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Soundtrack review: The cowboys (John Williams – 1972)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The cowboys (John Williams – 1972)



One of screen icon John Wayne’s finest twilight films, THE COWBOYS was a box-office hit in 1972. John Wayne stars as a rancher who will lose his livestock unless he can transform a ragtag bunch of schoolboys into cowboys. When all his ranch hands go off in search of gold, the veteran rancher is forced to hire eleven teenage boys as trail hands, and in the process of driving 1200 cattle across 400 rough miles, the young cowboys become cowmen. John Willams wrote the score.

I have to admit I was not familiar with this score before it’s release as part of Varese Club. The overture though, joyful and infectious, takes me back to a time when Western movies and TV shows were thriving and this sound, so different from the Spaghetti western one, was making waves in the US. There’s that John Williams excellence, that natural and almost casual way in which he can write the simplest and most memorable themes with frightening ease. This was 45 years ago and the craft was there, no doubt. The stride of the brass section, the rumble of the percussion, this is Western music at its best. The main theme that comes next could sit on any JW anthology, so playful, so hummable and so positive.

The body of the score burns slowly as it evokes the vast landscapes of the Western world. There are the usual elements you would expect from a score like this, harmonica tunes, playful brass section motifs and dramatic passages. Every now and then the composer cleverly lets us now that the movie is not all serious as he introduces comedic motifs, usually dealt with through brass and flute. There are the usual riding motifs, they never fail no matter how many times I have heard similar compositions. I mean there is actually a “Training montage” and when has ever a cue with this title not been memorable?

“The cowboys” shows how mature and enjoyable John Williams’ music was ever at the beginning of the 70s; the score doesn’t stumble and it sounds like it was written by a seasoned composer who, even if he relied on the normal formula for a light Western score, managed to create an album that is also enjoyable on its own. I haven’t seen the movie but listening to this score surely brought the Western vibe into my mind and left me with a wide smile on my face.

Cue rating: 72 / 100

Main Title – The Cowboys
Training Montage
End Title and End Cast

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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