The Culpepper Cattle Co.

The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Gary Grimes, Billy "Green" Bush, Luke Askew, Bo Hopkins, Geoffrey Lewis
Extras: Production Still Gallery, Behind the Scene Gallery, Trailers

"The Culpepper Cattle Co." is a coming of age tale set against the backdrop of the Old West and concerns Ben Mockridge (Gary Grimes), a teenager who dreams of being a cowboy. Searching for adventure, with a newly bought holster and six-shooter around his waist, Ben gets hired as an assistant to the Cook (Raymond Guth) on the Culpepper cattle drive, where he is affectionally dubbed "Little Mary." Overseen by the gruff, no-nonsense Frank Culpepper (Billy "Green" Bush), the perils of cowboy life soon invades Ben's once serene world. Romantic notions of adventure eventually give way to the harsh realities of frontier existence, where greedy trackers and bandits lay hidden behind every bush and rock populating the sparse landscape. The film deconstructs several mythic Western archetypes (similar to Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"); painting the assorted cowboys in vague, ambiguous strokes. Unlike the work of John Ford or Howard Hawks, the "The Culpepper Cattle Co." doesn't clearly differentiate between the prototypical "good guys" and "bad guys." Almost everybody is morally corrupt, yet they also display an understanding of honor and loyalty. As the cattle drive goes on, Ben's "aw-shucks" attitude and country-boy naiveté soon dissolve, as he gets robbed of his horse and supplies, faces a one-eyed man whose bandit friends severely beat him up, endures the hostility of his fellow cattle drivers, is pressured into an encounter with a prostitute and partakes in the subtle joys of Whiskey drinking. Amidst all this, Ben finds himself in a couple of shootouts, witnessing the violent reality of his gun-slinging fantasies. By the time "The Culpepper Cattle Co." reaches its violent end, Ben emerges from his stark adventure a changed man.

Like the horses the characters ride on, the film ambles along at a deliberate pace from scene to scene; every now and again galloping at full speed when tensions arise. Director Dick Richards has fashioned a dirty and gritty Western that is less concerned with telling a story and more concerned with exploring the fallibility of man and the pointlessness of violence. Both themes converge towards the end of the film, when Ben and Culpepper's men are threatened by a greedy Land Baron. After this incident, Culpepper and company attempt to leave the area, only to come across a group of peaceful religious settlers who have taken up residence nearby. Suddenly, the land owner returns with armed men, telling everyone to leave since they're trespassing on his property. The Preacher in charge of the settlement refuses to leave, even though he and his followers will certainly be gunned down. Now it's up to Ben and Culpepper and the rest of the cowboys to decide whether they should continue on with the cattle drive or stand their ground and help the defenseless settlers.

Director Richards ends the film on a bloody note, with several haunting images passing by before the credits roll. This resonates deeply since "The Culpepper and Co." commences with a rousing horse-race sequence involving a jolly, rambunctious Ben and concludes with a somber scene that echoes Richard's pacifistic treatise about violence begetting violence. Grim reality quickly replaces the idealistic dreams of youth and the difference between these opening and ending scenes leaves us with much to ponder.

None of this would be half as effective without some impressive acting talent on display. Gary Grimes conveys the perfect amount of moral conviction and youthful ignorance, while Billy "Green" Bush gives a stoic performance of a man who has problems controlling the loose cannons in his steed while also contending with the brutal laws of the land. Genre stalwarts Geoffrey Lewis and Bo Hopkins are especially riveting here, playing to their strengths by attacking their roles with crazed abandon. Raymond Guth as the Cook infuses his character with tough-love tendencies, always getting on Ben's case with sly, humorous remarks. Even the briefly-seen Matt Clark as Pete makes a lasting impression as a cattle driver who tells tall tales of encounters with exotic women and who, in a tense sequence, stands down to Geoffrey Lewis's character. Pete foreshadows what Ben will eventually become and grounds the film with a strong moral center that makes the endless cycle of bloodshed all the more relevant.

As a side note, it's worth noting just how violent this film is. Even though the rating is PG, the amount of graphic brutality on display is more akin to an R rated film. So, keep this in mind when you pop in the disc for the little outlaws in your family.

"The Culpepper Cattle Co." comes to us from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, as well as in a Full Frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio on a double sided disc. As a relatively unknown film (and an older one at that), the transfer reflects this. Moments of edge enhancement create halos around the characters, scratches periodically appear and specks of dust and grain sprinkle the images. Although these problems occur, they add to the Old West flavor. Also, the cinematography is stunning, with the vast Western landscape beautifully represented in wide vistas. Colors are vibrant, especially the lush, green bushes and fields and the gritty, grimy scenes make the onscreen filth almost tangible.

For sound, we get an English Stereo, English Mono, Spanish Mono and French Mono selection. This isn't the best soundtrack mix, with much of the dialogue and music drowning each other out. Subtle, atmospheric noises aren't well represented, but I wasn't expecting anything spectacular. The film is overloaded with music; very banjo and harmonica-centric. Even though the sound isn't effectively maximized, the music nonetheless conveys the Western feel nicely.

There isn't much to speak of in terms of Extras, with only a Production Still Gallery and a Behind the Scene Gallery, both of which you can scroll through.

Also, there is "The Culpepper and Co." Theatrical Trailer, narrated by Gary Grimes's character, which makes the film seem a little less downbeat than it actually is.

Lastly, there are three original Theatrical Trailers, dubbed "Fox Flix," of the films "The Last Wagon," "100 Rifles" and "Two Flags West."

"The Culpepper Cattle Co." seethes with anger and brutality, presenting the Old West as an amoral period of time where danger haunted the landscape. Gritty and downbeat, the film explores heady themes that single it out from other classics in the genre. Rightfully tacking its place as one of the most thoughtful Westerns of all time, "The Culpepper Cattle Co." deserves to be discovered by a new generation of cowpokes.