Red Headed Stranger (film)
|Red Headed Stranger|
|Directed by||William D. Wittliff|
|Produced by||Willie Nelson|
William D. Wittliff
|Written by||William D. Wittliff|
|Music by||Willie Nelson|
|Edited by||Stephen Purvis|
Eric A. Williams
|Distributed by||Alive Films|
|October 31, 1986 (United States)|
Red Headed Stranger is a 1986 American Western drama film written and directed by William D. Wittliff. The film stars Willie Nelson and Morgan Fairchild. It is based on Nelson's album Red Headed Stranger (1975).
A preacher (Nelson) from the East arrives in Montana to spread the gospel. When his wife (Fairchild) takes off with another man, he straps on his pistol and seeks vengeance. Then he must find a way to redeem himself.
Wittliff met Willie Nelson in the late 1970s. Wittliff was a writer on Honeysuckle Rose (1980) and Barbarosa (1982), which both starred Nelson. Nelson played his Red Headed Stranger for Wittliff and Wittliff agreed to write a script based on the musical storyline. Wittliff finished a draft in 1979 and Universal Studios green-lighted the film with a budget of $14 million. The studio wanted Robert Redford to play the "Red Headed Stranger," a role Nelson had envisioned for himself. It took two years, but Redford finally turned the part down. Nelson and Wittliff gave back their advances to buy the script back.
HBO took an interest in the script and budgeted $5 million to produce it. Sam Peckinpah was attached to direct the film, but Peckinpah was unhappy with the low budget and left the project. The project died at HBO and Nelson and Wittliff began to raise the $5 million on their own. The budget ended up at $1.8 million, coming from a diverse group of investors including Bud Shrake and Darrell Royal.
Red Headed Stranger began production on April 29, 1985. The main set, a western town nicknamed "Willieville," had been built over the previous two years across the road from Nelson's golf course, thirty miles west of Austin, Texas. Most of the filming was done in "Willieville," but nine other locations around Central Texas were also used. Production wrapped on June 14, 1985.
Red Headed Stranger debuted at the Denver International Film Festival in October 1985. Critical response was mediocre and called the movie "dull" (Variety) and "an insipid story" (The Denver Post). The film opened in Nelson and Wittliff's home state of Texas, where it received a warmer welcome. The movie then had a limited national release in larger cities such as Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Alison Macor. Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas University of Texas Press: Austin, 2010.