VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the March 14, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Hugh Wilson created WKRP In CincinnatiFrank’s PlaceThe Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and The Famous Teddy Z for TV, which would be enough for a career, but he also directed Police Academy, a movie he rewrote just so he could direct it. He also made BurglarGuarding TessThe First Wive’s Club and Blast from the Past, so he definitely had a great career.

Rustler’s Rhapsody was inspired by working at CBS Studio Center, which was once the Republic Pictures backlot. Wilson said, I grew up watching Roy and Gene and Hopalong Cassidy. That was my idea of a movie.” He told the Los Angeles Times, “This isn’t really a send up. We’re playing it very straight. We loved those old films and we really are trying to say something about them, like how can the hero keep changing his shirt?”

Shot in Spain on some of the same sets Sergio Leone made his films on, this is a strange proposition. Yes, the 80s saw a Western revival of sorts with Young Guns and Silverado, but I wondered, before seeing this, that if everything funny to be said about Westerns had already been said in Blazing Saddles.

I was wrong.

Double wrong, as this was released pretty closely to Lust In the Dust, a movie it vied for Godlen Raspberry awards for, with Henner nominated for worst actress and Divine for worst actor. As always, I hate those awards.


Rex O’Herlihan (Tom Berenger) is somehow supernaturally smart. Maybe it’s all the vegetables he’s been digging up and eating. But he knows the story before anyone else does, that he and his high-stepping horse Wildfire are eternally destined 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.”

This town, the fifty-third that they’ve been to, is Oakwood Estates. Peter the town drunk (G.W. Bailey, also from the Police Academy films; Brant Van Hoffman, who was Kyle in that film is also in this ) explains that Colonel Ticonderoga (Andy Griffith) owns the town and the sheriff (John Orchard), and is working with a railroad tycoon (Fernando Rey, who was in Corbucci’s Navajo Joe and Compañeros). As Ticonderoga says to the railroad colonel, “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!”

Soon, Blackie (Jim Carter) and two of his men show up in the saloon and threaten the hooker with the heart of gold Miss Tracy (Marilu Henner). Rex shoots the guns out of their hands, but not before they shoot their leader, whose loss is lamented equally by Ticonderoga and his daughter (Sela Ward). In fact, it’s hard to tell which one loved him more.

To keep control of their town, the town rich men hire “Wrangler” Bob Barker (John Wayne’s son Patrick, who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met), who as a fellow good guy is able to get inside Rex’s head and make him doubt even his maleness. Is it time to break the cycle before Peter goes from drunk to sidekick to dead — like always — and he has to do this all over again in another town?

I find it funny that one of the later movies that Wilson made was Dudley Do-Right, a parody of the same things that this movie is making fun of. He knows exactly the right notes to hit, including a horse so incredible that it can avoid bullets.

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