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Blu-ray Review: Urban Cowboy: 40th Anniversary Edition

June 3, 2020

By John Corrado

Three years after delivering his iconic, Oscar-nominated performance as a young, working class Italian-American guy drifting through New York’s nightlife in Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta traded the white suit for a Stetson hat in Urban Cowboy, and went from disco dancing to doing the Texas two-step.

Based on Aaron Latham’s 1978 magazine article The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: America’s Search for True Grit, this 1980 drama, which was released exactly forty years ago this month and has just been put on Blu-ray for the first time, focuses on the Texas nightlife of Travolta’s Bud.

Bud is a young, working class guy who moves to Houston for work, and gets a job on an oil rig with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin). While spending his days in the oil fields, Bud spends his nights at Gilley’s Nightclub, and the famous honky-tonk bar – along with some of the musical acts that played there including owner Mickey Gilley, Bonnie Raitt, and The Charlie Daniels Band, who all add songs to the film’s hit soundtrack – provides much of the backdrop for Urban Cowboy.

It’s here that Bud meets Sissy (Debra Winger, excellent in her breakout role), and marries her almost immediately. When a mechanical bull is installed at Gilley’s, Bud becomes obsessed with riding it, and forbids Sissy from having a turn; “no girls allowed” as the saying goes. Sissy rides it anyway in secret, which pushes her away from Bud and towards Wes (Scott Glenn), an ex-convict who appears at the bar at the same time as the mechanical bull, and becomes another obstacle for Bud to tackle.

Similar to Saturday Night Fever, which is far darker and bleaker than many remember it to be, Urban Cowboy is an often gritty drama. Bud is an abrasive character and his relationship with Sissy is often toxic, with him being verbally and even physically aggressive towards her. The entire rivalry between them starts because he doesn’t believe women should be riding the mechanical bull, which might sound trite but is indicative of his patriarchal views towards women.

Because of this, elements of Urban Cowboy do feel dated, and the film never fully rises to the level of the superior Saturday Night Fever, despite thematically and narratively sharing much in common. But it still very much serves as an interesting time capsule of a different time and place. While he is playing a character who is less sympathetic than his counterpart in Saturday Night Fever, Travolta is very good in the role of a hard-headed blue collar worker, and grounds the film with his authentic performance.

Directed by James Bridges, from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Latham, Urban Cowboy still functions as a well acted and mostly engaging character drama that holds our attention across an over two hour running time, as it delivers a series of entertaining and dramatic moments. The film is perhaps best remembered for its solid soundtrack of country tunes and for sparking a cowboy-inspired fashion trend, and it represents a solid entry into Travolta’s filmography, nestled in between his more iconic roles in Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Pulp Fiction.

The Blu-ray also includes the new featurette Good Times With Gilley: Looking Back at Urban Cowboy, which features the Texas honky-tonk’s owner Mickey Gilley reflecting on his business and looking back fondly at the film’s legacy, which was shot on location at his bar. This is followed by a selection of four deleted scenes (Your Folks Didn’t Like Me, Did They?; Rent’s Free, Can’t Beat That; I Guess I Better Find Myself Another Job; and How Come I Ain’t Seen Ya at Gilley’s?), which are presented in a square aspect ratio and are all interesting to watch, despite being of somewhat poor video quality.

Finally, the disc has two outtakes (John Travolta and Debra Winger Dancing and John Travolta Dancing) as well as several minutes of rehearsal footage (Debra Winger on Mechanical Bull, John Travolta on Mechanical Bull, and Travolta and Winger on Mechanical Bull).

Urban Cowboy: 40th Anniversary Edition is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 134 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 2nd, 2020

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