the movie would show them brothers who were loyal to each other. (I have to take advantage of every opportunity to give a sermon.)

Beau Geste lasted one hour and 52 minutes and was near its end when Claudia got home a little after 8. She put on her bath robe and joined us to watch as the movie finally answered its lingering mysteries and as the three brothers became one. Sorry, that’s a spoiler.

As Digby Geste sounded his trumpet for the last time Claudia gasped, “that’s the Music Man! You saw that movie with us.” We surely did and they liked that 1962 classic too with a much older Robert Preston playing Professor Harold Hill.

Claudia suggested suggested that I read to them from my Calvin and Hobbs collection because their summer bedtime gave them an extra hour. I also read C and H to their Mother and Uncle Robb with gusto when they were the same age. The boys were enchanted too although the Tan Man wrinkled his eyes and asked how a six year old Calvin could have such an adult vocabulary. I told him that Calvin was P-R-E-C-O-C-I-U-S just like he and his brother were, and besides, if he was going to get picky why didn’t he object to Calvin’s having a talking tiger.