Thursday, March 18, 2021

Cockfighter aka Born to Kill (1974) Hixploitation - Blood Sport - Film Soleil

The Big Money Sport that's Dirty-Violent and Outside the Law!

Directed by Monte Hellman (The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind, Two-Lane Blacktop, China 9, Liberty 37). Hellman was a protégé of Roger Corman. Corman wrote the script for Highway Dragnet, directed I Mobster, produced Stakeout on Dope Street, directed The Little Shop of Horrors, and gave a start to many in the film biz.

Hellman's work has been called a major influence on Quentin Tarantino. Hellman was the executive producer for Reservoir Dogs.

Cockfighter was written by Charles Willeford and based on his eponymous novel. 

The film stars Warren Oates as Frank Mansfield, Richard B. Shull as Omar Baradansky, Harry Dean Stanton as Jack Burke.

Warren Oates as Frank Mansfield

 Laurie Bird as Dody White Burke

 Harry Dean Stanton as Jack Burke
Charles Willeford as Ed Middleton

Troy Donahue as Randall Mansfield with Millie Perkins as Frances Mansfield

Robert Earl Jones as Buford

Patricia  Pearcy as Mary Elizabeth

Richard B. Shull as Omar Baradansky and Frank

Ed Begley Jr. as Tom Peeples, Laurie Bird as Dody White Burke, Troy Donahue as Randall Mansfield, Warren Finnerty as Sanders, Robert Earl Jones as Buford, Patricia  Pearcy as Mary Elizabeth, Millie Perkins as Frances Mansfield, Steve Railsback as Junior, Tom Spratley as Mister Peeples and Charles Willeford as Ed Middleton.

A nowadays very controversial but obviously loving paean to cockfighting. The history of cockfighting goes back 6,000 years its an ancient blood sport older than bullfighting and gladiator combat. Cockfighting is now illegal in all 50 states; Louisiana being the last state to ban cockfighting in 2007, 33 years after this film was made. Cockfighting still remains legal in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Still legal in Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Panama,  Peru, Philippines, and in parts of Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan. This film is definitely nowadays highly politically incorrect and will not be to everyone's taste. 

Cockfighter aside from being a very good ensemble acting piece, is a also a historical artifact and of course by its very subject matter a gamecock snuff film. 

The basic story is  Frank a well renowned cockfighter has taken a vow of silence. He almost had the coveted "Cockfighter of the Year" award in the bag a few seasons back when he shot off his mouth while drunk and lost his five lbs gamecock entry during an impromptu cock fight in a motel room with his arch rival cocker Jack Burke (this is revealed in a flashback sequence). 

The Flashback

The bet

An indeterminate interval of time passes.

Middleton Breeders Farm cockpit

At a the Middleton Breeders farm, Frank again bets with Jack. This time the stakes are his 1959 Series 62 Caddy Convertible, his 20 foot trailer and  Doddy his regular current gal pal to whom he's slippin the sausage to. 

In the cockfight with his prize gamecock against Jacks bird, Frank again loses. 

The weigh in

Preparing the gamecock

attaching the spurs

The heating of the gamecocks

The fight 

When Doddy finds out that Frank bet everything he had and lost Doddy is understandably at first pissed off, but when Frank takes off with his battered suitcase and empty birdcage Doddy desperately goes off with Jack. 

The 1959 Series 62 Caddy Convertible the trailer and Doddy

On his way out Frank  runs into Ed Middleton the bird breeder on his way out. Ed offers Frank his prize gamecock for $500. Ed drives Frank to the bus depot and Frank makes plans.

Frank heads back to his old hometown.

He visits his brother Randall a budding alkie and his wife Frannie who are living at the family homestead. Randy puts on some airs and comences talkin' down to Frank, asking Frank how long he plans on staying. Well shit o deer the fucking house belongs to Frank.

