While the audience watches a black and white horse opera, a narrator’s voice wonders what such a movie would be like today. Rex O’Herlihan, The Singing Cowboy, finds himself in color and enters a cliché-ridden town, in which the evil cattle baron (Andy Griffith) and the new Italian cowboys (who always wear raincoats no matter how hot it gets) join forces to get him and the sheep ranchers to leave the valley.
Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985) is an 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 and 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. Though supposedly Wilson received his inspiration from working at CBS Studio Center, the former Republic Pictures backlot, the movie was filmed in Spain.
Patrick Wayne, son of Western icon John Wayne, co-stars, along with Andy Griffith, Fernando Rey, G.W. Bailey, Marilu Henner and Sela Ward. Henner was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Supporting Actress.
About the Story
The concept of the movie 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 movies were to be made today. At that point, in a scene reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, the cinematography shifts from black & 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 is “a corrupt old coward who takes his orders from the Colonel.”
Blackie, the foreman at Rancho Ticonderoga, swaggers into the bar with two of his henchmen and shoots one of the sheep herders. Miss Tracy objects, hot words are exchanged, and Blackie is accidentally shot in the back by his henchmen. Rex then shoots the guns out of their hands.
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).
The Colonel goes to the boss of the railroad men (Fernando Rey) – who wear dusters and have theme music like characters in spaghetti westerns – for help. “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.
Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985)
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Starring: Tom Berenger, G.W. Bailey, Marilu Henner, Andy Griffith, Fernando Rey, Sela Ward, Brant von Hoffman, Christopher Malcolm
Screenplay by: Hugh Wilson
Production Design by: Gil Parrondo
Cinematography by: José Luis Alcaine
Film Editing by: Zach Staenberg, Colin Wilson
Costume Design by: Wayne A. Finkelman
Set Decoration by: Julián Mateos
Art Direction by: Raul Paton
Music by: Steve Dorff
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: May 10, 1985