Hollywood Shuffle can't really explain why we've never seen Urban Cowboy before. The only excuse is that we were born in 1980, the same year the film was released, and by the time we were old enough to appreciate it the line-dancing honky tonk fad that has swept America in the wake of the film had faded. But the movie owes a certain debt to Houston, or maybe the other way around, and the film was single-handedly responsible for launching the pop-country boom of the 1980s and beyond.
But we're a film buff, and no reason would be good enough to explain this glaring omission in our viewership. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the film that made Gilley's famous. So HWS decided to finally sit down and watch it, along with our husband. Below is a minute-by-minute analysis of Urban Cowboy.
If you still haven't seen it, beware! Spoilers abound.
Husband makes a Mr. Kotter joke, then asks "So how is this moving related to Saturday Night Fever?" as opening credits roll. It's only PG? I thought there was sex and violence. Extended debate over whether title scene is a shot of downtown Houston.
That's John Travolta? He looks kinda hot in a beard. Oh. Until he dribbles his dip spit into a beer bottle.
So, John Travolta goes to the big city of Pasa-gitdown-dena? For what reason? Oh look! It's that guy who plays a street-smart old cowboy in every movie.
Heh. Concrete prairie. This reminds us of the Hideaout at the Rodeo. Or the Tumbleweed in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
It's Mickey Gilley himself!
Now Gilley's sidekick is introducing Bud to a group of ladies. Is that Jerry Hall?
Aw. Bud has to shave his beard to get a job. Now he just looks like boring old John Travolta.
Bud goes to Gilley's every night after work. We're getting dizzy watching dudes spin Sissy around.
Sissy tells Bud he shouldn't have shaved his beard. She's right. We like a girl with opinions. Now they're dancing. But why is she holding him by the belt and not the shoulder?
There's an extended scene with a red filter where we see them dancing to "Lookin' For Love" and getting to know each other. It this like a Bollywood film, where the dance scenes are stand-ins for sex scenes? Is that why the film has a PG rating?
Now we're back at the plant. Now we're back at Gilley's. The dudes are playing those Midway-style strength games instead of beating the shit out of each other while Bonnie Raitt plays on the stage. Love her. It's turning Sissy on. But she's got to prove she's one of the boys, so she takes a shot too. She fucks up her hand. And now Bud's tells her "There's just certain things a girl cayn't do." Asshole.
It is Jerry Hall.* Sissy gets catty when she sees her. Bud accidentally/on purpose slaps Sissy. Asshole. Now she has to hitchhike home. Another fight scene ensues to what must be the country version of "Yakety Sax" and Bud and Sissy fall in a puddle. Then he asks her to marry him. Whoa. What?
Their wedding is at Gilley's. Husband: "That place was 3.5 acres and held 7,000 people. What happened to it?"**
Sissy's wearing white cowboy boots under her wedding dress. She says, "My legs are sweatin', Momma." We would hang out with her. Now they're moving into a trailer park. How romantic.
Hell yes. A prison rodeo. Bud: "Those outlaws make good cowboys." Bud and Sissy are wearing cup-look.
Annnnd we're back at Gilley's. People are showing off on the new mechanical bull. HWS wonders how many Rocks Offers have ridden one. [Ed. Note: This one has.] Bud has to ride. Cut to trailer home scene where Bud's in bed rubbin' his balls. Sissy says she wants to ride the bull. Bud says "It ain't for girls." Her theme song must be "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better."
Aaaand we're back at Gilley's. Why do they event bother with the refinery storyline? And what does Sissy do during the day?
Bud has to ride the bull like five times in a row to prove he's a man. Sissy gets mad. Now one of the prison rodeo guys walks in, wearing a mesh shirt like he's headed out to the late Mary's in Montrose for the night. He rides the bull, Sissy makes fuck-me eyes at him. Ohhh, extended dance scene. This is fun. Now Bud has to show off more.
