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Western films, from silent to today

Red Headed Stranger (1986)

Red Headed Stranger (1986) posterWillie Nelson is Julian Shay, a preacher who arrives in Driscoll, Montana, with his pretty wife Raysha (Morgan Fairchild) to find a town that cowers to the Claver clan.

Larn Claver (Royal Dano) and his sons control the only source of water for the town and rule the roost — albeit a pretty dismal one — as a result.

The Rev. Shay decides it’s his job to provide hope to the townsfolk. He does that by helping dig a well so they can stop cowering.

They stop sure enough. The Clavers try to burn down the windmill that operates the well; Odie Calver kills a man in the process. He’s caught and hung at the request of the townsfolk.

But then Julian encounters a problem of his own. His wife, who’s never been happy out West, runs off with another man.

Julian follows, leaving only sheriff Reese Scobie (R.G. Armstrong) to defend the town when the Clavers decide it’s time to strike back for Odie’s hanging.


Much better than one might expect and easily the best Willie Nelson Western.

That’s partly because it has a touch of realism few Westerns accomplish, partly because the film’s laconic pace matches Nelson’s performance and the songs that help tell the story.

The film also benefits from excellent performances from two veterans of the genre — Royal Dano and R.G. Armstrong.

The latter plays an aging sheriff who has accepted life as it is in Driscoll, knowing he can’t stand up to the Clavers on his own. Scobie winds up wanting revenge against Julian for abandoning him when he needed help the most.

Katharine Ross plays the single mother who helps Julian find redemption after his own quest for vengeance.

Directed by:
William Wittliff

Willie Nelson … Julian Shay
Morgan Fairchild … Raysha Shay
R.G. Armstrong … Reese Scobie
Royal Dano … Larn Claver
Sonny Davis … Odie Claver
Paul English … Avery Claver
Bee Spears … Eugene Claver
Dennis Hill … Calvin Claver
Mark Jenkins … Victor Claver
Katharine Ross … Laurie
Bryan Fowler … Nathan, Laurie’s son
Ted J. Crum … Cauley Felps
Marinell Madden … Cindy Logan
Joanne Russell … Wanda
Berkley Garrett … Rev. Longley
Elberta Hunter … Mrs. Longley

Runtime: 105 min.

Memorable lines:

Julian Shay: “I know it will be difficult for you to leave after all these years.”
Rev. Longley: “Difficult? Coldest snake I ever touched — this town … You’ll be fighting the devil on his own ground here, sir.”

Larn Claver, as the townpeople prepare to hang Odie: “Don’t you sniffle, Odie. Don’t you sniffle. I ain’t gonna let go of this. These sons of bitches will rue this day — every god damned one of them.”

Cowpoke, accompanied by his partner, after catching Laurie alone at home: “Do you fancy him? Or me first?
Laurie: “I’d as soon step in one pile of cowshit as another. Guess I’ll take you.”

Laurie: “This man you’re looking for — who is he?”
Reese Scobie: “He used to be a preacher before he took to killing.”

Laurie: “What made you do that? Just show up here that one day and start plowing?”
Julian Shay: “I guess I’d already gone as far as I could go the other way.”
Laurie: “Well, you got a ways to go before you learn how to plow. Left a lot of crooked rows in my field.”

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