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The Cowboys (1972)

3:08 | Trailer
Rancher Wil Andersen is forced to hire inexperienced boys as cowhands in order to get his herd to market on time but the rough drive is full of dangers and a gang of cattle rustlers is trailing them.


Mark Rydell


William Dale Jennings (novel), Irving Ravetch (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
1 win. See more awards »


Cast overview, first billed only:
John Wayne ... Wil Andersen
Roscoe Lee Browne ... Jebediah Nightlinger
Bruce Dern ... Long Hair
Colleen Dewhurst ... Kate
Alfred Barker Jr. Alfred Barker Jr. ... Fats - Cowboy
Nicolas Beauvy Nicolas Beauvy ... Dan - Cowboy
Steve Benedict Steve Benedict ... Steve - Cowboy
Robert Carradine ... Slim Honeycutt - Cowboy
Norman Howell ... Weedy - Cowboy (as Norman Howell Jr.)
Stephen R. Hudis ... Charlie Schwartz - Cowboy (as Stephen Hudis)
Sean Kelly Sean Kelly ... Stuttering Bob - Cowboy
A Martinez ... Cimarron - Cowboy
Clay O'Brien ... Hardy Fimps - Cowboy
Sam O'Brien Sam O'Brien ... Jimmy Phillips - Cowboy
Mike Pyeatt Mike Pyeatt ... Homer Weems - Cowboy
Learn more

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When his cattle drivers abandon him for the gold fields, rancher Wil Andersen is forced to take on a collection of young boys as his drivers in order to get his herd to market in time to avoid financial disaster. The boys learn to do a man's job under Andersen's tutelage; however, neither Andersen nor the boys know that a gang of cattle thieves is stalking them. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


All they wanted was their chance to be men...and he gave it to them. See more »


GP | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Mark Rydell originally sought George C. Scott for the role of Wil Andersen because he despised John Wayne's views on the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Ironically, some critics in 1972 believed that the way in which Wayne's character drafts the children out of school was a pro-war allegory for Vietnam. See more »


When the old bull and young bull are fighting, the old bull is a Brahman cross bull, probably a beefmaster or beefmaster type. This is easily identified by the loose skin, particularly around the sheath, and slightly larger ears. However, the first Brahman cattle were imported into the United States in 1854 from India and were used in a circus; cattle for breeding were not imported until the end of the 1800s. These cattle were kept solely in the Gulf states until well into the 1900s due to the fact that they are extremely heat-tolerant but do very poorly in colder climates. Even today's Brahman and cross cattle could not survive in the extreme winter weather of the north. (See: American Brahman Breeders Association, History of Brahman Cattle) While this would be unnoticed by anyone who was not very familiar with breeds of cattle, it would never occur in real life. See more »


Anse Petersen: Did you ever think of hiring boys?
Wil Andersen: What boys?
Anse Petersen: School boys.
Wil Andersen: Oh sure and women. How about my ma in Cedar City. She's only ninety two.
Anse Petersen: Well you ain't got a lot of choice.
See more »

Alternate Versions

When the film was originally released in the UK it carried a 'AA' rating, preventing an under-14 year old audience from seeing the movie. When the distributors asked the UK censor if this could be changed he suggested removing the scene with the wagon full of prostitutes, thus deleting Colleen Dewhurst's entire role in the film, and in doing so the film was re-certified with an 'A' rating (suitable for all). Additionally cuts were made to tone down some of the more violent scenes including the fight between Wil and Long Hair, the shooting of Wil, and a man being dragged by his horse. Later cinema showings and all video versions restored the Colleen Dewhurst scene but retained the violence cuts (totalling 1 min 30 secs). For the upgraded 12-rated 2005 DVD the film was passed fully uncut. See more »


Featured in The John Wayne Anthology (1991) See more »


Home on the Range
Music by Daniel E. Kelley
Lyrics by Brewster M. Higley
Sung by the boys in camp
See more »

