Revisionist western about fallen preacher Shay, who guns down his wife Raysha for running off with another man. Wandering, he meets single mom Laurie. However, helpless sheriff Scoby wants Shay to help him fight the villainous Clavers.
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).
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 Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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 (1986)
Directed by: William D. Wittliff
Starring: Willie Nelson, Morgan Fairchild, R.G. Armstrong, Royal Dano, Katharine Ross, Sonny Carl Davis, Marinell Madden, Bryan Fowler, Paul English
Screenplay by: William D. Wittliff
Production Design by: Cary White
Cinematography by: Neil Roach
Film Editing by: Stephen Purvis, Eric A. Williams
Costume Design by: Lana Nelson
Set Decoration by: Ken York
Music by: Willie Nelson
Distributed by: Alive Films
Release Date: October 17, 1986