Rustlers' Rhapsody is a 1985 American comedy-Western film. It is a parody of many Western conventions, most visibly of the singing cowboy films that were prominent in the 1930s and the 1940s. The film was written and directed by Hugh Wilson, who was supposedly inspired by working at CBS Studio Center, the former Republic Pictures backlot. It stars Tom Berenger as a stereotypical good-guy cowboy, Rex O'Herlihan, who is drawn out of a black-and-white film and transferred into a more self-aware setting. Patrick Wayne, son of Western icon John Wayne, co-stars, along with Andy Griffith, Fernando Rey, G.W. Bailey, Marilu Henner and Sela Ward.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Hugh Wilson|
|Produced by||David Giler|
|Written by||Hugh Wilson|
|Music by||Steve Dorff|
|Cinematography||José Luis Alcaine|
|Edited by||John Victor Smith (supervising editor)|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|May 10, 1985 (United States)|
The concept of the film is explained in a voiceover intro by G. W. Bailey, who wonders what it would be like if one of the 1930s/1940s Rex O'Herlihan films were to be made today. At that point, in a scene reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, the cinematography shifts from black and white to color and the soundtrack changes from mono to surround sound.
As a consequence of this paradigm shift, Rex O'Herlihan (Berenger), a "singing cowboy," is the only character aware of the plot outline. He explains that he "knows the future" inasmuch as "these Western towns are all the same" and that it's his "karma" to "ride into a town, help the good guys, who are usually poor for some reason, against the bad guys, who are usually rich for some reason, and ride out again." Rex's knowledge is also connected to the unspecified "root" vegetables he digs up and eats.
On his high-stepping horse Wildfire, Rex rides into the town of Oakwood Estates, walks into a saloon and meets Peter, the Town Drunk (Bailey). In exchange for a free drink, Peter explains the background: the town, and especially the sheep herders ("nice enough, but they smell God-awful"), are being terrorized by the cattle ranchers, headed by Colonel Ticonderoga (Andy Griffith). Also there is Miss Tracy (Marilu Henner), the traditional Prostitute with a Heart of Gold. A local sheriff (John Orchard) is "a corrupt old coward who takes his orders from the Colonel."
Blackie (Jim Carter), the foreman at Rancho Ticonderoga, swaggers into the bar with two of his henchmen and shoots the town real-estate agent. Miss Tracy objects, and when she is verbally abused by one of Blackie's henchmen, Rex intervenes. Blackie draws on Rex after they exchange words – including Rex's threat to "shoot in the hand" anyone of them drawing on him – and duly delivers on that threat. The disabled Blackie orders his two henchmen to kill Rex, but having been rattled by Rex's skill, they draw and fire their six-shooters hurriedly, and shoot Blackie in the back instead. Rex then proceeds to shoot both in the hand. He then orders them to remove Blackie's corpse.
Peter exchanges his drunk suit for a sidekick outfit, catches up with Rex, and is reluctantly accepted. (Rex has sworn off sidekicks as they keep dying.) At the singing cowboy's campsite, Peter finds not one but two women there eager to get to know Rex a little better, Miss Tracy and the Colonel's daughter (Sela Ward). In the PG-rated original version, Sela Ward and Rex sneak off behind a rock to have sex. This is removed and the film is rated G.
The Colonel goes for help to the boss of the railroad men (Fernando Rey) – who wear dusters and have theme music like characters in spaghetti westerns. "We should stick together. Look what we have in common: we're both rich, we're both power-mad, and we're both Colonels — that's got to count for something!"
Rex outwits the Bad Guys because he knows their every move before they do. But then the Colonels import "Wrangler" Bob Barber (Patrick Wayne), apparently another Good Guy. Bob psychs out Rex in their first meeting by attacking Rex's claim to be the "most good Good Guy" and pointing out that a Good Guy has to be "a confident heterosexual." "I thought it was just a heterosexual," Rex objects. "No, it's a confident heterosexual," responds Bob.
