The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
The Culpepper Cattle Company is a worthy example of a certain kind of early-1970s Western: deglamorized, unromantic, and frankly violent. This one begins in familiar terms, as a greenhorn lad (Gary Grimes, recently deflowered in Summer of '42) joins a cattle drive, surrendering himself to the extremely focused leadership of boss Frank Culpepper (the authentically Western Billy "Green" Bush). The episodes that follow are engrossing and colorful, and the drive gets more interesting when a quartet of lethal hombres (among them Bo Hopkins, Luke Askew, and wild-eyed Geoffrey Lewis) join the ride. The business of frontier justice--which here usually means shooting strangers just to be on the safe side--is worked out in refreshingly unheroic ways. Clearly director Dick Richards (making his debut in a relatively brief directing career) is responding to the revisionist era, and specifically to the films of the great Sam Peckinpah; this movie's climax is a scaled-down nod to The Wild Bunch. Probably too scaled-down, given the somewhat abrupt ending. The music uses themes from Jerry Goldsmith's terrific score for The Flim-Flam Man, released five years earlier. Culpepper got lost in the flurry of revisionist westerns that sounded similar themes: The Cowboys, The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, and by far the best of this group, Robert Benton'sBad Company. All were released in 1972, a high-water mark for re-thinking the genre.