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Little House on the Prairie, meet the Patriot

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By Kelly Dolejsi

“The Cowboys” is a bit like “Little House on the Prairie” meets “The Patriot.”

Instead of Michael Landon or Mel Gibson, imagine an awkwardly paternal John Wayne. Rather than the complacency of Walnut Grove or the sadism of the Revolutionary War, picture New Mexico in the Old West – a hard life of herding cattle and breaking horses, and young men looking for an easier way. Ranch hands were heading toward the rivers, planning to find lots of gold and retire early.

Meanwhile, 60-year-old Wil Andersen (Wayne) needs help driving his steers across some 400 miles of desert. Because of the gold rush, every male in town is either as old as Wil is or under 16.

He decides to give the greenhorns a chance.

The majority of the movie  features Wayne surrounded by 11 pranking, fighting, earnest, lovable boys and one other man, a slightly mysterious but thoroughly bewitching cook named Jebediah Nightlinger  (Roscoe Lee Browne).

Nightlinger is the kind of man Pa Ingalls would have trusted implicitly. And it’s no stretch to see the boys as Laura’s classmates, racing her to the Olesons’ store after school or plowing the fields with her father.

“The Cowboys,” admittedly set in a different time and place in American history than “Little House on the Prairie,” nevertheless has that same convivial, pleasant, funny, sweet, family, good-time charm. I liked watching rough, grizzled Andersen give into that charm, which came, as in “Little House,” from the children.

Then a lurking, distant threat turns into a real, horrendous, gory tragedy. Hence, “The Patriot,” complete with armed pre-teens and blood.

I’m squeamish. I don’t like gunfights. With a few exceptions, I don’t like to see people, of any age, killed on-screen. I didn’t really like “The Patriot.” But I liked this movie. I didn’t enjoy or applaud the violence, but I understood it. It adds something important to the film, namely that while boys might be made of puppy-dog tails, men are made of pain.

That being said, this might not be the best movie to which to bring your small, sensitive offspring.

Mesa Public Library will present “The Cowboys” as part of its Free Film Series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater.

Next up will be Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson in “Seraphim Falls” on June 3, and, to cap things off, a short-film festival on July 1. The series is made possible by Friends of the Library, and is co-sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council.

For more information, call 662-8240 or visit www.losalamosnm.us/library.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.