Cast & Crew
In post-Civil War Texas, teenaged Ben Mockridge persuades cowboy Frank Culpepper to allow him to join his cattle drive to Fort Lewis, Colorado. Bidding his widowed mother farewell, Ben takes his cherished new pistol and happily assumes his position as the drive's "Little Mary," or cook's assistant. When Ben confides in the cook his dream of being a cowboy, the older man tells him that a cowboy is what someone does if they cannot do anything else. During the first few days of the drive, Ben struggles to help the cook and grows friendly with Pete, a cowhand who enjoys telling tall tales around the campfire. One night, two rustlers slip by the men on watch and start a stampede that kills one of Culpepper's men. After the men spend several hours rounding up the large herd, Pete reports to Culpepper that the rustlers have cordoned off two hundred head of cattle in a canyon nearby. Culpepper leads the men to the canyon, where the head rustler demands fifty cents per head to return the steers. Culpepper refuses and a gunfight breaks out in which all of the rustlers and three of the cowboys are killed. Although taken aback by the rush of violence, Ben quickly agrees to ride to the next town to contact Culpepper's acquaintance, Russell Caldwell, to hire four replacement hands. Upon reaching a river midway into the journey, Ben stops to bathe, only to have his horse and pistol stolen by a pair of elderly bandits. Arriving in the small town on foot, Ben locates Caldwell, who agrees to take hands Luke, Dixie Brick and Missoula with him to join Culpepper's drive. When the group comes across the bandits who stole Ben's horse, Ben is shocked when they kill the men without comment and seize their stolen goods. Upon reaching the herd, Caldwell demands a higher wage for himself and the others, but Culpepper refuses and Caldwell reluctantly backs down. The drive resumes and some days later, Ben pleads with Culpepper to allow him to help stand watch. Culpepper lets Ben watch over the horses, and the young man enthusiastically takes up his post. Late that night, however, Ben grows anxious in the darkness and is startled to come upon a stranger among the horses. Sensing Ben's inexperience, the man and his henchmen quickly disarm the boy, beat him up and steal several of the horses. Outraged by Ben's ineptness, Culpepper decides to put the youth on a Texas-bound train at the next town. After having Ben's injuries treated by the local dentist, the men stop at the small local saloon, where a shifty barman is impertinent to them. When Ben recognizes the rustlers at a card table, Culpepper confronts them. Noticing the barman reaching for a shotgun, Ben shoots him, provoking a fearsome shootout in which all of the bandits and gamblers are killed by the Culpepper crew. One lone survivor reveals the location of the horses, and the men move on while Ben remains in shock over having committed a murder. The drive resumes with Luke reflecting on whether a herd of cattle is worth all the difficulties and tribulations the men must face. At camp one afternoon, Ben spots Caldwell's gun near his bedroll and examines it, sending Caldwell into a fury. When Pete comes to Ben's aid and insults Caldwell, the latter challenges him. Perplexed by Caldwell's inflexible stance, Pete offers him an apology, but Caldwell continues to threaten him. When Pete turns to Culpepper to mitigate the situation, the leader refuses. Dismayed, Pete quits the drive and rides away as Ben looks on in confusion. Although Caldwell attempts to laugh off the confrontation, Culpepper angrily rebukes him for causing the loss of a good worker. The men and cattle press on and, after a blistering wind storm, are relieved to find fresh grass and water. Discovering a trampled fence, however, Culpepper realizes the men are on private property and goes in search of the land's owner. At a small town nearby Culpepper and the others learn at the local bar that all the land around them is owned by the wealthy Thorton Pierce. Pierce and his cronies find Culpepper at the bar and reject the cowman's offer to pay for the damaged fence and a trespassing fee. Demanding that Culpepper and the herd depart immediately, Pierce forces the men to surrender their guns and turn over their entire bankroll of two hundred dollars. Determined to depart as quickly as possible, Culpepper acquiesces and the men are stunned at having been deprived of their weapons. Back on the trail later that day, Luke reports grass and a river some miles ahead populated by welcoming settlers. Culpepper and the men discover the settlers are a religious sect and while Ben is fascinated by their belief in nonviolence, the others remain baffled. Soon after, however, Pierce arrives with his henchmen and declares the land is his property. When Culpepper demands to see a deed, Pierce indicates that his hired guns are his "deed." Giving them one hour to depart or face the consequences, Pierce has his men destroy the settlers' camp then rides away. Refusing to leave what he calls "God's land," the head of the settlers tells Culpepper he must protect them, but the cowman refuses. Dismayed, Ben announces that he will remain with the settlers. Having hidden his pistol from Pierce, Ben straps it on and stubbornly stays behind as the others ride away with the herd. Frustrated by their treatment at Pierce's hands and their disappointment in Culpepper, Caldwell, Luke, Dixie and Missoula demand the cook turn over his stash of rifles and return to Ben and the settlers. The men put up a furious resistance when Pierce and his men return, but all are slain as Ben watches in horror. Declaring the land now "soiled," the settlers' leader decides to move on, but Ben demands they help him bury his friends. Afterward, Ben throws his pistol on the ground and rides away.
