The Willie Nelson Movie Guide

Texas Music, summer 2005, put together this list of their top ten Willie Nelson movies:

1.  A Pair of Aces (1989)

This buddy movie, which takes place in Dripping Springs and its environs, features Willie as Billy Ray, a charismatic safecracker and Kris Kristofferson as Rip, his hard-assed Texas Ranger escort.  The two tangle with bikers and killer teens trying to catch a seriel killer who preys on high school cheerleaders.

Best Willlie line:  “I was born and raised in Fort Worth with bikers on one side and Pentecostals on the other.”

2.  Barbarosa (1982)

The film that helped kick-start Willie’s acting career is a Sergio Leone-inspired Western, with Willie in fine form a notorious outlaw Barbarosa and Gary Busey as Karl, a naive farm boy who becomes his sidekick and then ends up keeping the legend of Barbarosa alive.  Beautifully filmed along the Texican border, the film was co-written and co-produced by Bill Wittliff (director of Lonesome Dove and Red Headed Stranger).

Best willie line:  “You haven’t got enough ass in your britches to pull the trigger.”  (Note, my personal favorite line from this movie is when Barbarosa is talking to his wife, whom he seldom sees because he is off being an outlaw and running from the federales.  He says to her, “I come in the Spring, I come in the Fall.  I come when I can.”  That’s Willie. — LL)

3.  Songwriter (1984)

Alan Rudolph directed this tribute to the Outlaw movement:  Nelson and Kristofferson are a pair of singer-songwriters, who buck the Nashville system by doing things their way in Austin; there are lots of cameos of local heroes and speaking roles for harmonica player Michey Raphael and guitarist Stephen Bruton.

Best Willie line:  “The only reason I drink is so people won’t think I’m a dope fiend.”

4.  Outlaw Justice (1999)

A cinematic farewell to Waylon Jennings (who is murdered in the made-for-TV movie’s opening scene — but whose voice is heard throughout in his journal read by his son), this Wild Bunch inspired Western features Nelson, Kristofferson and Travis Tritt on a shoot-em-up mission to avenge thier buddy’s death.

Best Willie line:  (WHen he and a fellow outlaw meet again after a decade apart):  “You’ve aged horrible!”

 5.  THe Last Days of Frank and Jessie James (1986)

Mainly a vehicle for fellow Highwaymen Johnny Cash (Frank James) and Kristofferson (Jessie), this is historically more accurate than most filmed depictions fo the famed Missouri outlaws.  Willie only gets about five minutes of screen time near the film’s end, but gets lots of laughs during a courtroom scene as the James brothers’ old Confederate commander, who helps Frank get an innocent verdict.  Scenes featuring June Carter Cash and David Allan Coe are among the flick’s highlights.

Best Willie moment:  Willie winkin’ and jokin’ in the witness box, decked out in Civil War regalia.  (Oh, it’s fun to see Willie dress up.)

6.  Red Headed Stranger (1986)

A period Western that depicts the 1975 Nelson concept album by the same name, the film finds Willie as a crazed preacher who finds redemption through the love of a good woman (Katharine Ross), after brutally murdering his aldulterous wife (Morgan Fairchild).

Best Willie moment:  Willie shooting Morgan Fairchild

7.  The Electric Horseman (1979)

Willie made his screen debut playing the manager of an erstwhile rodeo champ (Robert Redford) who steals a thoroughbred and goes on the lam with the help of a TV reporter (Jane Fonda).  Directed by Sydney Pollack.

Best Willie line:  (an ad-lib devised by Nelson):  “I’m gonna get myself a bottle of tequila and one of those Keno girls who can such the chrome off a trailer hitch…”

8.  Stagecoach (1986)

This made-for-TV remake of the classic John Ford Western had Kristofferson (the Ringo Kid) so peeved he kept threatening to walk off the set.  As lame as it is in parts, it’s worth watching just to see all four Highwayman together:  Kristofferson, Nelson (as the drunken Doc Holliday), Jennings (as the Southern gentleman gambler) and Cash (as the marshal).

Best Willie line:  “Drop that gun or you’ll never have another toothache.”

9.  Honeysuckle Rose (1980)

Road warrier country star (Willie) falls in love with harmonizing ingenue (Amy Irving), threatening his marriage to a good woman (Dyan Cannon).  “He just doesn’t have a false bone in his body and the camera reads that honesty,” said Sydney Pollack, the film’s producer, who had worked with Willie on Electric Horseman.  “He’s incapable of telling a lie, which I think is the mark of a great actor.”

Best Willie moment:  The concert scenes.  (I don’t know those kissing scenes are pretty good. — LB)

10.  Texas Guns (1988)

A made-for-TV Western written, produced and directed by veteran Burt Kennedy finds Willie as John Henry, the leader of a ragged-taggle bunch of over-the-hill outlaws who attempt one last train-robbery spree. Angie Dickinson, Richard Widmark, Jack Elam, Chuck Connors and Shaun Cassidy also star.

Best Willie line:  “If a man don’t know the ropes in this business, he’s liable to end up with one around his neck.”

By George Warren

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