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The Culpepper Cattle Co.

How Many Men Do You Have to Kill to Be the Great American Cowboy?
The Culpepper Cattle Co.
Teenager Ben Mockridge feels life in a Wild West farm town has nothing better to offer then horse-cart racing with other hicks, so he naively begs cattle company owner Frank Culpepper to engage him as youngest cowboy for a long cattle trail to a fort, his mother barely notices. Ben doesn't even seem to get it when he's told to report as 'little Mary' to the old cook, whose words cowboy is something you do only if you have nothing better gradually become clear. Instead of an exciting heroic macho life, it's endless hard work, dumb chores and embarrassment, even getting literally caught with his pants down, robbed of his horse, witnessing unpunished crimes...

Reviews

John Chard
When Little Mary Became A Man. The Culpepper Cattle Co. is a splinter of the Western genre that was tagged as revisionist. Often the makers of such Oaters went for a more grizzled look at the West, even demythologising the Hollywood Westerns that had proved so popular for decades. Directed by Dick Richards, The Culpepper Cattle Co. is one such picture. Young Ben Mockridge (Gary Grimes) wants to be a cowboy, to work on the drives and hone his gun play skills. When trail drive boss Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) is in town, Ben begs him for work and is thrilled to be hired as the cook's Little Mary. What he isn't so thrilled about is actually what it's really like out there on a drive... And so it comes to pass, young Ben is at the bottom of the cowboy ladder and Richards and his writing team ensure there is no glamour to be found. The drive is beset with thievery and rustling, killings, stampedes, inner fighting and very hard work for very little pay. The men on the trail all look the same, they dress the same, they smell the same, they are all worked hard and understand the same weary banter. What camaraderie there is is kept to a minimum, they are a team in a working sense, but their loyalty only comes to the fore when they are tasked with fighting and killing' enemies. The bars are not all bright and sparkly, with a well suited man playing a piano, no these are dingy holes with dirty glasses. No bordello babes either, just a hapless lassie loaned out for services by a barkeep who has in his own mind some tenuous right to have her in his keep. This is purposely downbeat, with the photography by Lawrence Edward Williams and Ralph Woolsey emphasising this fact by stripping back the colours for authenticity. While Jerry Goldsmith and Ralph Woolsey's musical score is deftly restrained, perfectly so. The story moves to its final conclusion, a confrontation that excites and depresses equally so, for even in the whirl of bullets and thundering hooves, the realisation dawns on Ben, and us, that nothing changes the life of the cowboys out there on the drives. It's live, work and die. Cowboyin is something you do when you can't do nothing else - Indeed! 9/10

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