The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)


Acclaimed brothers Joel and Ethan Coen envision a six-segment Western anthology focused on the American frontier. Tracking singing gunslingers, settlers, miners, hangmen, bounty hunters and all manner of Wild West personalities, these six short tales range from the deepest reflection to the utter absurdity.

Movie details

  • Genre: Western, Comedy, Drama
  • Release Date: 2018-11-09
  • Runtime: 2h 12min
  • Language: English
  • Production Company: Mike Zoss Productions
  • Production Country: United States of America
  • Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.
  • Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.

If you are a fan of the Coen brothers and their work on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) then you might want to check out the book that serves as inspiration for the movie. The novel, which is also written by Ethan and Joel Coen, shares ten different stories set in the old west.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) – Movie recapitulation

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It’s a sunny afternoon in the Wild West and Buster Scruggs rides his horse through isolated lands. He comes off as a cheerful singing cowboy but the truth is, he’s the most dangerous gunman in the area and there’s a hefty reward on his head.

During his travels, he finds a cantina where he stops to have a drink; however the barman refuses to sell whiskey to him because it’s a banned drink and therefore only outlaws will be served.

Buster tries to explain he shouldn’t be judged based on his clean looks and chirpy demeanor because he’s an outlaw too, but nobody believes him, and a cowboy is even ready to fight in order to kick him out. This cowboy ends up quickly regretting underestimating his enemy because Buster is incredibly fast and draws his gun in a second to shoot every single person in the cantina.

Afterward, Buster travels a little bit longer until he arrives at Frenchman’s Gulch, a town he’s never visited before. His first stop is the local saloon, where he must leave all his weapons at the door to comply with the no firearms policy.

Then, he joins a game of poker at the nearest table under the condition he picks up the hand left by the player that just left. Unfortunately when Buster checks the cards he discovers the last player left because he had the infamous dead man’s hand and refuses to play it, causing the ire of the other players, especially the scary Joe.

Thinking he’s above the rules, Joe pulls out his hidden gun to threaten Buster, but he quickly defends himself by kicking a loose plank on the table to hit the gun and make it turn again its master, instantly killing Joe.

This incident makes thick tension take over the saloon, so Buster starts singing a song he makes up on the spot about Joe, inspiring everyone to sing and dance along. Their cheerful fun is suddenly interrupted by Joe’s brother, who has found out what happened and challenges Buster to a duel to get revenge.

Once again, Buster proves he’s the fastest gunman in the area and, after expertly shooting each of the man’s fingers, he finally kills him by looking at him in the mirror just to show off.

Buster is feeling smug and confident as usual when suddenly, another singing cowboy arrives in town: it’s The Kid, who also challenges Buster to a duel. This encounter is even faster than the last one, but this time it’s Buster who dies because he finally has found someone faster than him.

As his soul leaves the mortal realm, Buster admits he should’ve seen it coming because you can’t be the top dog forever, and even sings along to The Kid’s song. Meanwhile in New Mexico, a young cowboy finds an isolated bank and tries to rob it.

The bank teller pretends to collaborate and bends over to grab the money, but actually he’s moving to shoot his hidden weapons as a distraction before running away. The cowboy manages to dodge the shots and wastes no time in grabbing the money from the cash box, but as soon as he rushes out, the teller opens fire on him and forces him to hide behind a well.

The cowboy tries to shoot back yet his efforts are pointless: the banker has covered his body with pots and pans that reflect all the bullets. Thanks to this extra protection, the teller manages to come close enough to knock the cowboy out. When the cowboy wakes up hours later, he finds himself tied to a tree and his hands tied to the saddle of his horse.

It turns out a posse has already found him guilty and sentenced him to death, so this is the cowboy’s chance to say his final words. Before the cowboy can say anything though, they’re ambushed by a bunch of Comanche warriors who quickly kill the whole posse yet leave the cowboy on his horse, thinking it would be funny for him to suffer slowly.

The cowboy spends a few hours on his horse trying his best to keep the animal from moving too far and triggering his death. Eventually the cowboy finally gets lucky and is found by a drover, who frees him by shooting the rope and allows him to ride with him for safety.

