Monte Hellman's Cockfighter, adapted by cult noir writer Charles Willeford from his novel, is a strange bird indeed, an art film for an exploitation audience. Set in the game-fighting pits of the Deep South, it follows a s... more »eason on the circuit with Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates), a veteran fighter whose hubris has cost him everything and who rebuilds his stable and his reputation while honoring a vow of silence. Costars Harry Dean Stanton and Laurie Bird previously appeared with Oates in Hellman's cult classic Two-Lane Blacktop. There are also appearances by Millie Perkins, Steve Railsback, Richard B. Schull, and writer Willeford, who acquits himself nicely as a pit judge. Oates's portrayal of a determined, silent obsessive is almost minimalist yet beautifully expressive, accomplished with gestures, smiles, and nods. He's thoughtful and gentle yet dedicated to bloodsport, and his contradictions can be felt in the tension between the comic adventures and gritty stories of Willeford's script, with the meditative intensity of Hellman's often serene direction and cinematographer Nestor Almendros's lovely images of the Deep South's rural beauty. Cockfighter was one of the few films produced by "King of the B's" Roger Corman that lost money, so he added a dream sequence full of nudity, created a trailer with action scenes nowhere to be found in the film, and rereleased the film under the title Born to Kill. Needless to say, Anchor Bay has returned to Hellman's original cut, which does contain footage of real and often savage cockfights. Animal lovers and squeamish viewers beware. The accompanying documentary Warren Oates: Across the Border is a genial if ultimately lightweight portrait of the actor by friends and fellow performers Ben Johnson, Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, and his Cockfighter compatriots Harry Dean Stanton, Millie Perkins, and Monte Hellman. The DVD also features commentary by Hellman and production assistant Steven Gaydos, along with moderator Dennis Bartok. --Sean Axmaker« less
Oates, and Hellman create an existential comedy drama gem.
Christopher J. Jarmick | Seattle, Wa. USA | 11/27/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cockfighter was set up and then marketed as a low budget exploitation film, but was turned into a somewhat existential comic character study by director Monte Hellman with just enough elements for Roger Corman to market it as an exploitation film (some violence, controversy, and a bit of nudity).Most people have not heard of 1974's Cockfighter. It bombed at the box-office and is too quirky a film about too violent and controversial a sport to be widely embraced. It's time for you to discover this gem of a film, which through some odd alignment of the stars has been given a red carpet type of DVD release by Anchor Bay, which includes a few extras. It's time to shout from the mountain-tops and let all film buffs, Warren Oates fans, 70's movie lovers , appreciators of quirky cinema concoctions and cult film aficionados know there is an excellent film out there that you probably have not seen that is worth adding to your collection as soon as possible.The film is based on a novel written by the late great Charles Willeford who also co-wrote the screenplay and plays an important supporting role in the film. Willeford's books have been the basis for a few other good quirky films like Miami Blues and the recent The Woman-Chaser.Cockfighter is set in the world where fighting cocks are bred, trained and pitted against each other for spectators and gamblers to enjoy, but is focused on Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates) a
Man who has devoted his life to being the best Cockfighter on the circuit. He is willing to risk everything and anything in pursuit of his goal-- a medal. In fact because Frank Mansfield ws too cocky a few years ago, he wound up ruining his chances for the Cockfighter of the year medal. So he took a vow of silence. He would not talk ever again until he won the Cockfighter of the Year medal. It's an ironic vow of silence because fighting Cocks rarely make noise as they fight to the death in the pit. We are immersed in Frank's world and watch him lose a cockfight to his old adversary Jack (Harry Dean Stanton) that costs him his motor home trailer and current girlfriend Laurie Bird (previously seen in Two-Lane Blacktop) . He returns to his hometown, and re-acquaints himself with his old girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth (Patricia Pearcy). Mary Elizabeth would prefer marrying Frank than another suitor but doesn't consider Cockfighting a real profession and needs Frank to give it up. Our mute hero isn't about to give up his obsession and hooks up with a new partner, Omar (Richard B. Shull), a new attitude and some new fighting cocks to try again to win the coveted Cockfighter of the year medal. The adventures are unique and the world of this sport is not one you'll likely see portrayed in a film every again. The violent sport is illegal and cruel to animals and this film doesn't flinch in showing the sport for what it is. Animals were killed in the making of the movie, but they were animals destined to be killed in Cockfights. The film was made on location and the crowd extras were made up of fans and participants in the sport. Also in the film are Troy Donahue, Millie Perkins, Robert Earl Jones (Father of James Earl Jones), Ed Begley Junior and Steve (Helter Skelter, Stuntman)Railsback. Although Oates plays a man who is silent through 99 percent of the film, he delivers one of his finest performances and also does the voice-over narration. Just for Oates performance alone the film is very much worth seeing, but it's also a unique very well done film. Despite the low budget, cinematographer Nestor Almandros creates a few memorable shots while accommodating Hellman's style which uses many master shots and long takes. Nestor's lighting design accommodated Hellman's style. Some rules are broken to great effect such as when a lake background is too hot and serves as the perfect background for a love scene between Oates and Mary Elizabeth. The film has such a strong documentary verite' we can usually forget we are watching actors. In fact there are so many non-actors in the film, Hellman considers half the film a documentary anyway.Director Monte Hellman's career started with Corman on 1959's Beast from the Haunted Cave. Hellman made two odd low budget westerns with Nicholson in the late 60's, Ride the Whirlwind and the existentially fascinating; The Shooting. The Shooting also marked the first time Hellman worked with Oates. Two directors; Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman utilized Oates best. He made The Shooting, Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and China 9 Liberty 37 with Oates. They worked well together. Perhaps their finest collaboration is Cockfighter.The DVD presents the film better than it's ever been seen before. It's still a low budget film and there's grain and some soft focus but an excellent damage free print was used for the anamorphic digital transfer.Lots of extras including one of the best commentary tracks you'll hear on DVD make this one worth getting.Cockfighter is a gem of a film you're probably never heard of. It's one of best films of the 1970's features one of Warren Oates finest performances and has been rescued from near obscurity by Anchor Bay. The film looks very good on DVD and comes with several worthwhile extras.Rent it, Buy it and tell your friends to get a copy of a great film they probably haven't heard a thing about. This isn't for everyone and the subject matter is disturbing, but those who enjoyUnique quirky independent films need to have this one.Christopher Jarmick, is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller."
