Cowboys were all the rage in the US in 1980, thanks to that summer’s smash hit at the box office, Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.
Travolta re-established himself as a most charismatic screen presence in the role of Buford “Bud” Davis, an ignorant hillbilly from Spur, Texas, who hits Houston like a confused tumbleweed.
Bud is a new breed of Texas cowboy who has never roped a steer or busted a bronc, but who carries on the tradition with pickup trucks, Lone Star beer, ten-gallon Stetsons, and lots of attitude.
Most of these guys work on pipelines or oil rigs during the day, then head for Gilley’s at night to act out their macho fantasies.
Gilley’s – a real place in a Houston suburb called Pasadena – is a noisy beer hall filled with three and a half acres of roughnecks and Playboy centrefolds where everybody does “cowboy dancin'” to endless country and western tunes until they get drunk enough to bash each other’s heads in while the band plays Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.
Bud meets a gal named Sissy (Debra Winger). He can’t tame her so he marries her and they find temporary happiness in a mobile trailer home.
Then trouble comes galloping along in the form of a mechanical bucking bull installed by Gilley’s in the hope that it will rechannel some of the energy the customers use to punch each other.
Bud masters the bull quickly, but Sissy licks it too, with the aid of a mangy ex-con named Wes, and the sexual competition in a male-dominated social structure wounds Bud’s pride and wrecks his marriage.
He drifts into the arms of a wealthy socialite (Madolyn Smith) from the skyscrapers of downtown Houston while Sissy piles in with Wes and learns about violence, infidelity, and male supremacy from the wrong side of the bed.
The final showdown is so old-fashioned it’s almost icky.
Bud becomes a local hero, gets his wife back, and outgrows Gilley’s in a five-minute span that is too good to be true.
Nobody rides off into the sunset on horseback, but when Bud puts Sissy’s Texas license plate back into the rear window and drives her off through Gilley’s parking lot in his pickup truck, you don’t have to know your cowboy movie history to know the young lovers are heading off together for a life of chicken fried steak.
Bucking mechanical bulls became a new (and painful) Western craze as a result of Urban Cowboy. Trendies tried to ride them at parties and everywhere there were overdressed people looking – and walking – like Liberace impersonating John Wayne.
The accompanying soundtrack album was one of the 20 top-selling albums of the year.
Buford “Bud” Davis
Sherwood Cryer (Gilley’s Owner)
W.P. Wright Iii
Jessie La Rive
Daniel Heintschel Jr.
Ben F. Brannon Iii