Not even an hour passes before the cowboy discovers he isn’t as lucky as he thought: the drover is actually a rustler and when another posse finds them he rides away while the cowboy gets arrested again. Moments later, the cowboy is taken to town where he’s found guilty by the judge and sent to the gallows.

While waiting for the end, he concentrates on looking at a young woman in the crowd so the last thing he sees before death can be a beautiful sight. Not far from there, an aging impresario travels with Harrison, a young man with no arms or legs but with a very beautiful voice that he uses to recite classics from Shakespeare and Lincoln among others.

The wagon they travel in becomes a stage every time they stop in a town, and while Harrison recites his classics, the impresario collects money from the audience. He’s also in charge of feeding Harrison, putting on his make-up, and even helping him relieve himself. It’s a very frustrating and sad life, and the impresario gets more tired of Harrison every day.

When they visit bawdy houses, the impresario doesn’t even bother to pay for a girl for Harrison too, he leaves him in the same room and turns him around while he has his own fun, this means Harrison still has to hear everything. The further they travel around remote mountain towns, the less interested the audiences are in their little show and they barely make any money.

One evening, the impresario notices their audience is tiny because a different wagon has everyone’s attention: the crow is cheering for a chicken that can do basic addition and subtraction by pecking at some painted numbers. Seeing an opportunity, the impresario decides to buy the chicken, and he takes care of it with as much care as he offers Harrison, who is starting to get worried about what comes next.

The next day, the impresario stops the wagon by a bridge and tests the depth of the river that runs underneath by dropping a large stone into the water. The results are exactly what he needs, and moments later the impresario is back on the road with only the chicken as a passenger in the wagon because Harrison has been pushed into the river as well.

Speaking of rivers, there’s one running down a mountain where a grizzled prospector has arrived to search for gold. At first his pan only picks up tiny gold specks, but by counting the amount each time the prospector follows the trail of where he should be digging to find the source.

The man even makes camp next to the river and he survives by fishing and stealing eggs from birds’ nests. After many days of digging small holes, the prospector manages to triangulate the source and begins digging deeper.

His calculations turn out to be perfect and he finally gets to find a large gold vein that will make him rich, but unfortunately there’s no time to celebrate: a young man that has been trailing the prospector comes closer and shoots him.

After making a cigarette to celebrate, the young man jumps in the hole to move the body only to get ambushed by the prospector, who had been only pretending to be dead. The old man wrestles the guy for his gun and kills him, then he checks his body and confirms it was a clean shot: it came out through his back and didn’t hit anything important.

After bandaging the wound, the prospector finishes mining the gold, buries the young man in the hole, and leaves the valley on a horse carrying his new fortune. In the meantime, siblings Alice and Gilbert have joined a wagon train that is crossing the Oregon Trail.

Gilbert isn’t exactly a good businessman, but he claims he’s contacted a new business partner that is willing to marry his sister when they make it to Oregon. Traveling with them is Gilbert’s dog President Pierce, who is considered extremely annoying by the rest of the travelers because of his constant barking.

Shortly after the trip begins, Gilbert goes through a violent coughing fit and dies of what seems to be cholera. The wagon train’s leaders Billy and Arthur help Alice bury him after they ask her if she wants to keep traveling with them or she’ll go back home.

Realizing she has nothing to return to, Alice accepts to stay with them to find her luck in Oregon. The next day, Alice receives more bad news: the boy Gilbert hired to lead their wagon claims he was promised a wage of $400 and expects the first half to be paid when they reach the halfway point.

Alice doesn’t have money and if her brother did have any, it was left in his coat, which is now buried with him. It’s too far away to go back now, so Alice asks Arthur and Billy for advice, and the men point out the wage is insane, definitely higher than usual.

Alice thinks it’s Gilbert’s fault for being an awful businessman, but Billy thinks the boy may be lying, thus he advises her to ignore him for now and when they make it to the halfway point, he’ll try to scare him into confessing the truth.

