1980 was certainly a strange year. Notable for the debut of the Rubik’s Cube and Post-It Notes, it ended on the double low points of the ill-fated election of Ronald Reagan as POTUS, followed shortly thereafter by the murder of John Lennon. In terms of entertainment, David Bowie released one of his best albums ("Scary Monsters") and Richard Gere strutted his studly stuff in "American Gigolo." Long before cable and streaming, TV viewers were obsessed with who shot J.R. on the silly night-time soap "Dallas."
In 1980, John Travolta was still at the peak of his popularity due to "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever," and in spite of a stinker such as "Moment By Moment" (co-starring lesbian icon Lily Tomlin). No doubt inspired by the inexplicably popular "Dallas" and its 10-gallon hat wearing cast members, as well as the continuously surging country music genre’s growth, gay writer/director James Bridges ("The China Syndrome," "The Paper Chase" and others) gave us "Urban Cowboy" (Paramount), debuting on Blu-ray for its 40th anniversary, with Travolta in the lead role.
Poured into skin-tight boot-cut denim, bearded Bud (Travolta) relocates from small-town Spur, Texas to booming Houston, where he is welcomed into the home of Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and Aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson). Bob and Corene begin Bud’s Houston initiation by taking him to Gilley’s (“3.5 acres of concrete prairie”). Bob fulfills his uncle duty by getting Bud a job as a “general helper” at the plant where he works.
Clean-shaven for the new job, Bud catches the eye of Sissy (three-time Oscar-nominee Debra Winger) at Gilley’s one night and they hook up. Before you know it, they’re a couple, they’re married and moved into a 50-foot trailer. For entertainment, they attend a prison rodeo where we get our first glimpse of Wes (Scott Glenn) and his specialized bull-busting skills.
Back at Gilley’s, Bud, Sissy and the national audience are officially (and unfortunately) introduced to the mechanical bull (meaning Travolta isn’t the only one giving a mechanized performance!). Bud stays on the bucking machine for the duration, but being a sexist, he won’t let Sissy have a turn. Enter parolee Wes (Bridges’ camera loves him, especially when he’s shirtless or in a black fishnet t-shirt!) and it looks like Bud has met his match. Additionally, Wes flirts openly with Sissy, further enraging Bud.
So begins Urban Cowboy’s downward spiral. The young newlyweds have serious jealousy issues. They also struggle with honesty.
On the day that Sissy decides to take time off from working at her family’s junkyard to improve her mechanical bull-riding technique Bud gets hurt at the plant when he nearly plummets to his death from a scaffolding. Adding insult to injury, Bud breaks his arm after falling off the mechanical bull which was being operated by, you guessed it, Wes. The marriage further deteriorates when in fits of infidelity, Bud hooks up with hoity-toity Pam (Madolyn Smith) and Sissy shacks up with Wes. But it only takes a tragedy and one final competition to bring about a predictable storybook ending.
Urban Cowboy was an imperfectly perfect storm in many ways. The dance floor scenes, which went a long way in popularizing country dancing, were another opportunity for Travolta to show off his moves. The soundtrack, which included a few Mickey Gilley songs, as well as tunes performed by Linda Ronstadt & J.D. Southern and Bonnie Raitt, spawned hits for Boz Scaggs, Anne Murray and Kenny Rogers. Ultimately, the passage of time has not been kind to the dated Urban Cowboy, which features sexism and domestic abuse, is surprisingly sloppy, and way too long at nearly two hours and 15 minutes.
Blu-ray special features include a featurette, outtakes and deleted scenes.