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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Bridges|
C. O. Erickson (executive producer)
|Story by||Aaron Latham|
|Music by||Ralph Burns|
|Edited by||David Rawlins|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$53,300,000 (USA)|
Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American romantic drama film about the love-hate relationship between Buford Uan "Bud" Davis (John Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger). The movie captured the late 1970s/early 1980s popularity of country music. It was John Travolta's third major film role after Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Much of the action centers around activities at Gilley's Club, a football field sized honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas.
Historical background and production
The film's screenplay was adapted by Aaron Latham and James Bridges from an article by the same name in Esquire Magazine written by Latham. The original Esquire article centered on the romance between two Gilley's regulars named Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer. Westbrook and Helmer's real-life relationship became the inspiration for the on-screen romance between John Travolta's and Debra Winger's characters "Bud" and "Sissy". The movie was directed by Bridges. Some film critics referred to the movie as a country music version of Saturday Night Fever. The film grossed almost $47 million in the United States alone and temporarily recovered Travolta from the 1978 flop Moment by Moment, but the film was nowhere near as successful as either Saturday Night Fever ($94 million) or Grease ($188 million).
Bud Davis moves to Houston for a job in the city's oil refinery industry. He hopes to save enough money to move back to his hometown of Spur, Texas and buy some land. Bud stays with his Uncle Bob and his family, with whom Bud is close. Bob takes Bud to the local honky tonk, Gilley's, an actual bar in Pasadena, co-owned by singer Mickey Gilley and his record producer Sherwood Cryer. Bud quickly embraces the local nightlife. Bud gets a job at the oil refinery where Bob works and quickly befriends his co-workers.
At the club, Bud meets Sissy, who asks if he is a real cowboy. They fall in love, and Bud soon asks Sissy to marry him. Their wedding reception is held at Gilley's, and they move into a brand new mobile home. Although they are in love and passionate, Bud and Sissy have many quarrels. Sissy is a feisty, independent woman, while Bud believes in traditional gender roles. However, their lives settle into a routine of work by day and Gilley's at night, where Bud likes to ride the mechanical bull. When Sissy also wants to ride, he forbids her from doing so.
Wes Hightower is released on parole from Huntsville Penitentiary, and lands a job at Gilley's running the mechanical bull with his old friend, and Gilley's employee, Steve Strange. He openly flirts with Sissy, who is flattered and attracted to Wes, but a drunken Bud is enraged at the insult, and ends up in a fist fight with Wes. Sissy, against Bud's wishes, spends time at Gilley's during the day with Wes, Steve, and her friend Jessie, learning how to ride the mechanical bull. Meanwhile, at the refinery Bud has a serious accident and is sent home for the day. That night at Gilley's, Jessie and Wes convince Sissy to ride the bull. She does it to impress Bud, but he becomes angry and resentful that Sissy defied and lied to him, and he challenges her. When Bud falls off during his second ride in the challenge, Wes intentionally swings the bull around fast, breaking Bud's arm. At home, Bud asks Sissy if she is having an affair with Wes which she denies, and Bud forbids her from riding the bull anymore. Sissy accuses Bud of being jealous because she rides the bull better than he can. Bud slaps her and throws her out of the trailer.
The next night Sissy and Bud see each other at Gilley's, but Sissy is angry, and refuses to talk to Bud. To make Sissy jealous, Bud introduces himself to a beautiful girl named Pam, and dances with her, while Sissy dances with Wes. Bud and Pam leave together to have sex but Sissy, hurt and upset, declines Wes' sexual advances. The next morning, Sissy moves out of Bud's trailer, and into the run-down trailer behind Gilley's where Wes lives.
Bud wants to enter the mechanical bull riding rodeo at Gilley's to win the $5,000 prize and starts training with his uncle Bob, a former rodeo champion. One night while working at the refinery, Bob advises Bud to swallow his pride and make up with Sissy, citing his own past behavior that nearly cost him his wife and children. Bob is killed that night when lightning strikes the refinery. Meanwhile, Sissy returns to their mobile home to pick up her things, but also cleans house and leaves Bud a note saying she hopes they can get back together. Pam arrives and, after Sissy leaves, throws the note away. Meanwhile, Sissy arrives home and catches Wes having sex with her friend Marshalene, another Gilley's employee. Wes orders Sissy to cook him a meal and when she, hurt at his infidelity, angrily refuses Wes becomes physically abusive.
