Year Released: 1974
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 83 minutes
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GREATEST COCKFIGHTING MOVIE, EVER! Okay, maybe this is the one I’ve seen other than Arturo Ripstein’s “Nobody Writes to the Colonel”, but “Cockfighter” is a lot funnier. Besides, this is a great movie and it’s about a few more things besides cockfighting.
The same kind of thing goes for the works of the late Charles Willeford. His books were also the basis for “Miami Blues” and more recently, “The Woman-Chaser”. Not only did he write the original novel for “Cockfighter” but he also adapted the screenplay and acts in a significant supporting role. His crime stories tend not to be about crime so much as the pathology of the characters involved. In the case of this film, our goal is to get into the head and world of the top gun trainer of fighting cocks, Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates).
We first meet Frank, who never talks, as he attempts to fix the odds in a match against his old adversary Jack (Harry Dean Stanton). When Frank’s cock actually loses due to the tampering, Jack wins Frank’s truck, trailer, and girlfriend in the bet.
This is not our boy’s worst defeat however. Flashback a few years and we find Frank drunk in his hotel room with Jack. Frank is talking out of his ass about how he’ll win the “Cockfighter of the Year” medal the next day in competition. When Jack demands that they set their roosters off on each other right then and there, Frank stupidly agrees and his chicken dies. Realizing that his mouth cost him the prize, Frank vows never to talk again until he finally won that medal.
Silence apparently couldn’t fix everything. Having lost everything but his reputation, Frank returns home for the first time in years. He reacquaints himself with old girlfriend Mary Elizabeth (Patricia Pearcy) who wants to marry him. She’s none too crazy about the cockfighting though, as Frank is put back in business with the financial aid of new partner Omar (Richard B. Shull). With new found focus, our hero soon sets out upon the fighting circuit with new cocks in a chase for that elusive medal.
Can you tell this is a comedy? This is actually the funniest film director Monte Hellman ever made. While the actual fights are pretty violent, the rest of the movie paints a vivid portrait of a world that even at the time of release was mostly outlawed in the U.S. That would probably explain why it didn’t go over so well at the time. This is one of Oates greatest performances in a role where he’s not allowed to speak through most of the film. The rest of the cast are great, particularly Stanton and Shull, and the very young Steve Railsback and Ed Begley Jr. appear as speedbumps along Frank’s journey.
Overall, this is really a fairly light and entertaining movie, once you get past the fact that it’s about animals that are trained to fight each other to the death. On a Roger Corman budget, how hard must that have been?
Get the whole story in our MONTE HELLMAN SPECTACULAR! Read the feature KUBRICK IDEAS ON A CORMAN BUDGET: THE GREATNEss OF MONTE HELLMAN. Plus, read our exclusive MONTE HELLMAN INTERVIEW: EXPLOITATION OR EXISTENTIALISM? Read all of our Monte Hellman movie reviews: THE SHOOTING, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND, FLIGHT TO FURY, CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 and the classic TWO-LANE BLACKTOP.
Posted on November 4, 2000 in Reviews by Ron Wells
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