Rex backs down from the shootout. On his way out of town, while preparing to change roles to that of a sidekick, Rex explains to Peter that he rides into town, kisses the girls and rides out again. "That's all: I just kiss 'em. I mean, this is the 1880s. You gotta date and date and date and date and sometimes marry 'em before they, you know."
Bob reports that Rex is finished as a Good Guy. Nevertheless, the Colonels, over Bob's objection, arrange for Peter to be bushwhacked. This rouses Rex to round up the sheep herders and face down Bob and the rancher/railroad combine. Bob is revealed as not a Good Guy at all because, after all, he is a lawyer. Rex shoots him.
Colonel Ticonderoga makes the peace. He apologizes to Rex and throws a party at Rancho Ticonderoga, after which Rex and Peter (who survived because Rex had him wear a bulletproof vest) ride off together into the sunset.
- Tom Berenger as Rex O'Herlihan
- G.W. Bailey as Peter
- Marilu Henner as Miss Tracy
- Andy Griffith as Colonel Ticonderoga
- Fernando Rey as Railroad Colonel
- Sela Ward as Colonel's Daughter
- Brant Van Hoffman as Jim
- Christopher Malcolm as Jud
- Jim Carter as Blackie
- Paul Maxwell as Sheepherder #1
- Manuel Pereiro as Sheepherder #2
- Margarita Calahorra as Sheepherder's Wife
- Billy J. Mitchell as Town Doctor
- John Orchard as Town Sheriff
- Emilio Linder as Sheepherder in Saloon
- Alan Larson as Bartender
- Thomas Abbot as Saloon Owner
- Patrick Wayne as Bob Barber
The film was a passion project of director Hugh Wilson, who grew up loving Westerns he would see at the Saturday afternoon matinee. He was able to make it after the success of Police Academy (1984).
In the mid 1980s there was a brief revival in the popularity of the Western, with the studios making films like Pale Rider, Lust in the Dust and Silverado (1985). In May 1984 it was announced Wilson would direct the film for Paramount.
"This isn't really a send up," said Wilson. "We're playing it very straight. We loved those old films and we really are trying to say something about them, like how can the hero keep changing his shirt?"
Patrick Wayne was hired to appear in the film mid-shoot after the producers were unhappy with the performance of another actor already cast in the part. Wayne later described it as "probably the best acting I've done on film."
The film was a box office disappointment.
Rustlers' Rhapsody received negative reviews from critics, with many saying it paled in comparison to Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Writing in the New York Times, Vincent Canby thought Wilson had ignored the "genuinely funny" idea that Rex might be caught in a time warp. The film currently holds a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 12 reviews.
Rustlers' Rhapsody was released on VHS cassette in by CIC Video.
- The Western Movie Rides Out Again: Westerns Westerns By Pat H. Broeske Special to The Washington Post. The Washington Post 23 Dec 1984: F1.
- Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
- According to an academic analysis published in 2017, Westerns conventionally juxtapose cattle ranching with sheep herding as a signifier of masculinity: Jim Daems (2017). "'Mister, this is cattle country': Livestock and Gender in Western Films"". In Sue Matheson (ed.). A Fistful of Icons: Essays on Frontier Fixtures of the American Western. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. pp. 86–98. ISBN 9780786498048.
- A WESTERN WITH THE STING OF AN OLD 'B' Perry, George. Los Angeles Times 18 Nov 1984: w5.
- FILM CLIPS: IT'S NO BULL: MGM/UA DROPS 'BO-BOLERO' London, Michael. Los Angeles Times 11 May 1984: oc_d1.
- Television Stardom Near for Actor, 64: Gaynes Wins Key Role in Fall Sitcom By STEPHEN FARBER Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]12 June 1984: C18.
- Vincent Canby (May 10, 1985). "Film: 'Rustlers,' a spoof". The New York Times.
- BERENGER IS CLEAR-EYED IN A STAR-STRUCK WORLD Taylor, Clarke. Los Angeles Times 23 May 1985: j1.
- A PAEAN TO WESTERNS IN 'RUSTLERS' RHAPSODY' Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 10 May 1985: h6.