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The late great Jack Lemmon doesn't seem the likely star of a western film, but in Delmer Daves' Cowboy (1958) he injects a little quirky humanity and humor into this sometimes-interesting, well-crafted movie that — though containing a nice story — remains a by-the-numbers ramble. Based on western writer Frank Harris's memoirs "My Reminisces as a Cowboy," the film tells the story of a young, sensitive, non-tough-guy tenderfoot named (not coincidentally) Frank Harris (Lemmon), who, through the course of a trail adventure, becomes a man. A desk clerk at a hotel, he's in love with a beautiful Mexican woman named Maria (Anna Kashfi — one of Marlon Brando's real-life exes), and at this point he's pining to be with her. And when cowboy, cattle-boss, and client to Maria's rancher father, Tom Reece (Glenn Ford), saunters into the hotel, Harris has an idea: Why not join Reece on a cattle drive that will take them to Mexico, where he can reunite with his love whilst the cattle drives to Maria's father's ranch? With tough-guy Reece (he likes to shoot cockroaches off the wall rather than smash them), it's not an easy bit of convincing. But when Reece loses all his money in a poker game, he obliges Harris's offer with a loan in exchange for his cattle enterprise. However, the cattle drive isn't such an easy venture, as Harris learns while he confronts problems with Reece's hardened pack of dudes and the always-present threat of Indians, who figure in a major skirmish here. It's nice to see Lemmon and Ford work together in Cowboy, each different figures in cinema and certainly different types of actors. Though Lemmon's not necessarily method, he's got all the ticks and neuroses of the newer breed (or really, the Modern Man), while Ford remains iconic old-school, rugged yet easy, uttering his lines with learned ease. Lemmon is automatically sympathetic, but Ford ambles into a compassionate performance that's well received by his co-star. It's an intriguing, likable combination of talent. Though many great westerns would come after, 1958 is a strange time in cinema, as old Hollywood was beginning to fade. And you can sense it in Cowboy — a picture that feels simultaneously fresh and outworn, giving it a dust of sadness. Columbia TriStar's DVD release presents an adequate full-frame transfer (1.33:1) of this colorful picture. The English audio comes in Dolby Digital mono. Supplements include subtitles and trailers for Cowboy, Mackenna's Gold, and Walter Hill's Geronimo. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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