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Country goes to the movies, part IV: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

By Robert Loy, July 1997

When a bunch of Hollywood hotshots got together and decided to make a movie out of Willie Nelson's famous song, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," they must have figured "Hey, there's already a ton of western movies out there. Instead of going through all the trouble of writing a new one, why don't we just rip off an old one and slap Willie's song onto it?"

Ergo, although it's not mentioned anywhere in the credits, this film is a remake of the 1972 classic "Junior Bonner."

All that's missing is Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah - and all the heart and humor of the original.

Struggling (and failing) to fill McQueen's boots is Scott Glenn, as H.D. Dalton, who after getting gored by a bull heads home to Oklahoma to heal, only to find the house in disrepair, his dad and his dog both missing.

H.D. finds Dad (Ben Johnson) at a nearby nursing home, where his oddball roommate Mickey Rooney has decorated their room with posters of Dolly Parton ("A fine Christian woman - that's why the Lord has blessed her with such abundance.") Dad is not overjoyed to see his son, but he does compliment him on doing such a fine job of tearing himself up.

H.D.'s old girlfriend, Jolie, is not thrilled about his return either.

But in between fights with his sister Cheryl (Kate Capshaw) and her big shot banker husband Clint (Gary Busey), who put Dad in the home and now want to sell his land, H.D. eventually wears Jolie down, and she agrees to meet him in the park at her daughter's dance recital.

H.D. breaks Dad out of the nursing home and takes him home. Clarence Williams III (who played Linc on "The Mod Squad") is still in law enforcement, and he pulls his squad car up in the driveway to tell H.D. that Cheryl is plenty peeved, she wants Pop back in the pen.

Shortly thereafter, Cheryl shows up and sucker punches her brother. H.D. says he'll take care of Dad. Cheryl points out - rightly - that H.D. can't even take care of himself.

When he gets back from a trip to the grocery store with Jolie (another hot date), H.D. finds Cheryl over at the house cooking breakfast for Dad because he called and told her there was no food in the house, and he was starving. She fixes eggs and bacon for Dad, but H.D. has to eat crow. He and Cheryl get in another argument, and he loudly reiterates that he can take care of Dad.

To prove his point, H.D. sleeps late the next morning and lets Dad almost burn down the house. Dad can't stay and help him clear out the smoke because he's got a traffic accident he's got to get to. He drives his tractor halfway off a bridge.

Jolie's long-haired, earringed son Jud starts hanging around H.D.'s place. He says he wants to ride bulls. H.D. tells him he must never talk back to his mother or "talk vulgar." (I don't know much about rodeoing, but is this really lesson #1? No vulgar talk?)

Jolie finally agrees to go on a "real" date with H.D. They go and kick up their heels at a dance club. Jolie even gets the D.J. to play their song "Love is Strange." (A very appropriate choice for these two.) She asks him if rodeoing has been worth it, and H.D. launches into a long monologue about how riding 1,800-pound mammals is a sort of a religious experience, and how he sometimes becomes the animal. (H.D. is as good at shooting the bull as he is riding it.) She tells him that the rodeo is "all hat and no cattle" even though it wasn't a Stetson that put its horns through H.D.'s backside. They have a house and a pickup available, but they choose to make love in the straw - evidently H.D. has become a bull again.

While we wait for the inevitable slow-motion showdown, we have to satisfy ourselves with watching H.D. fight with folks. First, he'll head over to Cheryl and Clint's and scrap with them. (They still want Pop's land and now they've got power of attorney.)

Then, he'll get into it with Jolie. (First she nagged him to leave her alone, but now that she's seen what he can do in the stable she wants him to promise he'll never leave.)

He even feuds with Father. At one point, Dad is upset because H.D. didn't tell him about the goring accident. "Sometimes it helps to share your pain," he says, which terrifies H.D. because he's afraid the old man might be turning sensitive on him.

H.D. figures he's going to need money to fight Cheryl and Clint in court, and the best way for him to earn money is - surprise! surprise! - rodeoing. He's getting tired of harassing humans anyway, and is ready to bully some bovines. Fortunately, Bullmania (which would have made a good title for this movie) is coming up, with its $100,000 prize for anyone who could ride the bull named Thunderbolt.

Rusty as he is though, H.D. would have a hard time riding a rocking horse. So he starts training - running, rope-climbing, flinging bales of hay. He also rigs up a homemade mechanical bull, a barrel on ropes, that he uses to practice his slow-motion trick-riding on.

After his body is healed, H.D. has to work on getting his head right. Following Dad's advice, he sits on top of a barn all day long, one hand raised, legs akimbo. He is pretending that the barn is a bull - albeit a slow-moving, two-story bull.

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