Cotter (1973)

cotter2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodeo clown seeks redemption.

Art Cotter (Don Murray) is a Sioux Indian who works as a rodeo clown, but when his alcoholism causes the tragic death of a rodeo rider he leaves his hometown in shame. Years later he returns hoping to make amends. He meets up with his old friend Roy (Rip Torn) and Roy’s wife Leah (Carol Lynley) and begins living with the two while trying to find work, but before he can fully turn things around tragedy strike again. This time it’s in the form of murder when wealthy rancher Wolfe (Larry D. Mann) turns-up dead with a large bag of money that he was carrying missing. Cotter was the last person to see him alive, so suspicions are cast on him almost immediately. Roy offers to let Cotter hide-out from the mob in his pump shed out back, but Roy has ulterior motives as he believes Cotter committed the crime and begins hassling him for the whereabouts of the cash. Even Leah, who had shown a liking for Cotter earlier, begins to use her sensual appeal, at her husband’s request, to get him to talk leaving Cotter with the harsh realization that nobody, even his friends, believe in him.

This was one of the last of a string of films that were released in the early 70’s dealing with modern-day rodeo stars. Many of those were hits at the box office, so it was a surprise why this one, which was meant to be released to the theaters, couldn’t find a studio to distribute it, so ultimately it ended up becoming, on April 4, 1973, the first movie to ever premiere on cable television, which at the time was still very much in its infancy.

On the surface I was surprised, given the success of the other rodeo movies, that it had to settle for direct-to-cable, but after watching it it’s pretty easy to see why. For one thing the script, which was written by actor-turned-writer William D. Gordon, doesn’t have much to do with the rodeo world. It’s just used as a set-up at the beginning, but seems much more like it should be put into the murder mystery genre instead of a modern day western, or character study. The mystery itself isn’t intriguing and gets wrapped-up too quickly making it flimsy entertainment no matter which category you put it into.

Casting Murray in the lead was another problem as he’s a white guy who doesn’t resemble an Indian at all. In fact the viewer has to keep reminding themselves that his character is one as you’ll forget otherwise. They do give him some make-up to make his skin appear redder, but this just makes him seem more like a white guy with a sunburn. There were plenty of genuine American Indian actors out there at the time, like Ned Romero, that could’ve played the part and made the character more authentic, which Murray’s presence doesn’t.

I was also disappointed that despite what Leonard Maltin states in his review, or whoever wrote it for him, the movie does not give one a good feel for the Midwest and it become painfully clear to this former Midwesterner that it wasn’t even filmed there in the first place. The Midwest has farm fields, which aren’t seen anywhere, and the towns always have a strong city center usually with the courthouse sitting on one block and then the rest of the downtown shops surrounding it. The downtown here has no distinction just a bunch of nondescript buildings plopped in a row and built on a Hollywood studio black-lot, which makes the setting as bland as the rest of the film.

Outside of Murray there are some good performances particularly by Torn and Lynley, but the script is unfocused and in need of dynamic direction. If its motive was to show the plight of the American Indian and racism then an actual Indian should’ve been cast while also bringing in a Native American as a consultant, which might’ve helped the script seem less generic.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Paul Stanley

Studio: Gold Key Entertainment

Available: DVD

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