Meanwhile Frannie has called up Mary Elizabeth his old flame and she stops by to see Frank. Frank and Mary head back to the old swimin' hole to get reacquainted. However they get into an argument about his cockfightin'. She wants to settle down and raise a family. Frank splits.

The next day Frank sells his house for a new stake in the cockfight game. He buys a battered 1960 Ford F-100 pickup and heads back to Middleton's to get that prize gamecock. 

'60 Ford F-100 pickup

Frank brings the cock to his trainer Buford and starts a partnership with Omar Baradansky. The rest of the film chronicles their quest for cockfighting championships.



Warren Oats shines as a Frank who plays almost the entire film mute. His acting is mostly through facial expressions,along with hand, and body gestures. He pulls it off  effortlessly. Oates does do some voice over running commentary on cockfighting, training and gamecock breeding in general. The rest of the cast prove their authentic hick credentials with believable performances.

This film will not be for everyone. Its very brutal. Animal rights activists will get disgusted with the movie. Oats fans will need to catch this.  7/10

(Review from the New Yorker)


Some animals were definitely harmed in the making of this atmospheric amble through rustic American sleaze, from 1974. The director, Monte Hellman, brings a terse wit to the picaresque fortunes of Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates), a star handler of fighting birds who loses his car, his trailer, and his woman in a bad bet, made while under a self-imposed vow of silence taken in pursuit of the game’s highest prize. Along the way, Frank joins up with a garrulous partner (Richard B. Shull) and comes back for his fiancée (Patricia Pearcy), who knows little of his gory enterprise. Hellman embraces, with visual nuance, a world of back roads and forests, grim motels and ramshackle arenas, and he approaches the intricacies of the subculture—the blend of intuition, experience, and method shared by a band of hustlers staying a step ahead of the law—with a cool Hemingwayesque moralism. Oates wordlessly works wonders with a repertory of arch gestures, and the cast, including the existential icon Harry Dean Stanton and the faded stars Troy Donahue and Millie Perkins, keeps the tension high with compressed energy and minimal exertion. Charles Willeford adapted his own novel.

— Richard Brody

Here are the rules for those curious (by GAMENESS TIL THE END on 2011/02/25)

There is no organized betting for the opposing teams, crowd, and the pit owners. The betting is done privately between interested parties without delaying the fights.

American Fights

The weapons used are american long heels or commonly called now as gaffs. Long heels are about 2 3/4 inches in length attached to both shanks of the gamecock. A tape wrapped around couple of times on top and bottom of the spur will provide the cushion and base for the socket. A couple of tape wrapped around the spurs itself will provide the tight fit for the socket. Place the socket on the spur, wrapped the leather around the shank, align it as the leather is 90 degrees with the shank, tie one knot on top and bottom of the spur.  The point of the long heels have to fit a gauge. The pit owner always make sure all long heels used on these fights are within the standards. Not thicker nor thinner as specified 

Rules are the Same for all Fights

A quick heating about a minute. Release your warriors facing each other. Most are pitting on the lines about 6-8 feet apart.

The referee will call for a handle when the weapons are hang to the other gamecock or to the ground or the gamecocks are not fighting it out anymore. The pitter got to get hold of his own gamecock without touching the other gamecock. If the weapon is hang and need to be pulled out of the body, the owner of the gamecock will pull out the weapon from his own gamecock.

Each pitting is interrupted by 20 seconds of rest and by 10 seconds of rest. Which usually used by the pitter to nurse the gamecock. To blow air in the throat or to suck blood from the throat. Massage the legs and back and breast of the gamecock. Water is provided for application to the gamecocks face or other part of the body.

The distance of release each pitting is clearly marked by the referee by drawing lines on the ground. Typically about 3 feet, then 2 feet, then 1 foot or just as both gamecock are almost beak to beak.

The pitter can call for count when he thinks he got an advantage and the other gamecock might not peck or hit anymore.  The referee might acknowledge his count request and begin to count. The process of counting includes three tries for the other gamecock to show fight.

There is no time limit.

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