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Red Headed Stranger (1986)

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Revisionist western about fallen preacher Shay, who guns down his wife Raysha for running off with another man. Wandering, he meets single mom Laurie. However, helpless sheriff Scoby wants Shay to help him fight the villainous Clavers.


William D. Wittliff (as Bill Wittliff)


William D. Wittliff (screenplay) (as Bill Wittliff)
1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Willie Nelson ... Rev. Julian Shay
Morgan Fairchild ... Raysha Shay
R.G. Armstrong ... Sheriff Reese Scoby - Driscoll, Montana
Royal Dano ... Larn Claver
Katharine Ross ... Laurie
Sonny Carl Davis ... Odie Claver
Ted J. Crum Ted J. Crum ... Cauley Felps
Marinell Madden Marinell Madden ... Cindy Logan
Bryan Fowler Bryan Fowler ... Nathan - Laurie's Son
Paul English Paul English ... Avery Claver
Bee Spears Bee Spears ... Eugene Claver
Dennis Hill Dennis Hill ... Calvin Claver
Mark Jenkins Mark Jenkins ... Victor Claver
Berkley Garrett Berkley Garrett ... Rev. Longley
Elberta Hunter Elberta Hunter ... Mrs. Longley


Revisionist western about fallen preacher Shay, who guns down his wife Raysha for running off with another man. Wandering, he meets single mom Laurie. However, helpless sheriff Scoby wants Shay to help him fight the villainous Clavers.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




R | See all certifications »






Release Date:

31 October 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A rőt hajú idegen See more »

Filming Locations:

Austin, Texas, USA See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



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Did You Know?


Levon Helm was originally cast in the movie as a U.S. Marshal. Before filming began, Helm shot himself in the leg while practicing quick-draw techniques in his backyard and the role had to be recast. See more »


In a long shot with a windmill, the windmill is turning, but facing away from the wind's direction as revealed by dust blowing, etc. (the wrong way). See more »


Referenced in The Simpsons: Behind the Laughter (2000) See more »

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User Reviews

Surprising Western Outpaces Expectations
2 May 2009 | by jcbcritiqueSee all my reviews

When one thinks of singers trying to act, the first culprits that come to mind are Frank Sinatra in "From Here to Eternity" and "The Manchurian Candidate", or Elvis Presley in anything. Usually, the crossover does not work because a particular kind of singer may just have too much personality (or "baggage") to fit himself into a particular role.

Here, though, the transfer works, and it is a result of the kind of singer Willie Nelson was, and always has been. His style of delivery as a musician is all understatement, quiet nuance, and behind-the-beat phrasing. There is a sort of conversational verisimilitude in his singing that crosses over into acting (screen acting, at least). His style of singing is almost the equivalent of the "method" school of acting -- it is all psychological and physiological recall.

So, Nelson is nearly perfect as Parson Shays, for that reason, and for another; the character was already fully-realized in the musical album version of "The Red-Headed Stranger." The screenplay is largely just a fleshing-out of Nelson's narrative vision. If you doubt that, give the album another listen; it has a surprisingly coherent, and direct storyline that connects all of the songs (even several not penned by Nelson himself, most particularly Hank Williams's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain").

Now, of course, the question still remains: how good is the story itself, and how well has it been rendered on-screen? This is not a Western on par with Leone's, Ford's, or Eastwood's. Nor it is meant to be. It is, however, remarkably well-crafted bit of movie-making. For those who object to the seemingly amoral content (the murdering of women), the only response is that a piece of narrative fiction is not a sermon, and artistic judgment is not the same as moral judgment. Furthermore,the old-school, "white hat/black hat" type of Western was already on its way out around the time of "Shane."

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