That ex-con is hot. Even with his mesh shirt. Bud gets mad. Now they fight. Bud goes to work drunk in the morning. He acts like a spoiled 10-year-old boy and treats Sissy like shit. Sissy goes to ride the bull secretly. The ex con helps her. It's all very Freudian and sexual. Meanwhile, Bud is drunk at work and falls off some scaffolding and almost dies.
Bud's aunt comes over and cleans the house. Sissy doesn't like onions. Bud gets mad because Sissy isn't fulfilling her wifely duties. She says "I work too." But where? Where?!
Back to Gilley's. Sissy's got something to prove, telling her friend "I ain't no chickenshit, Jessie." The prison rodeo guy is operating the mechanical bull. Bud can't ride the bull because he's hurt from the fall, so Sissy's gonna show him up. Guy in bar says "Shit, Bud, she rides better than you do."
Husband: "I didn't know this was a women's lib movie."
*Jerry and Cindy Hall are credited as "Sexy Sisters" in the film.
** At the time of filming, Gilley's was the largest nightclub in the world. It opened in 1971 and closed in the early '80s, just after the filming of Urban Cowboy, due to a falling out between Mickey Gilley and co-owner Sherwood Cryer. In 1989, the building suffered an arson fire, but was still standing until 2006 when it was demolished. A second Gilley's opened in 2003 in the Dallas area, featuring the original bull used in the movie.
Bud can't let his poor delicate wife show him up. He rides it again, then she rides it again, then he rides it again. There's a lot of seething going on. Is this really the plot of the movie? Sissy's struggle to ride the mechanical bull undaunted?
Husband: "Everyone has cool old Lone Star T-shirts on. Wonder where I can find one."
Bud breaks his arm on the bull. Then he starts another fight with Sissy. Then he goes to Gilley's to start shit with the ex-con. He picks some random girl to dance with to make Sissy jealous. Bud is an asshole. The he uses the worst pick-up line ever: "So when you gonna take me home and rape me?" Did we hear that right? But it works. She takes him "uptown" to her penthouse overlooking Houston. She says, "It's my favorite city in the whole world," which is awesome. Then she tells Bud her daddy's in oil. So she's rich and spoiled.
Sissy goes back to the ex-con's house and drinks mescal. But she can't betray Bud, so she leaves drunk.
But now Sissy is shacking up with Wes, the ex-con, in a trailer behind Gilley's. Bud takes the "Sissy" license place out of the passenger side of his truck. This movie moves fast. Bud finds out his Uncle Bob used to be a bull rider, and that he's got "one plastic nut." They all make plans to go to Gilley's for the Dolly Parton lookalike contest. Hey Chris! Let's throw a Rocks Off-sponsored Dolly lookalike contest! [Ed. Note: You're on!]
Gilley announces an all-indoor rodeo that's gonna take place in three weeks. Uncle Bob tells Bud he trained for the rodeo on a mechanical bull. Is that even possible? Then everyone dances the "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Then Sissy rides the bull like she's riding that ex-con. Someone in the crowd remarks on her "hard nipples" and says the bull's better than a vibrator. Yeow.
Bud and Pam and his aunt and uncle go to a new bar and dance to Jimmy Buffet song. Husband: "I'm pretty sure this is Wild West, out on Richmond."
Now Uncle Bob tries to train Bud how to ride a mechanical bull that's in some barn somewhere. Husband: "This is the Karate Kid portion of the movie." Back at the trailer, Sissy writes Bud a letter apologizing for being opinionated and assertive. Then she cleans house, like a good, obedient housewife. Then Pam shows up while Sissy's lying on the marital bed.
Next we see a long scene of Bud driving into the trailer park, with a rolling horizon in the background. Husband says "WTF? What are those hills? Where the hell is that?" Bud walks into the house, where Pam's waiting. He thinks she's done all the cleaning, saying "I just love a woman's touch in the house." She doesn't correct him. Bitch. Husband: "That lady's never cleaned a thing in her life."