User Reviews

Above average , enjoyable western with a great cast and awesome John Wayne as a tough cattle rancher
26 January 2017 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

Wayne stars an upright cattle rancher , Wil Andersen ; when his cattle drivers abandon him for the gold fields , he is forced to hire 11 school boys (Sean Kelly , Clay O'Brien , A. Martínez , Robert Carradine film debut , among others) whose ages ranging from 9 to 17 to help him drive his cattle 400 miles to market . As the pre-teenaged boys in New Mexico Territory fight off grownup cattle rustlers under the tutelage of rancher Wil (John Wayne who strides the flick like a dinosaur) and his helper Jebediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne) . As they are recruited to work for the cattle rancher , all they wanted was their chance to be men and he gave it to them . But they are pursued and finally attacked by a group of rustlers led by Long Hair (Bruce Dern). With Wil Andersen and ranch-hand Mr. Nightlinger as father figures , as they wet-nursing an entire crew of sub-teenagers on a cattle drive , as the boys learn to become men through hard work , discipline and the usual Western battles with robbers .

Nice and agreeable western with a great cast and a sensational John Wayne against his nemesis magnificently played by Bruce Dern in one of his meatiest roles as the villain . Top-notch Western packs clever plot , thrills , family feeling , slightly stylized action , shoot'em up , and turns out to be pretty entertaining ; in spite of the over-sentimentality inherent in this project produced/directed by Mark Rydell . Besides , it contains good feeling as friendship , faithfulness , companionship , and enjoyable father-adopted sons relationship . And the results make extremely amusing and thundering entertainment . Furthermore , an anti-racism subtext on Roscoe Lee Browne role was written into the script in response to ongoing criticism of John Wayne , it makes this one of Wayne's better Westerns . Wayne's image still remained impervious during the seventies surviving through an overlong career . Wayne unmistakeably a legendary figure of the West and by that time he would go playing good Westerns , as he triumphantly survived his own era with titles as ¨True grit¨ in which he won an Academy Award ,¨Big Jake¨, ¨Train robbers¨ , ¨Rooster Cogburn¨ , his last film ¨The Shootist¨, and ,of course , this ¨The cowboys ¨ . In some ways is a companion movie to posterior ¨Cahill , United States Marshal¨ also involved John with kiddies . The screenplay is plain and simple , with a conventional plot , but ultimately gets overcome . Gorgeous outdoors with decent production design , shot on location in Castle Rock , Durango Colorado , Chama , Galisteo , New Mexico , Sonoita , Elgin , Arizona , and Empire Ranch , Arizona . Colorful and spectacular cinematography in Panavision by Robert L. Surtees . Rousing and emotive musical score by John Williams in his ordinary style . And you'll love both the lightning unexpected finale and the performance of Roscoe Lee Browne as Wayne's friend and food supplier . It inspired the TV series with similar cast as Robert Carradine , A Martínez , Sean Kelly , Clay O'Brien and Moses Gunn as Jebediah Nightlinger .

This well-paced film was compellingly directed by Mark Rydell . Pic contains Rydell's usual themes as familiar feeling , a little bit of charming humor , friendship and and sense of comradeship among people . Mark does the human touch and full of insight that accompanied him during most of his films and the story develops pleasantly in large frames with an interesting plot and fully adjusted to the requirements of the action . Mark Rydell directed a lot of films as ¨Even Money , ¨Crime of the century¨ , ¨Intersection¨, ¨For the boys¨ , ¨Harry and Walter go to N.Y.¨, ¨Cinderella Liberty¨ and ¨The ¨Reivers¨, though his winning years were the 70s and 80s with successes as ¨The rose¨(79) , ¨On Golden pond¨ (81) , ¨The river¨(84) and this ¨The cowboys¨ .

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English | Spanish

Release Date:

13 January 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Cowboys See more »

Filming Locations:

Durango, Colorado, USA See more »


Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (35 mm prints)| 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| 4-Track Stereo (some 35 mm prints)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.20 : 1
See full technical specs »

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