Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Castaway Cowboy

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Castaway Cowboy

Year: 1974

Plot: Texas cowboy, Lincoln Costain, gets kidnapped in San Francisco, then jumps ship and washes ashore on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, right into the arms of widow Henrietta MacAvoy and her son who are struggling to make a living as farmers.

A lot of wild cattle often trample their crops, so Costain gets the idea to start cattle ranching instead. The Hawaiian farm hands don’t readily take to the American cowboy culture, and Calvin Bryson, is a banker with eyes to grab Henrietta’s land and maybe Henrietta herself.

Henrietta mortgages her farm to Bryson to afford horses for the new venture, and Costain trains the hands in riding and roping. Frustrated, Costain quits. After winning passage after a poker game, Booton and the farm hands convince him to stay. Bryson hires a local who has a beef with Costain to keep them from rounding up cattle. He uses witchcraft, but Costain tracks him down and forces him to remove the “curse.”

Costain and the hands are successful at rounding up cattle, but less so at transporting them to the ships. Bryson has his men stampede the horses. They figure out that Bryson was behind everything and Costain delivers an ass whooping. The cattle are transported by longboat then hoisted on the ships. Costain decides to stay.

Background: The real-life tropical island that portrayed the South Pacific isle that Lieutenant Lincoln Costain was castaway on was actually the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The majority of the picture was shot on location on Kaua’i.

Cast: James Garner and Vera Miles return

Eric Shea as Booton ‘Little Maca’ MacAvoy. A professional child actor, active from age six through seventeen, he is best known for his roles in the blockbuster feature films Yours, Mine and Ours and The Poseidon Adventure, as well as his numerous guest-starring appearances on such popular television series as Batman, Gunsmoke, The Flying Nun, Nanny and the Professor, The Brady Bunch, and Little House on the Prairie, among others. Robert Culp as Calvin Bryson. Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy. Before this, he starred in the CBS/Four Star Western series Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman in 71 episodes from 1957 to 1959. The 1980s brought him back to television as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on The Greatest American Hero. Later he had a recurring role as Warren Whelan on Everybody Loves Raymond. Culp gave hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.

Manu Tupou as Kimo. Film roles include Hawaii, The Extraordinary Seaman, A Man Called Horse, Hurricane, Circuitry Man, Love Affair, Payback, and Chief Zabu. Television credits include Hawaii Five-O, Barney Miller, Fantasy Island, Vega$, Magnum, P.I., Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, and voiced Ubu on Batman: The Animated Series. Gregory Sierra as Marruja. Sierra’s film credits include The Flying Nun, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Papillon, The Towering Inferno, The Prisoner of Zenda, and The Trouble with Spies. He guest starred on many television series, including Mod Squad, Kung Fu, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, The Greatest American Hero, Soap, Sanford and Son, Barney Miller, Midnight Caller, Miami Vice, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The X-Files, Murder, She Wrote, Hart to Hart and Hill Street Blues.

Legacy: A poster of the film hangs in the main lobby of the Polynesian Resort

Critical Reception: Howard Thompson of the New York Times wrote. “Thank heaven for a new Disney live-action movie that won’t, for a change, make parents wince. Such is “The Castaway Cowboy,” a cheerfully agreeable and picturesque little Western, set in, of all places, Hawaii. This is a homey, comfortably amusing and nicely colorful package about a Texas castaway who helps a pretty widow and her small son pioneer a Pacific isle cattle ranch. Yesterday the children—flanked by smiling parents—took to it like popcorn, at the midtown Festival Theater, one of the metropolitan showcases double-billing the new picture with a vintage Disney feature. The film’s rudder is James Garner, whose leathery, laconic expertise (minus that pat blandness) winningly sets the tone and flavor. Vera Miles and young Eric Shea are appealing, likewise a gallery of grinning, native islanders who play Mr. Garner’s “pineapple cowboys.” Robert Culp is the smooth villain of the uncomplicated little plot, steadily unwinding under Vincent McEveety’s direction.The picture has genuine charm and sturdiness in the scenes of the natives becoming cowboys, learning to lasso and punch wild steers. For stand-bys, there are several crunching fights and a good old cattle stampede. The Hawaiian locale (the island of Lauai) makes an exotic, often luscious backdrop. It’s hard to resist the sight of Tex Garner, Master Shea and those happy island buckaroos singing “Come-a-Ki-Yi-Yippy” as they hit the Hawaii trail.”

My take: So this is another Disney films that benefits from shooting on location.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: Candleshoe