At Bob's funeral, Sissy tells Bud that Wes was fired from Gilley's for hurting too many people with the mechanical bull and is unable to find another job. They plan on going to Mexico after Wes wins the $5,000 prize at the bull riding rodeo. It is Bud who wins the contest, however, and Pam, realizing that Bud still loves Sissy, admits that Sissy cleaned the trailer and that she tore up a card Sissy left for him out of jealousy. She encourages him to reconcile with Sissy. Bud leaves to find Sissy before she departs for Mexico with Wes.
Sissy refuses to go to Mexico with Wes, but relents after he hits her. He orders her to wait for him in her car behind Gilley's. Unknown to Sissy, Wes is inside Gilley's stealing the prize money. Bud finds Sissy in the parking lot and tells her he still loves her and apologizes for hitting her. She reciprocates and they embrace. Seeing Sissy's bruised face, a furious Bud goes after Wes and a fight ensues at the bar entrance. The fight causes Wes to drop his gun, and the stolen money falls from his jacket. Bud overpowers Wes by punching him several times and pins him down on the floor. Gilley's staff, having discovered the robbery, apprehend Wes. Bud and Sissy, reconciled, go home together.
- John Travolta as Bud Davis
- Debra Winger as Sissy Davis
- Scott Glenn as Wes Hightower
- Madolyn Smith as Pam
- Barry Corbin as Bob Davis
- Brooke Alderson as Corene Davis
- Cooper Huckabee as Marshall
- James Gammon as Steve Strange
- Steve Strange as Sam Strange
- Mickey Gilley as Himself
- Johnny Lee as Himself
- Bonnie Raitt as Herself
- Charlie Daniels as Himself
- Ellen March as Becky
- Jessie La Rive as Jessie
- Howard Henson as Himself
- Connie Hanson as Marshalene
- Tamara Champlin Gilley Background Vocalist
- Becky Conway Gilley Background Vocalist
- Jerry Hall as Sexy Sister
- Cyndy Hall as Sexy Sister
Critical reception and legacy
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The film received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie received a 69% "Fresh" rating based on 16 reviews. "Urban Cowboy is not only most entertaining but also first-rate social criticism," said Vincent Canby of The New York Times. Variety wrote, "Director James Bridges has ably captured the atmosphere of one of the most famous chip-kicker hangouts of all: Gilley's Club on the outskirts of Houston."
The film gave Pasadena and Houston a brief turn under the Hollywood spotlight. Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, and many other celebrities attended the premiere in Houston. Mickey Gilley's career was re-lit after the film release, and the soundtrack started a music movement.
The term "Urban Cowboy" was also used to describe the soft-core country music of the early 1980s epitomized by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Janie Frickie and other vocalists whose trademarks were mellow sounds of the sort heard in the movie. This sound became increasingly controversial into the 1980s, considered bland and formulaic by music critics and an increasing number of country fans. By the mid-1980s, country record sales and country radio listnership were declining as a direct backlash to this style, chronicled by the late New York Times music critic Robert Palmer in a 1985 page one story. By 1986, a new, more elemental style, New Traditionalism, arrived, building on the past popularity of Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson and George Strait. This sound hearkened back to traditional country of the 1940s and 1950s, and introduced new voices like Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and Dwight Yoakam.
The movie featured a hit soundtrack album spawning numerous Top 10 Billboard Country Singles, such as #1 "Lookin' for Love" by Johnny Lee, #1 "Stand by Me" by Mickey Gilley, #3 (AC chart) "Look What You've Done to Me" by Boz Scaggs, #1 "Could I Have This Dance" by Anne Murray, and #4 "Love the World Away" by Kenny Rogers. It also included songs that were hits from earlier years such as #1 "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band and "Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles. The film is said to have started the 1980s boom in pop-country music known as the "Urban Cowboy Movement" also known as Neo-Country or Hill Boogie.
