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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Cowboy (1958)

"A man has to have something besides just a gun and a saddle."- Doc Bender (Brian Donlevy)

Stars: Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon
Other Stars: Anna Kashfi, Brian Donlevy, Dick York, Victor Manuel Mendoza, Richard Jaeckel, James Westerfield
Director: Delmer Daves

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:31m:53s
Release Date: 2002-05-14
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-B+ D+


DVD Review

Tom Reese: Nobody wants to take a tenderfoot on the trail. It's too much responsibility.
Frank Harris: It wouldn't be your responsibility.
Tom Reese: When I'm trailing a herd, everything is my responsibility.

Jack Lemmon stars as Frank Harris, a Chicago hotel clerk who learns the ropes the hard way in Cowboy. Frank is in love with Maria Vidal (Anna Kashfi), a Mexican cattle baron's daughter, but her father forbids the relationship, taking the woman back home to Mexico. When Tom Reece (Glenn Ford), a noted trail-boss, shows up at the hotel, Frank sees an opportunity to see his beloved again, loaning the drunken cowboy his life savings in return for a share of Reece's next cattle run, which happens to be to the Vidal estate. In his sobriety the next day Reece has different ideas, as he is not the kind of man to work with partners, especially not a greenhorn city boy who has never experienced life on the trail. Harris is adamant, calling Reece's honor into question for trying to welch on the deal, and the cowboy finally concedes to letting him come along, but not without first saddling him with an unrideable horse. Harris is completely unprepared for the trail, where every man must fend for himself, and especially the lack of loyalty between cowboys. As he comes to terms with the ways of his ruthless cow boss, Harris begins to adjust, but upon arriving at their destination he has an unwelcome surprise waiting for him. Before he returns to the big city he will know what it means to be called a cowboy, even if it means sacrificing his own ethics in the process.

Cowboy is a classic fish-out-of-water tale based on an incident from Oscar Wilde associate Frank Harris' autobiographical My Life and Loves. This scandalous Victorian-era erotic exposé, had excerpts rewritten by the author for a book-of-the-month club-style release, My Reminiscences as a Cowboy (1930) and subsequently received a liberal adaptation as this tale of the west. Delmer Daves (Dark Victory, 3:10 to Yuma, A Summer Place, Spencer's Mountain), an actor-turned-writer, then director and producer, helms this production with an even hand, carrying the narrative in an uncomplicated manner. Lemmon's character confronts his ideas about life on the trail, and the naïve romanticism that inspires his journey is tempered by the harsh realities and situations he encounters. The chemistry between the two lead actors creates a good deal of tension, and as the story developes, the relationship changes dynamics as the differences—and similarities—between the two men become more and more apparent.

The script serves the characters well, fleshing out the personalities and showing their strengths and weaknesses, which enables a believable resolution. Humor is low key, but does have its moments, breaking the seriousness at appropriate times. Both Ford and Lemmon hold up in their performances, as does the supporting cast, which includes Dick York, Brian Donely and Richard Jaeckel, though some are a little on the weak side. The love story is a bit melodramatic, but its purpose is more as catalyst than the central focus. The cinematography is effective, especially the action sequences, including a stampede and other drama involving the cattle; however, the thrust of the film is in the personality studies, and the transformation of characters that occurs from beginning to end. The film manages to succeed in this regard, providing a gritty look at life on the trail, with plenty of heroics, but a more down to earth attitude than many westerns.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Cowboy is presented in an open matte transfer instead of its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This looks to be sourced from at least three different generations of print. The first, which amounts to most of the film, has reasonable, though muted color, good tonal balance and detail level, and is relatively clean. The second is similar, but contrast is higher as is visible grain, and there is an excessive amount of ringing on edges. The third is in pretty poor shape, with little definition, fairly blurry and unresolved with a lot of grain structure, appearing to be from a smaller format stock. There is a fair amount of interlacing present in places, especially chapter transitions. Compression problems are negligible. Overall this isn't too bad, but none of the elements used are in great shape.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is clean and dialogue is easy to discern, without any excess sibilance. Frequency range is limited, with no deep bass present. Nothing really stands out here, good or bad, but it serves the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portugese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring McKenna's Gold, Geronimo: An American Legend
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Trailers for Cowboy, which features an interesting forward by Jack Lemmon, along with McKenna's Gold, and Geronimo: An American Legend are included.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

While the author of the inspiration for this film is noted for his imagination when recalling his exploits, Cowboy presents a well structured character study of a man who is transformed given the rigours of the trail. Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford both deliver solid performances, and the film is laced with palpable conflict and tense action. I was less enthused by the choice to present the film in a full-frame transfer, especially since the Technicolor prints sourced for this release have seen better days.

Jeff Ulmer 2002-06-10