Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981)

cattle annie and little britches

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She needs a spanking.

Based very loosely on actual events this film looks at Annie McDoulet (Amanda Plummer) and Jennie Stevens (Diane Lane) two adolescent girls traveling in the Oklahoma Territory of the late 19th century looking for excitement and adventure. Annie becomes transfixed with the stories that she reads about the western outlaws particularly the ones about Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster), but when they finally do catch up with his gang they find the men to be old, haggard, and tired as well as just one-step ahead of the relentless pursuit of famed western lawmen Bill Tilghman (Rod Steiger).

Plummer, in her film debut, is nothing short of electrifying. She is the daughter of Christopher Plummer and actress Tammy Grimes and she makes her presence strongly felt here. Her vulgarity and tenaciousness are infectious and help propel the film and easily steal every scene that she is in. She has her mother’s distinctively reedy voice and although not beautiful in the conventional sense her facial features still have an alluring quality that she makes the most of.

Lane as her cohort is good as well although not as strong, or riveting. Her plus is the fact that she is simply beautiful with perfect and delicate features of a young lady blooming into adulthood. The fact that her character is more shy and unassuming plays off well against the abrasiveness of Plummer’s and the tussle that the two have near the end is fun.

Lancaster is badly miscast. For one thing the real Bill Doolin was much younger and in fact was shot dead at the young age of 38 and yet here Lancaster was already 66 when he did the part. I also felt that the character was a little bit too good to be true. It just seemed too hard to believe that a rugged western outlaw would be so kind, gentle, understanding and wise. I suppose his fans wouldn’t want it any other way and the part seems to be written to conform to his star status, but the effect hurts the film’s overall authenticity.

Steiger on the other hand is quite strong and director Lamont Johnson makes perfect use of Steiger’s legendarily intense manner. In fact I was disappointed that he wasn’t in more of the film as his presence helps create some much needed tension in a film that at times seems too slow and laid back. His finest moment, and the best part in whole film, comes when he tackles Annie and gives her a nice long hard spanking.

The score, like the film, seems unfocused and creates an unnecessary mish-mash of moods. The vocal ballads done with a minimum of instruments is good as they have a country twang and fit the period, but there are other points when a jazzed up score with modern rock elements is played, which takes the viewer completely out of the setting. There is also too much music played when the natural sound and ambience would have been better especially with a western.

Watching the girls interacting with the gang as well as surprising them with their unexpected toughness is what makes the film interesting. The climatic sequence in which the two decide to go by themselves to get Bill out of jail and the very brazen and clever way that they do it is special. Why Universal decided to abandoned what is otherwise a pleasing little western is baffling. This film is long overdue for a DVD/Blu-ray release and fans of the cast should let the people in charge know as well as taking the studio exec, if he is still around, who decided to put the kibosh on this movie and throw him into a lake.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Universal

Available: None

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