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This sturdy Delmer Daves picture--his third with Glenn Ford, following Jubal and 3:10 to Yuma--is one of the most offbeat Westerns ever. And it must be the most writerly, with Frank Harris's memoirs as the source and a picaresque screenplay by Edmund H. North and Dalton Trumbo (a blacklistee, credited only posthumously). There's a pileup of oddities and complications at the outset, with Chicago hotel clerk Harris (Jack Lemmon) already in mid-romance with a daughter of the Mexican aristocracy (Anna Kashfi--Mrs. Marlon Brando at the time), and Texas cattleman Tom Reese (Ford) storming in to commandeer an entire floor of the hotel for him and his drovers so they can party till, well, the cows come home. Partying is curtailed when Reese loses big at cards; Harris bails him out with his savings, and Reese finds he's taken on not only an unwanted partner but a tenderfoot besides. Soon everyone is headed south.

Cowboy merits its bedrock title. This is a rare Western in which the job of breaking horses, trail herding, etc. figures as a dynamic aspect of the storytelling. The film also has a blunt and original way of looking at death, not as a genre convention but as something abrupt, ungainly, and often absurd, in both senses of the word. (This applies equally to men and cattle, by the way.) The camerawork is trim, angular, and somehow precarious, and the jagged editing hustles the very eventful proceedings to a close in barely an hour and a half. Saddle up.

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CO07874 Cowboy DVD (1958/Glenn Ford) $14.95