|Soundtrack album by Various Artists|
|Label||Full Moon, Asylum|
|Producer||Irving Azoff (exec.)|
- "Hello Texas" – Jimmy Buffett (2:33)
- "All Night Long" – Joe Walsh (3:50)
- "Times Like These" – Dan Fogelberg (3:02)
- "Nine Tonight" – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (6:35)
- "Stand By Me" – Mickey Gilley (3:35)
- "Cherokee Fiddle" – Johnny Lee (4:06)
- "Could I Have This Dance" – Anne Murray (3:14)
- "Lyin' Eyes" – Eagles (6:23)
- "Lookin' for Love" – Johnny Lee (3:41)
- "Don't it Make You Want to Dance" – Bonnie Raitt (3:29)
- "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" – Charlie Daniels Band (3:35)
- "Here Comes the Hurt Again" – Mickey Gilley (2:41)
- "Orange Blossom Special" / "Hoedown" – Gilley's "Urban Cowboy" Band (2:06)
- "Love the World Away" – Kenny Rogers (3:11)
- "Falling in Love for the Night" – Charlie Daniels Band (3:00)
- "Darlin'" – Bonnie Raitt (2:34)
- "Look What You've Done to Me" – Boz Scaggs (5:39)
- "Hearts Against the Wind" – Linda Ronstadt with J. D. Souther (2:58)
|US Billboard Top Country Albums||1|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|Canadian RPM Country Albums||2|
|Canadian RPM Top Albums||21|
|Year||US Billboard Hot 100
|US Cash Box Top 100
|US Country||CAN Top Singles
|May 1980||19||18||--||--||27||--||--||--||"All Night Long" – Joe Walsh|
|May 1980||22||22||3||1||51||--||3||--||"Stand By Me" – Mickey Gilley|
|June 1980||14||17||8||4||25||--||1||--||"Love the World Away" – Kenny Rogers|
|July 1980||5||4||10||1||54||20||18||--||"Lookin' for Love" – Johnny Lee|
|August 1980||14||13||3||--||30||41||--||39||"Look What You've Done to Me" – Boz Scaggs|
|August 1980||33||53||3||1||19||1||1||2||"Could I Have This Dance" – Anne Murray|
Music Man by Waylon Jennings
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
| Top Country Albums number-one album
August 2 – September 6, 1980
September 20–27, 1980
Horizon by Eddie Rabbitt
Honeysuckle Rose by Willie Nelson
TV series adaptation
On May 28, 2015, it was announced that 20th Century Fox Television had teamed with Paramount Television to adapt the 1980s film Urban Cowboy into a television series, and set Craig Brewer to write and direct the pilot, while to executive produce the whole series. Chris Levinson was set as the showrunner and would executive produce the series along with Robert Evans and Sue Naegle. In December, FOX passed on the pilot.
- Theater Owners Blame Box Office Blues This Summer on Lower Quality of Movies Wall Street Journal 8 July 1980: 15.
- "Dew Westbrook: The original Urban Cowboy is still looking for love". Texas Monthly. September 2001. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Huynh, Dai (June 18, 2001). "Restaurateur Mama Ninfa dies". Houston Chronicle. p. A1. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Kelly, Devin (September 18, 2013). "Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze, dies at 86". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- "Urban Cowboy". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
- Canby, Vincent (June 11, 1980). "John Travolta, Urban Cowboy". The New York Times.
- "Review: Urban Cowboy". Variety. December 31, 1979. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Lane, Chris (May 8, 2015). "A Look Back at How Gilley's and Urban Cowboy Affected the Houston Area". Houston Press. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Hlavaty, Craig (May 20, 2015). "Looking back on the Houston premiere "Urban Cowboy" 35 years later". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Ross, Marissa R. (June 12, 2015). "Inside Country Music's Polarizing 'Urban Cowboy' Movement". Rolling Stone.
- "Various - Urban Cowboy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". discogs.com. Retrieved 2015-06-18.
- "Music: Urban Cowboy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (CD) by Johnny Lee, Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffett, Boz Scaggs, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Charlie Daniels Band, Eagles, Mickey Gilley, Bonnie Raitt". tower.com. Archived from the original on 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2015-06-18.
- "The Hot 100 - 1980 Archive". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- "Weekly Charts". Cashbox. Archived from the original on 2014-10-25.
- "Adult Contemporary - 1980 Archive". Billboard.
- "Search: RPM". Library and Archives Canada.
- "The Official NZ Music Charts". Recorded Music New Zealand Limited. February 15, 1981.
- Littleton, Cynthia (May 28, 2015). "Fox Developing 'Urban Cowboy' TV Remake with Craig Brewer, Paramount TV (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
- Andreeva, Nellie (December 11, 2015). "'Urban Cowboy' Pilot Not Going Forward At Fox". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
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