The Culpepper Cattle Co. is an interesting revisionist western to come out during the early ’70s, when the rules of the western were being rewritten by filmmakers like Robert Altman and of course Sam Peckinpah. It’s actually a coming of story which is rare with in the genre with the recent Slow West being another rare example. It was also the directorial debut of Dick Richards who was a commercial photographer during its heyday in the ’60s.
Ben Mockridge (Gary Grimes) is a young kid who asks to join Frank Culpepper’s (Billy Green Bush) cattle drive. He is enamoured with the cowboy lifestyle but quickly he learns it’s not all it’s cracked out to be. He annoys the older cattle holders and is stuck to menial jobs and they show little to no interest in “showing him the ropes”. The film shows the reality of the suitably unglamorous life of cowboys in the old west even though the end includes a massive shootout.
The film’s biggest virtues are the film’s period detail and photography much more than the story. McCabe & Mrs. Miller came out the year before which has a similar lived in feeling and like that film (albeit not as good) The Culpepper Cattle Co. seems to be getting to the truth of what is was like to live in the Old West. It also has an anti-Capitalist message which actually had some basis in reality, landowners etc. were always considered villains by cowboys.
The film is rounded off by an interesting cast of character actors who were mainly known for westerns or playing southerners like Billy Bush, Luke Askew and of course Bo Hopkins. Gary Grimes is the real stand-out and he only ended up making six films before retiring for good from the industry. The main cinematographer Ralph Woolsey on the film certainly was able to get Richard’s desire effect of a grainy old photograph from the period. The opening credits is a mixture of period photography and also photos taken specifically for the film.
Dick Richards certainly made a strong debut and it’s a shame none of his later work seemed to live up to his debut. It was also the first on-screen by a producer who has ended up making some of the worst films of all-time Jerry Bruckheimer. He did produce some interesting films early on in his career till his trademark ridiculous action films but occasionally a good one still slips out.
Signal One has compiled a handsome package for this very obscure western which I had to admary with Bo Hopkins and writer C. Courtney Joyner along with stills galleries along with a trailer and radio spot.