Orphans & Outlaws – Rediscovering ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ (US 1981 – 97 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - May 14, 2015
Orphans & Outlaws – Rediscovering ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ (US 1981 – 97 mins)

“I wish to withdraw some money from your bank….all of it” – Burt Lancaster as Bill Doolin

A minor entry in the latter-day western genre, the wonderful little sleeper ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ has never really been given its due. A Shame really as it’s an immensely entertaining picture with a big heart, and one that wastes no time in telling its captivating frontier fable.

Young runaways Annie and Jennie (Amanda Plummer and Diane Lane) take little time in teaming up with the weary Doolin-Dalton gang, led by the aging Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster). Bringing much needed life into their rather dispirited lives, the girls inject a newly-found passion into the gang, even accompanying them on their next robbery, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of Federal Marshall Tilghman (Rod Steiger) and his men.

What helps make this winning movie work is the superb cast that mixes acting greats with a new generation of up-and-comers. Burt Lancaster seemed to be having fun and was a joy to watch in what was his 15th and final western.
He employed the same smiling mannerisms that he had done three decades ago in such pictures as ‘The Flame and the Arrow’ (’50) and ‘The Crimson Pirate’ (’52). In her screen debut Amanda Plummer was the real find and gave a quite brilliant performance as the passionate and stubborn Annie. The daughter of Christopher Plummer, her performance wasn’t a world away from her scary and memorable turn 23 years later in ‘Pulp Fiction’ (’94). Young Diane Lane also shone as the charismatic Jenny “Little Britches” Stevens, especially in her tender moments with Lancaster’s Bill Doolin, whom she clearly idolizes. In a smaller and less showy role, Rod Steiger played the doggedly determined Federal Marshall, while John Savage was good as gang member Bittercreek, who takes a shine to the spunky Annie. Scott Glenn took a backseat as the serious looking Bill Dalton, and William Russ and Buck Taylor were the live-wires of the group; Little Dick Raidler and Dynamite Dick, respectively.

Handling his cast with ease, director Lamont Johnson had earlier made the P.O.W drama ‘The McKenzie Break’ (’70) and the Jeff Bridges sports picture ‘The Last American Hero’ (’73). The sparkling dialogue by David Eyre and Robert Ward was both witty and realistic, while Larry Pizer’s photography made the most of stunning waterfalls and vast mountain vistas.

The movie had some exciting chase scenes and humorous moments, include the error-laden bank robbery and the immediate shootout that followed. I particularly liked the powerfully charged moment where Annie and Jenny, both exhausted and dehydrated, comfort Annie’s dying horse in the desert before being rescued by one of the Doolin gang.

Sweet yet unsentimental, ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ is a comically romanticized western featuring a clutch of likeable characters, an endearing star turn from Lancaster, and winning performances from both its female leads. Whether you’re a western fan or not, it’s a forgotten gem that rewards repeated viewings.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *