January 26, 2013

Rustler's Rhapsody (1985)
Starring Tom Berenger, G.W. Bailey, Sela Ward, and Andy Griffith

Comments:    Alright, now we're talking.  Now I am about to go obscure on your ass.

Rustler's Rhapsody is this tiny little comedy from 1985 that I would guess 99% of the people in America have never seen before.  In fact I would bet that about 95% of people on the internet have never even heard of it.  It is so obscure that one time I actually almost got into a fist fight because of it.  

I had a friend in college who worked in his father's video store.   He had worked there for nearly fifteen years.  And he claimed that through working in a video store, he had seen pretty much every single comedy ever made.  Well one day I mentioned that one of my favorite obscure comedies was a movie called Rustler's Rhapsody.  I asked him if he had ever seen it before.

Well not only had he NOT seen it, he claimed that he had never even heard of it.  And because of that, he said it was either a TV movie or it didn't exist.  He claimed I was making it up just to try and make him look stupid.  And when I disagreed with him and said it was a real movie, well, to make a long story short, he threatened to kick my ass.

And there you go.  The very definition of an obscure movie.  A movie that is so hard to find that I once almost got my ass kicked because of it.

Rustler's Rhapsody came out in 1985 and, even though I never saw it in a theater, I am told it actually did have a theatrical release.  I don't know when that happened, because I certainly don't remember it, but if you go to the IMDB and read the user reviews you will see a few people talking about how they saw it in a theater.  So anyway, I guess that happened.  I don't know where I was, maybe I was too busy watching Cloak and Dagger or the Temple of Doom.

I didn't hear about Rustler's Rhapsody until a couple of months later when it showed up on HBO.  One day I was flipping around cable when I was bored and I saw that HBO had an advertisement for this hilarious new western comedy that they were going to debut next week.  It was called Rustler's Rhapsody. And from the clips they showed, it looked like it was kind of funny.  So I decided I would set the VCR to tape it, and maybe if I was lucky it would actually turn out to be good.

Well let me tell you this.  I taped Rustler's Rhapsody off HBO in 1985.  And I treasured that tape for YEARS.  This turned out to easily be one of my favorite movies of the 1980's.  I wound up watching it over and over and over, and at a certain point I practically memorized the entire movie.  In fact, when I left for college in 1992 I didn't even take my tape of Rustler's Rhapsody along with me, because I had seen it so many times that I really didn't need to.  I didn't need to own a tape of this movie anymore because anytime I wanted to, I could just replay the entire thing in my head.


"You look like one of them fellers that's attracted to other men."

Rustler's Rhapsody is a parody of westerns and it is very much in the style of Airplane.  It is just puns, sight gags, non sequiturs, riffs on other movies, memorable quotes, bizarre characters.  It is absolutely hilarious.  It is also played completely straight (much like Airplane).  The actors play the whole thing like they are making a great dramatic western movie, and it is so well done that at a certain point you just can't help yourself.   It is almost impossible not to laugh.  Even if you have never seen many western movies before (and believe me I haven't), Rustler's Rhapsody is so well done that you really don't care.  You just find yourself sitting back and admiring it.

The star of the movie, Tom Berenger

The big star of the movie is Tom Berenger.  He plays the role of Rex O'Herlihan, the singing cowboy.

You know, Berenger is one of those guys who never really made it big as an A list actor.  He came close, and I know he was the lead in a couple of big movies.  But for the most part he never rose to prominence like guys like Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner.  All three of those guys were peers at one time in the 80's, but for whatever reason Berenger always stayed about a half step behind the other two.  I don't know why, he is good in pretty much every movie he is ever in.  Maybe he just had a bad agent or something.

Well in any case, Tom Berenger's best performance is in Rustler's Rhapsody.  Hands down.  There is no way ANYONE else could have played this part.  He is Rex O'Herlihan the singing cowboy and that is just all there is to it.  In fact, if I ever get to meet Tom Berenger at an autograph signing or something, the first thing I will do is tell him that he will always be Rex O'Herlihan to me.  And then I will ask him if he still shoots people in the hand.  And if he is still a confident heterosexual.  I can guarantee you that nobody ever asks him that.

Rex O'Herlihan, Renaissance Man

Rustler's Rhapsody is the story of Rex O'Herlihan.  He is a singing cowboy who travels around from town to town in the old west.  And like any cowboy in any old western movie, he wears a white hat.  Why does he wear a white hat?  Well because he is a good guy.  In fact Rex does a lot of things because he is a good guy.  And that is what makes this movie so awesome.

The genius behind Rustler's Rhapsody is that yes, Rex is a stereotypical movie good guy.  And yes he does a lot of stereotypical good guy things (such as drinking milk in a saloon instead of whiskey, and refusing to associate with prostitutes.)  But the movie sort of breaks the fourth wall (again, like Airplane) because Rex is self aware, and because HE KNOWS THAT HE IS SIMPLY A STEREOTYPE IN A MOVIE.  If people ask him why he always carries a guitar around with him, or why he shoots people in the hand instead of in the head, or why he always wears a fashionable non boring shirt, Rex will flat out tell them.  Well I have to do this.  I'm a good guy.  Good guys always do that.

And that, my friends, is why Rustler's Rhapsody is so awesome.

Rex knows that he is just a character in a movie.  And he knows that every person he meets is just a two dimensional caricature in a movie.  He knows this because it is the same in every single town that he has ever been to.  But what is hilarious is that nobody else in Rustler's Rhapsody realizes that they are a caricature in a movie.  Rex is the only one who sort of understands what is going on.  And after he has been to so many towns, and seen so many of the exact same type of character, by now he is getting a little bored with this.

Poor Rex.  He is the only one who understands that the Old West is just a mobius strip of endless movie cliches.

Every person that Rex meets in every town thinks that they are the only town drunk.  Or the only evil cattle baron.  Or the only sweet but rebellious cattle baron's daughter. Or the only prostitute with a heart of gold.  Rex runs into the exact same character in every single western town that he goes to, and by now his life has sort of turned into this giant never ending mobius strip of Western cliches.  All he does is go around from town to town in the old west, and in every town he goes to the exact same things happen.  The bad guy always confronts him.  Then the railroad people get involved.  Then his sidekick is killed.  And then a hired gun is called in.  And then Rex saves the day, and he saves the town, and he writes a song about it.  Then he has to leave the girl behind, and yadda yadda yadda.
Then he rides on to the next town and the exact same thing happens again.  

His life is just one big cliched endless loop, and he is starting to get tired of it.

The town drunk trying to explain to Rex that no, this town is different.  There is no other saloon exactly like this saloon.

Rustler's Rhapsody is genius on so many levels.  Just the idea of a character being aware that he is a caricature in a movie, well that sort of a premise was years ahead of its time.  They weren't doing that sort of thing in comedy movies until the late 90's.  But Tom Berenger was one of the first who ever did it, and he pulled it off as well as anybody ever has in Rustler's Rhapsody.  I mean, for goodness sake, Rex travels around from town to town with an armoire full of designer clothes.  And when somebody asks him why he always carts around that stupid armoire, he explains to them that the good guy can't wear the same shirt two days in a row because it is a boring.  And because he is a good guy he always has to have something new to wear.  

Name me any other movie in the 80's that was pulling off comedy like that.

Rex in one of his designer good guy shirts

Rustler's Rhapsody is funny enough and clever enough just as a movie premise.  However (I am going to spoil the movie a little for you, but I have to) there is one aspect of this movie that is genius even by Rustler's Rhapsody standards.  Hands down, the plot twist in this movie is one of my favorite plot twists of any movie I have ever seen.

Like I said before, Rex travels from town to town and the exact same thing happens to him every time.  The bad guy confronts him.  The railroad people get involved.  They team up and they bring in a hired gun.  Then Rex defeats the hired gun in a showdown and he saves the town.  And the reason he defeats the hired gun is because, well as Rex will explain to you, "because the good guy always wins."

Well this is where Rustler's Rhapsody becomes one of my all time favorite comedy movies.

In this movie, Rex faces the biggest challenge of his life.  Bar none, it is the toughest challenge he will ever face in any town as a good guy stereotypical western cowboy.  This is the sort of problem that  he has never faced before, and it actually rattles him to the bone.

In Rustler's Rhapsody, the bad guys actually get creative.  Instead of bringing in another bad guy as their hired gun, like a villain will usually do in a movie, this time the cattle people and the railroad people team up and they get creative.  For the first time in Rex's life, the bad guys actually brainstorm and they figure out what is going on.  They figure out how you can beat the good guy in a western movie on his own turf.

Instead of bringing in a bad guy, this time the hired gun they bring in is a good guy.

Yes, it is good guy against good guy.  In a showdown for the town.  For the first time ever in Western movie history.

And as Rex will flat out explain to you (in a very scared and worried voice), "well I reckon that the most good good guy is going to win."

The big good guy showdown.  A ten minute discussion over which good guy is more good.

Hands down, the showdown between Rex O'Herlihan The Singing Cowboy and "Gentleman" Bob Barber is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in a movie.  It is so genius.  In fact it almost makes me mad when I watch it and I realize how few people have ever seen this movie.  So please get on that, will you?  Please rent Rustler's Rhapsody and watch it so I will have somebody to talk about it with.  I am getting tired of being one of twenty people in the world who actually know this movie.

P.S.  Gentleman Bob Barber is played by John Wayne's son Patrick Wayne.  And that just makes it even funnier.  Rex O'Herlihan against the son of the most famous good guy cowboy of all time.  How epic is that?

The Singing Cowboy against Gentleman Bob

By the way, the only person I have talked about in this review so far is Tom Berenger.  And that is fine, because he completely owns this movie.  Ever since I saw him in Rustler's Rhapsody in 1985, I have never been able to take him seriously in any other movie.  He will always be Rex O'Herlihan to me.

But I can't finish my review without pointing out that the bad guy in this movie is played by Andy Griffith, of all people.  And he is nearly as funny as Berenger!  You kind of forget that Andy Griffith was at one point a really funny comedic actor, but you are reminded of that when you see him stealing scenes left and right in Rustler's Rhapsody.  Hands down this is one of the best comedic performances of his storied career.   My brother and I used to quote him in Rustler's Rhapsody all the time. Well gee whiz.

There are very few movies where Andy of Mayberry gets to play an evil gay scene stealing cattle baron.  This is one of the better ones.

Also, Rex's sidekick in this movie is played by G.W. Bailey, who I talked about in my Police Academy review as one of my favorite underrated actors of the 80's.  He almost always played a bad guy in movies but for some reason in Rustler's Rhapsody he got to play a good guy.  I have no idea why.  But he is really funny in the movie too.

G.W. Bailey

Oh yeah and Rustler's Rhapsody also features a very young Sela Ward.  Who I swear to God looks the exact same now as she did in 1985.

A very young Sela Ward

In short, Rustler's Rhapsody.  One of my all time favorite obscure little comedy movies.  Starring the great Tom Berenger.  Rent it, discover it, buy it.  Love it.  I know it has a stupid title, but just trust me on this one.  You will not be disappointed.

And remember, if you are a bad guy, it is a bad idea to stand around the good guy in a circle.  Because when the shooting starts you are likely to miss him and just hit each other.  Never forget.

Bye now.  Gee whiz.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Rustler's Rhapsody:

Most underrated comedy ever - 20 April 2006
I don't like actual westerns, yet, two of my top five comedies are western spoofs. Blazing Saddles and Rustlers Rhapsody are incredibly funny movies for completely different reasons.

Andy Griffith's Colonel Ticonderoga goes down as one of the greatest comic performances I've ever seen (and I've seen it time and time again). It's a great movie that gets better the more you watch it.

I actually saw this in the theater with my dad back in '85. I recall him laughing really hard and I, all of 14, kinda laughing, but, not getting the sophisticated humor. So, when I got a bit older, I watched again and MAN! am I glad I did.

Definitely check out this movie. It is, indeed, available on DVD, but, probably not for rent. You will have to buy it. I saw it in the Westerns section at Borders...way to categorize, there, guys. Nice work.

Just goes to show that not enough people have seen this great film. Hugh Wilson, with WKRP and this, deserves Hall of Fame status.

Just a Stranger Passin' through... -  8 January 2010
It was over 20 years ago that I first saw Rustlers Rhapsody, being screened on late night TV to an audience of few it became in my house anyway, an instant classic.

Sure, all of the jokes don't work, name me a film that is funny all the way through...but this gentle send up of the genre deserves a far better rating than it has.

The premise is simple....how would a 40's Hollywood cowboy, admirably played straight and white hatted by Tom Beringer, fare in the real wild west, up against the evil cattle barons and landowners.

From the early scenes in the saloon where we are introduced, sadly ephemerally to 'Blackie' and the rest of the main characters, Rustlers Rhapsody takes us on a gentle ride through western clichés where all characters are totally 2 dimensional and played to perfection by the ensemble cast.

Memorable line for me was always Blackie's famous uttering 'You look to me like one of them fellers thats attracted to other men'

Outstanding entertainment for a cold Saturday afternoon!

Very underrated movie. - 1 December 2010
This movie was really surprising to me. I thought it was going to be a wacky parody of those cheesy old west movies of early Hollywood. It turned out to be more of a comedic expose/documentary about that film era. That is what made all the more fun to watch! Tom Berenger plays Rex, the singing cowboy, who's function in life seems to be to go from old west town to old west town meeting virtually the exact same type of people and situations to the point where he "knows" whats going to happen before it happens. GW Bailey plays the town drunk , turned sidekick of Rex, who follows along with astonishment of Rex's cornucopia of old west lore. The supporting players like Andy Grifith and Marilu Henner also make stinging observations about the old west movie clichés. One of my favorites scenes is when the evil underlings of Grifith kill their evil boss henchman and bring his dead body to Grifiths house. Grifith asks the unexpected, but really obvious question, "Why don't you bury him? This is a home, people live here!". It was really a funny scene. This is not a perfect movie and does have some flaws but overall I recommend watching it. You may be pleasantly surprised at the direction this movie takes. Its not what you think it will be.

Nifty, well-cast, clever, loving spoof! - 18 February 2007
This 1985 film became a family favorite as soon as we taped it from a TV broadcast 20 years ago - it ran as part of an interesting Western double-header on City-TV (R. Rhapsody, followed by Silverado, another sort of tribute western, albeit with more serious themes). In time, we acquired both on VHS, replacing our creaky, worn-out tape.

I didn't realize how funny Andy Griffith was till I saw him in this flick. Sela Ward sparkles, and looks like a teenager, but she was actually born in 1956. She recently performed in "House, M.D", still looking 10-15 years younger than her age.

Some of the funniest lines remain in our family vernacular: "See somebody about yer hearing"; "She's probably out riding Wildfire"; "That leg will have to come off for sure"; "Who-oo iiiiis it?".

There are 2 brilliant scenes with Berenger and Patrick Wayne - 1 turns more sinister, just briefly.. listen for the 'Psycho' background music.

Hollywood's not making Westerns any more - but we could argue that they're not really making comedies either. Why?  The art of 'wit' or 'satire' has sadly been lost. *sigh* You can see both here.

Smarter than the average bear - 28 October 2005
While the reigning king of western spoofs will probably always be Blazing Saddles, this movie deserves to be a strong second. Genre parody is easy, most genres have clichés that are subject to exaggeration to the point of the absurd. Blazing Saddles is loaded with this sort of humor. Rustler's Rhapsody is clearly the work of someone who still has a great love and respect for the very thing being satirized, and knows subtler details that non-fans would miss. Also striking is the way that the characters almost violate the fourth wall with their hovering awareness of their own cliché status. The script is extremely quotable, the casting brilliant (Andy Griffith as the villain?) and the action sequences as good or better than a traditional western. That this movie isn't better known can only be attributed to lack of promotion by the distributor.

"Rex" is in my top 5 - 15 January 2005
Rustler's Rhapsody, aka "Rex", is a truly funny film. If you like subtle humor, rather than slapstick, you will love the movie. GW Bailey is terrific. Andy Griffith is so funny. If you haven't seen it, do so. Maybe this movie will finally get the recognition it deserves!

Not only are the people perfect for their roles, but the animals are as well.

Watch what is going on in the background. What looks like insignificant filler on the screen often holds the funniest scenes. If you watch the movie once, this will likely be missed. Watch it a bunch of times. Each time, pay attention to a different aspect. There is a lot going on that can be missed when you are initially picking up the storyline.

Genius - 22 October 1999
Some will say that you have to have watched countless hours of Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger as a kid to appreciate Rustler's Rhapsody, but it sure doesn't seem like you should. There are certainly in-jokes -- heck, the central conceit of the movie -- that gain their cleverness and humor from good acquaintance with those wonderful old oaters and B-westerns.

But while appreciation of the movie and its humor will be deeper with that kind of experience, it shouldn't require it. Sometimes funny is just funny, and Rustler's is filled with funny bits. Another reviewer mentions how he saw it with friends when it first came out and doesn't recall any of them laughing. Yeah, I had an experience like that then, too, with a sparse audience that barely laughed. But that was the second time I saw it. The first time I saw it with a packed house that chuckled and chortled throughout the film. I've rarely seen my brother laugh so hard.