Since President Pierce keeps being complained about and Alice doesn’t want to take responsibility for him because he’s not hers, Gilbert also helps hers to get rid of the dog by taking him to the middle of the valley and scaring him off with a shot at the sky. The trip continues without any trouble, and Alice and Billy get to share some time together, discovering they agree on many philosophies.

When the hired boy asks for confirmation of his pay, Billy tries to talk to him and fails, so he offers Alice an alternative: since he’s been thinking about retiring from the wagon train for a while now, he asks Alice to marry him, that way he can assume Gilbert’s debt and build a home with a proper family. Alice is quite shocked to hear this, but she’s grown fond of Billy too and accepts the proposal.

A few days later, Arthur worries about fresh footprints found in the area and checks on his travelers only to discover Alice is missing. It turns out she heard President Pierce nearby and went to watch him bark at some prairie dogs, leaving the wagon train further than she realized.

Arthur finds her and tries to bring her back as quickly as possible, but sadly they aren’t fast enough and they get ambushed by a Native American party. Since he has two weapons, Arthur uses one to defend himself and gives the other to Alice, urging her to end things for herself if he gets killed because death is preferable to be captured by the Natives, who would put her through terrible, painful punishments.

Arthur is actually quite a skilled gunman and manages to scare the Natives away with precise shots, but when he thinks everything is over, a warrior takes him by surprise and makes him fall with a quick hit. Pretending to be unconscious, Arthur waits for the Native American to come closer and shoots him before returning to Alice’s side only to find out the worst news: she also thought he was dead and used the pistol exactly like he told her to.

After covering her with his coat, Arthur starts making his way back to the wagon train together with President Pierce while wondering what he’s gonna tell Billy. On a different road, five people ride in a stagecoach to Fort Morgan.

After singing for most of the ride, which annoys everyone aboard, Thigpen explains he and his partner Clarence often travel this route while ferrying cargo, alluding to something on the roof of the coach without specifying what it is.

Now that Thigpen has finally stopped singing, a conversation begins among the travelers, prompting the fur trapper to talk about his past relationship with a Hunkpapa woman that flourished even if they couldn’t speak each other’s language because he thinks all people are alike in their basic needs.

Lady Betjeman, a devout Christian, is offended by this idea and reminds everyone there are only two kinds of people, the good and the sinning. This triggers an argument about human nature that is also joined by Frenchman René, but Thigpen and Clarence only make a comment here and there, preferring to watch with amusement.

When René questions if Lady Betjeman has stayed loyal to her husband while living apart for a couple of years, Lady Betjeman’s so indignant that she becomes apoplectic. Putting his head out the window, René tries to ask the driver to stop the coach to no avail, prompting Thigpen to explain that the company’s policy doesn’t allow the coach to stop for any reason.

To calm Lady Betjeman down, Clarence decides to sing a bittersweet folk song, which successfully helps the woman but also makes Thigpen cry. Curious about these mysterious men, the trapper makes them explain what exactly is their business, and Thigpen reveals they’re bounty hunters.

Their teamwork is foolproof: Thigpen distracts their target with stories while Clarence quickly “thumps” them. Thigpen also confesses he loves watching them die because there’s something beautiful in their targets’ expressions.

Hearing this obviously creeps out the other three passengers, who are now afraid of what awaits them at their destination. Once the coach makes it to Fort Morgan, Thigpen and Clarence grab their cargo, which turns out to be a body, and enter the hotel where everyone is staying.

René, Lady Betjeman, and the trapper take longer to disembark, feeling wary and scared, but eventually they enter the hotel too and René closes the door behind them after watching the coach leave, realizing there won’t be a way out if they need it.



Greetings! I am Kenno, the founder of My love for TV shows, movies, and animes inspired me to create this website in 2020. Since then, my passion for entertainment has only grown stronger, and I am now part of a team of three enthusiastic writers covering various topics related to the entertainment industry. Among my favorites are the TV show Breaking Bad, the anime One Punch Man, and the movie Forrest Gump.

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