Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Ron Underwood|
|Produced by||Irby Smith|
|Written by||Lowell Ganz|
|Music by||Marc Shaiman|
|Edited by||O. Nicholas Brown|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$180 million|
City Slickers is a 1991 American Western comedy film, directed by Ron Underwood and starring Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, and Jack Palance, with supporting roles by Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, and Noble Willingham with Jake Gyllenhaal in his debut.
The film's screenplay was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and it was shot in New York City; New Mexico; Durango, Colorado; and Spain. A sequel City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold was released in 1994, with the same cast, with the exception of Kirby, who was replaced by Jon Lovitz.
In Pamplona, Spain, Mitch Robbins, an account executive for a radio station, participates in the annual San Fermín festival, along with friends Ed Furillo and Phil Berquist. Back in New York City, Mitch has turned 39 years old and realizes his trips are to escape the reality of going through a midlife crisis, as he is unsatisfied with his job. Phil and Ed have problems of their own: Phil is trapped in a 12-year loveless marriage to his shrew wife, Arlene, while also managing her father's supermarket; and Ed is a successful sporting goods salesman and playboy who has recently married an underwear model but is reluctant to settle down and have children.
At Mitch's birthday party, Phil and Ed present a gift of a two-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. Phil is confronted by a co-worker, Nancy, who accidentally reveals a pregnancy and thus her affair with Phil, which leads to his separation from Arlene. Despite Mitch's plans to go to Florida with his wife Barbara to visit her parents, Barbara makes him go instead with his friends to search for a purpose in his life. In New Mexico, Mitch, Phil and Ed meet the ranch owner, Clay Stone, and their fellow drivers: Barry and Ira Shalowitz, a comical pair of ice cream entrepreneur brothers, Bonnie, a young beauty with a recent romantic break-up, and father and son dentists Ben and Steve Jessup. Mitch develops a rift with the ranch's abusive professional cowboys, Jeff and T.R., when they make Bonnie uncomfortable while she is practicing her roping skills. The standoff is stopped by the trail boss, Curly, who inadvertently humiliates Mitch in front of his friends.
During the drive, as Mitch, Phil and Ed begin to change their outlook on life, Mitch accidentally causes a stampede which wrecks most of the camp. In retribution, Curly orders him to help gather the lost cows, and over time the two develop a bond when Mitch learns that Curly, despite his tough exterior, is actually a very wise and heartfelt man. Curly advises Mitch to discover the "one thing" in his life which is the most important to him, which will solve all of his problems. Along the way, Mitch helps deliver a calf from a dying cow, which Curly kills out of mercy. Mitch adopts the calf and names him Norman.
Curly suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving the drive under Jeff and T.R.. Trouble begins when the cook, Cookie, gets drunk and accidentally destroys their food supply, breaking his leg in the process. After the Jessups volunteer to take him back to the ranch, Jeff and T.R. intoxicate themselves with Cookie's hidden stash. A fight ensues when they threaten to kill Norman and assault Mitch. Phil and Ed intervene and a fight ensues which culminates when Phil holds Jeff and T.R. at gunpoint and unleashes withheld stress on them, after which he breaks down in tears when consoled by Mitch and Ed. Jeff and T.R. abandon the group to avoid reprisals from Clay Stone. Though Bonnie tries to assist the cattle, the Shalowitzes decide to leave the herd to seek out civilization. Ed, with Phil's assistance, decides to remain behind and try to finish the drive. Mitch, at first adamant in leaving them on their own, has a change of heart and joins them while the others continue to Colorado.
After braving a heavy storm, they finally manage to drive the herd to Colorado, but Norman gets stuck in the river. Mitch saves him but they are both swept away with the current. Phil and Ed only barely manage to save them both and finally overcome their crises while resting on the bank. They reach Clay Stone's ranch in Colorado shortly afterwards. Clay Stone offers to reimburse everyone's money for their troubles, but when the Jessups ask instead for another chance to drive the cattle again Clay reveals that he is selling the herd to a meat company. Despite the fact that they initially believe that they saved the cattle for nothing, Mitch, Phil and Ed decide to rebuild their lives, and Mitch purchases Norman from Clay Stone to save him from slaughter.
When the two weeks are up, Mitch returns to New York City with Phil and Ed as a happier man, and reunites with his wife Barbara and his children while bringing Norman home for a few days until he can be placed in a petting zoo. Phil begins a relationship with Bonnie, and Ed becomes open to the idea of having children. Mitch drives the freeway, ready to start life with a new vision.
The film's plot, which consists of inexperienced cowboys battling villains as they press on with their cattle drive after the death of their leader, was conceived to be similar to John Wayne's The Cowboys, although that was a Western drama as opposed to a comedy.[failed verification]
In his 2013 memoir, Still Foolin' Em, Billy Crystal writes of how the casting of the film came about. "Palance," he says, "was the first choice from the beginning, but had a commitment to make another film." He wrote that he contacted Charles Bronson about the part, only to be rudely rebuffed because the character dies. Palance got out of his other obligation to join the cast. Rick Moranis, originally cast as Phil, had to leave the production due to his wife's illness. Daniel Stern was a late replacement in the role. The film was also the debut of actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a "Certified Fresh" 90% rating based on 41 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "With a supremely talented cast and just enough midlife drama to add weight to its wildly silly overtones, City Slickers uses universal themes to earn big laughs." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 70 out of 100, based on reviews from 25 critics. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on a scale of A+ to F.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4 and wrote: "City Slickers comes packaged as one kind of movie - a slapstick comedy about white-collar guys on a dude ranch - and it delivers on that level while surprising me by being much more ambitious, and successful, than I expected. This is the proverbial comedy with the heart of truth, the tear in the eye along with the belly laugh. It's funny, and it adds up to something."
Jack Palance, for his role as Curly, won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which was the only Oscar nomination the film received. His acceptance speech for the award is best remembered for his demonstration of one-armed push-ups, which he claimed convinced studio insurance agents that he was healthy enough to work on it. Billy Crystal was hosting the Academy Awards that night, and used the humorous incident for several jokes afterward that evening. Later that night, Palance placed the Oscar on Crystal's shoulder and said, "Billy Crystal ... who thought it would be you?" Crystal added in his book, "We had a glass of champagne together, and I could only imagine what Charles Bronson was thinking as he went to sleep that night." The next year's Oscars opened with Palance appearing to drag in a giant Academy Award, with Crystal (again the host) riding on the opposite end.
Palance and Crystal both were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, in separate categories, though only Palance won.
The film is also recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
A 30 Nov 1990 [Variety] news item indicated that the budget had climbed to $26 million.