Friday, December 17, 2010
Title: The Dead Pool
Genre: Dirty Harry, take five
Notable for: Memorable performances by future stars
Coolest thing Clint does: Blows away the bad guy with a harpoon gun
No doubt exists in our limited minds that "The Dead Pool" is the worst Dirty Harry movie. It's the fifth and last in the series, and inspiration does not flow like a cool stream.
Here are five bad parts.
1. "You're shit out of luck" is the worst catch phrase in the Harry Callahan arsenal of catch phrases. Brad could expound on this for several paragraphs, but as a gesture of mercy, he won't.
2. It was impossible to hate the bad guy with the proper passion because he was barely in the film. "The Dead Pool" tries to be something of a whodunit, and that's not right. We don't want to see Dirty Harry solve a crime, we want him to bring bloody justice to psychotic scumbags we know are guilty almost from the opening credits.
3. The expected elements of Dirty Harry movies were by this time so predictable Clint himself plays with them as cliches. When assigned a new partner, he says out loud what everyone in the audience must think. "All my partners end up dead or in the hospital." He carries Dirty Harry's fondness for big guns to a laughable extreme by wielding a harpoon gun in the final scene.
4. The plot is stupid. It's a story about some celebrities who bet on which other celebrities will die and somehow their picks become public and for some reason a dude kills off celebrities on the list of a particular movie director played predictably well by Liam Neeson. That is all we intend to say about that.
5. Dirty Harry is no longer despised by superiors on the police force. He receives a little token complaining about the cost of a police car destroyed on his watch, but Dirty Harry has become a celebrity cop. He's so famous he's on Neeson's list of celebrities expected to die. Much of the movie's message appears intended to be commentary on the nature of celebrity and the media in modern society. No one watches Dirty Harry for that kind of crap.
Strangely enough, we still like the movie.
Jim Carrey and Neeson give good performances early in their careers. Click here to see Carrey (credited as James, not Jim) go all super-freaky. And there is a cameo appearance by Guns N' Roses.
Stupid plot or not, Clint has some great scenes blowing away scumbags. Some of them, as usual, he stumbles upon while walking down the street. Others are hit men out to kill him for sending a mob boss to prison.
One example of classic Clint comes when he's had enough of those pesky hit men. Clint goes to the prison where the mob boss is locked up and scares him shitless by fooling him into believing he, Clint, has purchased protection from the nastiest inmate goon in the prison. A couple of scenes later, mobsters are tailing Clint as bodyguards, not killers.
The ending includes fine symmetry circling back to the very first moments when we saw Dirty Harry 17 years earlier. In the first movie, Clint pretended to lose track of whether he shot all his bullets, asking punks if they felt lucky enough to assume his gun was empty. In the finale, the bad guy steals Clint's .44 magnum and blasts away at him. Then all grows quiet as Clint walks slowly toward the killer with the aforementioned harpoon gun. "You're out of bullets," Clint says. Then he fires a harpoon through the guy's chest.
Nailing that guy with a harpoon was unnecessary (translation: murder) but it is one of the more awesome displays of Dirty Harriness.
As every male knows, the worst Dirty Harry is still better than a lot of other movies. Speaking on behalf of The Clint Eastwood project, we're going to miss Harry Callahan from here on out.
Next up: "Pink Cadillac."
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Title: Heartbreak Ridge
Genre: Military humor and heroics
Notable for: The script pissed off the U.S. Marine Corps enough to cancel cooperation
Coolest thing Clint does: Smashes up a thug while spending a night in the drunk tank, then tells him, "Why don't you sit there and bleed a while."
Anyone who thinks Clint emerged in the 1970s as The New John Wayne should know the vast database of The Clint Eastwood Project reveals "Heartbreak Ridge" was the first time Clint played a member of U.S. military forces in a war movie.
His character was on loan to the Brits in "Where Eagles Dare." He was AWOL all through "The Beguiled." "Kelly's Heroes" was an anti-war movie where Clint made friends with Nazis at the end. And "Firefox" was a spy story with Clint playing a military veteran pressed back to duty for a secret mission.
We conclude Clint did not much care for war movies, and he made an odd one when he finally gave it a whirl in "Heartbreak Ridge."
Andrew finds "Heartbreak Ridge" entertaining and judges it "not the best, but pretty good." Brad thinks it is mostly stupid because it is two different movies crammed unconvincingly into one.