And that does seem to be the way this movie plays: Some can't figure it out at all, others laugh till they cry. For both my parents and my friends and I (who were teens then) -- generations with vastly different experiences growing up -- it's a laugh-riot. We still quote from it to this day; it's long been one of our cult comedies, right up there with the Python movies. And it's because of the concept. The concept is simply brilliant -- if I taught screen writing, I'd teach at least structure from this script -- and it's executed almost flawlessly, with a pitch-perfect cast. Casting Andy Griffith as the "evil" colonel was nothing less than genius. He succeeds for the same reason the rest of the cast does: They play it straight, with no winking. For the characters, this is serious business, and that's part of what makes it so darn funny.

It's a spoof. That's what it comes down to. And spoofs do in fact require you to pay attention a little, and know a little. For that reason, no, some folks won't get it. Too bad for them, though, because for the ones that do, and especially for the folks who recognize the true genius of this gentle spoof, they're in for a great treat. And, if you did grow up at all with the real singin' cowboys, a little bit of a lump in your throat at the end. It's a great tribute for a style of cinema -- and innocence -- we'll never know again.

* My favorite quotes from Rustler's Rhapsody:

Rex O'Herlihan: Give me a tall glass of warm gin with a human hair in it.

Colonel Ticonderoga: You missed! How could you miss?
Jud:  Even with these sights we have a target a hundred yards away, maybe more, we've never fired these weapons before, there's a definite wind factor, AND we have a problem with the sun!
Colonel Ticonderoga: Just shoot, okay?

[henchmen knock on door]
Colonel Ticonderoga: [in falsetto singsong voice] Whoo iiiiis ittt?
Jim: It's a bunch of your men. Five of 'em.
Colonel Ticonderoga: [clears throat and talks in manly voice] Be right there, men.

Bob Barber: Ever faced another good guy before?
Rex O'Herlihan: Nope.
Bob Barber: Me neither.
Rex O'Herlihan: Kinda makes you wonder what'll happen.
Bob Barber: I figure the good guy'll win, just like always.
Rex O'Herlihan: Yeah, except we're both good guys.
Bob Barber: Then I figure the most good good guy will win.
Rex O'Herlihan: That's how I figure, too.
Bob Barber: Yep.

Rex O'Herlihan: This is 1884. You've gotta date and date and date and date and sometimes marry 'em even before... you know...
Peter: Now, wait a minute. Are you tellin' me you've never...?
Rex O'Herlihan: Never.
Peter: My god, Rex. You ARE a good guy.

Rex O'Herlihan: I'll curse if I wanna curse! Damn! Damn, damn, hell, damn, tee tee, doo doo!

Colonel Ticonderoga: Jud, throw another faggot on the fire.
Jud: A what?
Colonel Ticonderoga: A log! Throw another log on the fire.

Rex O'Herlihan: The way a person dresses is nobody's business but his or her own.

Colonel Ticonderoga: Let me just ask you one question. There's one thing I'm most curious about. Why bring the body here? My god, this is a home! People live here!
Jim: Well, Colonel, we didn't know exactly what to do with him.
Colonel Ticonderoga: Bury him! How 'bout that? Don't you think that's a good idea?
Jud: Oh, yes sir, yes sir, Colonel!
Colonel Ticonderoga: I mean, do you think that when somebody dies, they place them permanently on the family couch?
Jim: No sir.
Colonel Ticonderoga: Gee whi-iz!

"Everyone on the left, aim for Rex.  Everyone on the right, aim for the nerd."

* My favorite scene in Rustler's Rhapsody:

Rustler's Rhapsody is one of those movies like Top Secret or Quick Change or The History of the World that I can pretty much quote verbatim.  There are about five or six scenes in this movie that I would rank right up there with any scene in any comedy.  But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the showdown between Rex and Gentleman Bob.  I know that calling something "genius" these days is overused and cliche, but honestly, who came up with that storyline?  A good guy has a showdown with a good guy, only they aren't allowed to kill one another because good guys can only shoot people in the hand.  That was brilliant.

Rustler's Rhapsody at the IMDB

Rustler's Rhapsody at Wikipedia

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