Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray




For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 17, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Westerns fell out of fashion in the late 1970s and early ’80s, especially after the epic box-office bomb ‘Heaven’s Gate’ (1980), and even those that earned good reviews from national critics were barely released in theaters: ‘Barbarosa’ and ‘The Grey Fox,’ also released in 1980, leap to mind. ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ is another example. Some critics (Siskel & Ebert, for example) loved it, and while I was not quite that enthusiastic, it certainly deserved better than the studio that tossed it aside. Now it’s being revived for a Blu-ray upgrade by the eclectic video label Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 19, 1981.

“Cattle Annie and Little Britches” would like to be a juvenile version of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” but it settles for being merely juvenile.

And that’s too bad, since much of it is enjoyable and there aren’t too many lighthearted Westerns around these days. But director Lamont Johnson has distanced himself from the characters and we just never get to know any of them well enough to care about them.

In fact, though I admired what several cast members did with their parts only Burt Lancaster made his character more than a caricature.


Diane Lane, left, Amanda Plummer, 'Cattle Annie and Little Britches' (1981)

Lancaster is gentleman bandit Bill Doolin, who, with Bill Dalton (Scott Glenn), rides as head of the Doolin-Dalton gang. Aging and tired, Doolin is ever the polite, refined outlaw, and Lancaster is very relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable in the role.

Rod Steiger is lawman Bill Tilghman (aren’t there any names but “Bill” in this picture?) in a more subdued performance than usual and John Savage is a member of the gang, Bittercreek Newcomb (let’s go back to “Bill”). Both are talented actors, but neither has much to do here.

The focus is on the title characters, “Cattle Annie and Little Britches,” played by newcomers Diane Lane and Amanda Plummer (daughter of Christopher) as two young girls who want to join up with the outlaws.

They do, but why they are readily accepted is never very plausible or even understandable. Lane has no scenes that give even a clue as to her character’s background or motivation, and though Plummer fares better in the larger role, her screen spark comes in flashes and leaves as quickly.

The script, by David Eyre and Robert Ward (based on Ward’s novel), has some delightful repartee between the outlaws and there is a funny bank-robbing scene with the bandits forgetting to bring a sack for the money.


John Savage, left, Burt Lancaster, 'Cattle Annie and Little Britches' (1981)

It would have been better, though, to bring into play some real conflict between Lancaster and Steiger rather than build up the ladies’ roles without filling them in.

There’s a real emptiness to this picture that hurts it all the way through.

It’s interesting to note, too, that with “Cattle Annie,” “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper” and “Powder Heads,” this has been a real week for films that make lawlessness seem appealing.

It’s enough to make you want to go out and steal enough money to see “Prince of the City.”

In the meantime, “Cattle Annie and Little Britches” is a pleasant comedy oater for those inclined toward the genre.

The film is rated PG for the usual shoot-em-up violence, liberal profanity and a skinny-dipping scene.