Charlie Martin Smith
Octavio R. Elias
Paul A. Helmick
Terry Morse Jr.
Terry Morse Jr.
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
Augustus Montague Toplady
Suzan Weston Webb
Lawrence Edward Williams
The Culpepper Cattle Co.
The result was a story Richards originally called We Pointed 'Em North, and it revolved around a 16-year-old coming of age as a cook's helper on a hard, tough cattle drive from Texas to Colorado. The kid's romantic visions of cowboys are brought down to earth first by the cook, who advises him that "cowboyin' is something you do when you can't do nothing else," and then by the rest of the men as they set about destroying themselves. As one review described it: "He learns about lying and killing and whoring."
Richards worked with two writers, including the veteran Eric Bercovici (Hell in the Pacific, 1968) to turn his story into a screenplay, then used his connections to land the commitment of producer Paul Helmick, who had helped produce several recent Howard Hawks films. The Culpepper Cattle Co. was set up at Twentieth Century-Fox with a modest budget of just over $1 million, enough to afford a cast of character actors, including Billy "Green" Bush, who had been memorable as Jack Nicholson's pal in Five Easy Pieces (1970). Playing the lead role of the teenage boy was Gary Grimes, who had just made a lauded feature debut in Summer of '42 (1971).
Cameras rolled for nine weeks on location in Sonora, Mexico; Santa Fe, New Mex.; and soundstages at the Fox studio lot. Richards was more interested in the atmosphere of the story than the plot itself, which is minimal. When the film was announced, he told a reporter: "Fox is actually allowing me to do a dramatized documentary--no women, no romance--just a realistic look at what it was like in those not-so-good old days."
A former photographer, Richards took extra care with the lighting and cinematography to express that atmosphere, later writing: "I didn't want the audience to be aware of the camera in any way. I just wanted [them] to experience what the people of the period went through. I used the quality of light and shadow, of early morning and late day, that I felt would bring out the rich feeling of the west."
The Culpepper Cattle Co. came out as another entry in a recent line of "revisionist" westerns including The Wild Bunch (1969), Little Big Man (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), and Doc (1971)--with Bad Company (1972), Dirty Little Billy (1972), and Ulzana's Raid (1972) soon to follow. They aimed to demythologize the western hero and genre both in their unglamorous stories and in their often grainy and stylized visual looks.
Still, the Fox press book for this picture described Culpepper as "a different kind of western. It makes no statements, offers no messages, nor does it wallow in violence for its own sake. Instead, [it] attempts to recreate the old west as it really was, not as we like to think it was. Harsh, not romantic. Gritty, not glamorous. Heroism arising from quiet gestures, not grand displays."
Culpepper has become something of a cult film, but critics in 1972 were mixed. Variety called it "another successful attempt to mount a poetic and stylistic ballet of death in the environment of a period western, ... but pretentious, static staging, intercut with flashy massacres and interspersed with dramatically lifeless looping, add up to dreary direction and flagging audience involvement."
The Los Angeles Times found it to be "visually outstanding.... The images have a romantic naturalism which suggests the cowboy world of Remington and Russell. It is the handsomest western since Bill Fraker's Monte Walsh , and it offers not only portraits and textures but some rip-roaring action... On balance, Culpepper, personal and modestly made, is a considerably better-than-average western... An admirable launching for director Richards."
The Culpepper Cattle Co. also marked another feature debut, that of associate producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Like Richards, Bruckheimer came from the world of 1960s New York advertising. The duo worked together on three more pictures before Bruckheimer went on to become one of the most successful producers in Hollywood history, with such credits as Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun (1986), Armageddon (1998), and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
By Jeremy Arnold
The Culpepper Cattle Co.
The working title of the film was We Pointed 'Em North. The Culpepper Cattle Co. marked the directorial debut of Dick Richards, who had previously worked in television production. According to a February 1972 Variety item, which stated that the title was Mr. Culpepper's Cattle Company, the American Humane Association labeled the film "unacceptable" due to several shots of horses falling headfirst at a full gallop. The Culpepper Cattle Co. was shot in Sonora and Hermosillo, Mexico and Santa Fe, NM, according to contemporary sources. The picture marked the feature film debut of actor Charles Martin Smith, who previously had acted on television, and was billed in the screen credits of The Culpepper Cattle Company as "Charlie Martin Smith."
Released in United States Spring April 1972
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Spring April 1972