Terrible DVD of a great film
Henry Witte | USA | 08/10/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I love this movie, but I strongly discourage anyone from purchasing the DVD release by Synergy Entertainment. First of all, it is in pan-and-scan fullscreen when the original aspect ratio is 1.85:1. Also, the image and sound quality suggest that it was ripped from a VHS copy. Overall quality is of a bad bootleg. DO NOT BUY."
A little 4 and a half star gem of a film...
llllloyd | minnesota,usa | 07/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have a vhs copy of Cockfighter that's so old it's voting in the upcoming election's. I can't wait to pick up this outstanding film on dvd. This film was recomended to me about 5 years ago and has become a favorite. First off, you have to love Warren Oates. When you see him cast his spell in Cockfighter or Two Lane Blacktop(and in the many films which he almost stole as an outstanding character actor)you bemoan the fact that their is no one acting in film today that is this interesting. Oh well...The film itself is a brutal look at the outlaw "sport" which gives the film it's title. It's realism (although I've never seen a cockfight...) and honesty help create the backdrop to the story of Frank(Oates). What kind of man could wager his truck,trailer and woman on a cockfight? What kind of man could take a vow of silence after his boasting causes him to lose a shot at a cockfighting championship and medal? What kind of man foresakes the woman he loves for the "sport" and what kind of man would allow that sport to become his life? Well,Frank.The film features great proformances by Oates and Harry Dean Stanton as two men engaged in a long running rivalry. Other fine turns are added by a deep cast of character actors (some of whom have very familar faces, if not names),Hellman "regulars" and the non-actors who populate the cockfighting life. Hellman directs in a workman like fashion but that's fine-he leaves the camera pyrotechnics and gimics to those who do not have as good a story or cast to work with. Here it's all about Frank's life and work (the same thing really),the characters he bumps into and the work the actors do that bring it all alive.There is fine cinematography from Nestor Almendros and the film has the earthy and lived in look and feel of all the great 70's films. I can't tell you why but I love that look. Cockfighter has a tight script that explains Frank and his life to the viewer(with the help of his voice over narative)and ties up all loose ends. The film is off beat without ever nearing the incoherant or strange for strange's sake level and after repeated viewings I think it holds up as one of the best films of the 1970's.There are great individual moments throughout the film: the bathtub full of dead game cocks in the hotel room, some bits of inspired comedy and Ed Bagley Jr. flipping out after his pet is killed by Frank's bird during a fight are but a few. Still, the one scene that sticks in my memory is the scene in which Frank's boasting becomes his downfall and the reason he stops verbally comunicating. It's the lynch pin that holds the film together. Frank readies his bird for the fight and is full of pride as he announces to the rest of the room "That's the finest five pound chicken alive, Jack!"If you like solid acting,directing and screenwriting as well as a bit of inspired weirdness and a challenge then seek out Cockfighter."
Terrific Monte Hellman!
skipmccoy | Los Angeles, CA USA | 09/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hypnotically splendid, offbeat and violent drama stars the incomparable Warren Oates. Oates is nearly mute for almost the entire film after he gets a little too big for his britches. His thoughts(as narration) guide us through the story. Harry Dean Stanton is here also and is perfect. Another notch in the belt of cult director Monte Hellman(Two-Lane Blacktop/ The Shooting/ Ride in The Whirlwind/ China 9, Liberty 37). This is a truly unique film that is sadly almost forgotten. Thank goodness for dvd in the capacity that it can allow a great director like Hellman to find deserved appreciation among a new group of fans. Like the many other great Hellman films, this one has a distinct low-key dynamic that really works incredibly well and makes it stay with you long after you've watched it."
Top of the line warren oates
llllloyd | 09/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If this is the Monte Hellman directed pic from the Charles Willeford novel that I saw bacxk in the 60s, a must buy for fans of Warren Oates and Hellman. Oates is one of my faves and of his roles this is one of my vry favorites along with Alfredo Garcia, Wild Bunch, 2 Lane Blacktop. If you like Oates and those pics you will like this a lot. It is about cockfighting but thankfully there are no scenes of birds dying. As for plot, he refuses to speak because he shot off his mouth last year and blew his chance to win cockfighter of the year award which is all he wants out of life. On a talk show he said Hellman called him up and said this is the one. ""Is this the one?" "Yes." So he did it. I was alone in a Frisco grindhouse with a couple of drunks when I saw this and with fewer scenes it didn't do any better as Born To Kill."