Barbarosa (1982): Solid Western Starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey

Over the past three decades, Aussie Fred Schepisi has been one of the most gifted directors working today. Yet relatively speaking few people have seen his work, in and out of the U.S., and fewer recognize his name. This may be a function of the unconventional and challenging movies he has made, beginning with “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,” and continuing with “Iceman,” “Plenty,” “A Cry in the Dark.”

In 1982, he directed his first American feature, “Barbarosa,” a solid Western co-starring the then popular country singer Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, fresh off from receiving a Best Actor Oscar nod for “The Buddy Holy Story.”

A buddy-buddy tale, with serio-comedic touches, it features Nelson as the legendary outlaw, and Busey as his country-bumpkin buddy.  They decide to ride together, as both are on the run from separate family feuds.

The sharply observed screenplay was written by William D. Wittliff, who later gain acclaim for his adaptation of “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry (also author of “The Last Picture Show” and “Brokeback Mountain”).

The acting of the two leads, especially Nelson as the free-spirited outlaw, was superb.  However, despite artistic merits, skillful direction by Schepisi, and critical support from mainstream reviewers, “Barbarosa” was a commercial failure.

Credits

Running time: 90 Minutes
Directed By: Fred Schepisi
Released; February 19, 1982.
DVD: March 18, 2003

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