John Travolta was a hot commodity in the late 70s, and early 80s. He had a hit sitcom in Welcome Back, Kotter, had starred in two box office hits, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever, and he and director James Bridges sought to personalise the story of the modern cowboy with Urban Cowboy which sees its 40th Anniversary this year, and is commemorated by its release by Paramount Pictures on to blu-ray for the first time.
The tale follows Bud (Travolta) as he moves to the big city of Houston, Texas and taking a job at an oil refinery finds that he can still embrace the cowboy lifestyle that America glorified lives on in the nightlife of that city, particularly at one bar, Gilley’s (partially owned by Country legend Mickey Gilley at the time, and also holding the Guinness World Record for largest nightclub) where he learns about life and love.
Love is personified by Debra Winger as Sissy in her first starring role, and their love is passionate, and troubled as they both embrace a lifestyle that speaks to them, but also has some outdated core beliefs, particularly those held by Bud.
Their relationship is threatened by the arrival of Wes (Scott Glenn in a rare villainous turn) who Bud believes is after Sissy, and is also intent on robbing Gilley’s.
With his relationship in the air, there’s only one way to win Sissy back, by being the best cowboy he can be by besting Wes, and everyone else, of course, in Gilley’s Mechanical Bull competition. As a side note, Travolta trained with a mechanical bull for months so that he could do all of the riding himself, so that’s him on screen.
And of course it wouldn’t be a Travolta movie of the era without some dancing, including some two-steppin’, and the film’s choreography was done by Patrick Swayze’s mom, Patsy!
The picture and sound are cleaned up nicely, and the disc itself also includes some solid extras like Good Times With Gilley, a new interview with Mickey Gilley about the film, and his iconic bar, which now no longer exists. There is also rehearsal footage, as well as outtakes.
With a soundtrack of classic country and western songs, and Travolta at the top of his game (before his career rebirth in the 90s) Urban Cowboy is emblematic of the times, and the era, while serving as a bit of a commentary on the modern cowboy trying to find his way in the world while living by the beliefs he holds to be true (though, as mentioned before, a number of them should have been outdated even then, but the character, and hopefully society (eventually) learns).
Urban Cowboy the 40th Anniversary blu-ray is available today from Paramount Canada.