Bud decides to cut the cast off his arm. He bosses Pam around, telling her to turn up the radio, which is playing "Looking for Love." While she's inside she finds the note from Sissy and hides it. Then she tells Bud she wants to move in with him. Like any right-minded woman would choose a trailer over a penthouse overlooking downtown.
Next we have a montage set to "Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys": Bud and Pam dancing at a '70s-era bar, Bud workin' at the ship channel, Bud riding the mechanical bull.
Then we finally see Sissy at work. She's a wrecker! Is this what inspired Flashdance? She does back to Wes's trailer and finds the redhead secretary from Gilley's in bed with him. He tells her "You can't expect a man like me to be faithful to any woman." And why not? Poor Sissy. She throws a carton of cigs at him, then he beats the shit out of her and then tells her to fix him breakfast. This movie is depressing.
Bus says to Pam "Contrary to what you and your daddy think, all cowboys ain't dumb. Some of them got smarts real good, like me." Then Pam tells him she had a shirt made for him. Sugar momma. Is this where we are introduced to the class theme in the film?
Bud works the midnight shift at the refinery with Uncle Bob, who tells him pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and that he needs to suck it up and reconcile with Sissy. A big storm's a brewin' with massive thunder. Then HWS pauses the movie for an extended discussion on safety goggles with husband, who is a mechanical engineer. When we unpause, lightning hits one of the tanks at the refinery, causing an explosion that kills wise old Uncle Bob right after his eloquent delivery of advice.
Sissy shows up at the funeral. She tells Aunt Corene that she loved Uncle Bob. Everybody cries. "He was my uncle too," she says. "Our divorce ain't final yet." She asks Bud if he's happy, and he asks her if she is. They both lie, saying yes. Then Sissy says Wes got fired from the bull-running job because he was hurting too many people. She's still with that douchebag? Well, he is pretty hot.
After the funeral Corene gives Bud Bob's rodeo belt buckle. He's the Prodigal Son.
Fuck yes. It's Charlie Daniels.
Dance contest!*** I wish people still organized those. Pam is dressed like Pocahontas. It's hot.
The extras in this movie are awesome. Someone just had an authentic old-school Houston Rodeo shirt on. The dancers are genuinely good. This, so far, is the best part of the movie.
Now Wes and Bud are competing on the mechanical bull. Sissy looks scared of Wes. Can't imagine why. Pam looks proud of Bud, even though he loses the first round. Now Husband is regaling us with his tales of riding the mechanical bull at a place called Sunset Ranch in Los Angeles.
Husband: "When are they gonna hook back up?" HWS: "I don't think they do." Husband: "Are we 'Headed For A Heartbreak?'"
Now it's Bud's turn to ride the bull as a finalist. Travolta overacts the hell out of this scene. But Bud wins, and Pam gives Sissy the slant-eye, while Wes forces her out of Gilley's. He slaps her, tells her to pack for Mexico, and loads a revolver. Husband thinks Wes's character has changed halfway through the movie, but I think he's always been evil. He's an ex-con! Then husband makes joke about "putting me in my place."
Bud wins the bullriding contest while Wes steals the money the winners are supposed to get. Pam gets pissed at Bud because he's only trying to make Sissy jealous, and confesses to hiding Sissy's note. She says she doesn't love Bud and he needs to go save Sissy from Wes. Then she says this awesome line: "But I tell you what, if you ever wanna make her jealous you know where I am." Pam's all right.
Bud finds Sissy sitting outside in the getaway car, and tells her he loves her and apologizes for being a cad. Then he sees her bruised face.
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He goes inside and kicks the hell out of Wes, causing money to spill out of his pockets, revealing him as the thief. Bud and Sissy then walk out of Gilley's arm-in-arm to "Lookin' for Love." They crawl into the cab of Bud's truck, and Bud put's Sissy's license plate back in the cab. The end.
***Some of the best dance sequences are in the DVD extras. Patsy Swayze, mother of Patrick Swayze and Houston native, choreographed the movie. Check out the above scene, which didn't make the final cut.