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With: Warren Oates, Richard B. Shull, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Begley Jr., Laurie Bird, Troy Donahue, Warren Finnerty, Robert Earl Jones, Patricia Pearcy, Millie Perkins, Steve Railsback, Tom Spratley, Charles Willeford, Pete Munro, Kermit Echols, Ed Smith, Jimmy Williams, John Trotter, Lois Zeitlin, Joe Bentley, A.B. Greeson, Bob Earl Hannah, Sara Rickman, Meg Brush, Oliver Coleman, Ank Carleton
Written by: Charles Willeford, based on his own novel
Directed by: Monte Hellman
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 83
Date: 08/01/1974

Cockfighter (1974)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Hide and Beak

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Monte Hellman marks his work with an attention to ritual detail, from cockfighters carefully preparing roosters for a fight, to a farmer washing up before dinner. He observes from a medium distance without ever over-explaining. His films can seem maddeningly sparse, but this lack of filler is an asset to which viewers have returned again and again over the years. His brand of thought-inducing filmmaking would be most welcome back in the American cinema.

After making his masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop, Hellman once again teamed with his former mentor Roger Corman to make Cockfighter. Corman believed he could easily sell a movie with the illegal sport as its subject, but typically for Hellman, the film was unceremoniously dumped. Oates stars once again as a cockfighter who refuses to speak until he wins the National championship. Hellman shot several actual cockfights (some were slightly rigged so that they would turn out the way the script needed them to), which prove both beautiful and grotesque. The movie works once again because of Hellman's fascination with the subculture and its various characters, and because of Oates' brilliant performance, registering his excitement and loss solely with his eyes. It's an amazing movie, recommended to those with strong stomachs. Pulp author Charles Willeford (Miami Blues and The Woman Chaser) wrote the screenplay based on his own novel.

DVD Details: Anchor Bay Entertainment released the DVD in 2000 complete with a Monte Hellman commentary track and Tom Thurman's 1993 documentary Warren Oates: Across the Border. The disc also includes a trailer, TV and radio spots and talent bios. (The Anchor Bay edition appears to be out of print. There's a much cheaper version, a double-bill DVD with Mad Dog Morgan, but the quality is said to be far inferior.)

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