Clint plays a tough Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who has a habit of getting drunk and finding trouble. The makeup people put scars on his face and Clint put extra gravel in his voice.
He is assigned to lead a platoon of young Marines who are complete screw-ups. One actually talks a little like Gomer Pyle. The rest behave, ludicrously, as if they can ignore commands. No wonder the Marine Corps withdrew its support.
The first part of the movie is basically a comedy where Clint whips the screw-ups into shape. It has some fine moments. Clint runs around growling about how he's drank more beer, pissed more blood and banged more quiff than anyone alive.
"Heartbreak Ridge" is set in the early 1980s and Clint's character is a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He is a little frustrated to have no wins on his war record. At first, the young Marines think he is a crazy old man. His asshole major calls him a relic.
"This is the new Marine Corps," the major says. "Characters like you are an anachronism." It sounds exactly like the crap Dirty Harry took from his superiors.
Comedy stops abruptly with 30 minutes left in the movie. Clint's Marines are put on alert and sent to invade Grenada. From then on it's all blood-and-guts battle scenes that show what a wonderful job Clint did making his guys combat-ready.
Victory is sweet for Clint, who savors his first war win. It seems inconceivable that anyone who fought in Korea and Vietnam could put Grenada on the same level, but Clint does it anyway.
The film ends with a glorious homecoming as a band plays "Stars and Stripes Forever." As far as we know, that exhausts the film library of Grenada Invasion stories.
"Heartbreak Ridge" may be most notable in the annals of Clintdom because it is the first film to address head-on the fact he was growing old. Clint was 56 in real life. He appeared in great physical shape for the movie, but he could no longer pass himself off as a youthful hero. He played a character his real age, a dude struggling with the approach of mandatory retirement.
Unlike some action stars we could name, he was man enough to accept the truth. And some of his most celebrated roles were still ahead.
Next up: "The Dead Pool."
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Title: Pale Rider
Genre: Mysterious-stranger western
Notable for: Clint's first return to the saddle in nine years
Coolest thing Clint does: Beats gang of thugs senseless with hickory stick
One of Clint's seldom-mentioned accomplishments is a key role in saving, or at least prolonging, the life of the American western drama.
It started with "Pale Rider."
Anyone old enough to remember knows it seemed vaguely stupid and pathetic in 1985 for Clint to make "Pale Rider." Cowboy movies were out of style. By today, they could easily be just as dead as the TV western.
Then "Pale Rider" came out and it kicked ass. New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby called it "the first decent western in a very long time."
Seven years later, Clint won his first Oscar for another western, "Unforgiven." Then many male stars started making westerns for fun and profit.
"Pale Rider" is never included on lists of the best westerns ever (here's one list and here's another), but it should be. Because it came out at a time when no one made westerns, it never received the full credit it deserves.
Believe it or not, Clint plays a mysterious stranger who rides into town and never reveals his name or the exact nature of his bloody past. Quite a stretch, huh?
He comes to the aid of a community of small-time gold miners who are brutally oppressed by the town's gold tycoon. The villainous tycoon wants their land so he can rape it with modern mining methods.
After beating the snot out of a few of the tycoon's goons, Clint puts on a preacher's collar and, from then on, is called "The Preacher."
A side-story veers close to pedophilia (not a first for Clint) when The Preacher is sexually propositioned by a 14-year-old girl. Clint declines but spares her feelings by assuring her 99 men out of 100 would nail her. Statutory rape must not have been a crime yet. He rejects the girl because he is more interested in her widowed mother. As romances go, a mother-daughter love triangle is either edgy or creepy.
"Pale Rider" was acknowledged to be a rip-off of the classic "Shane," but more interesting similarities are found to the story of ghostly vengeance Clint delivered 11 years earlier in "High Plains Drifter."
Saving the miners from the evil tycoon is a given for Clint's character in "Pale Rider," but the real intrigue centers on his connection to the spirit world.
In "High Plains Drifter," Clint played the revenge-seeking ghost of a murdered sheriff. "Pale Rider" is far less clear.
The movie title comes from the Book of Revelation, which says death rides on a pale horse. Clint, as director, made that obvious by having the verse read aloud while The Preacher is seen riding a gray horse.
So maybe Clint is death incarnate. Or maybe not.
In one scene, viewers see Clint has five bullet scars in his back, wounds that look as if they must be fatal. When the tycoon hires a paid killer, Clint reveals he has a score to settle with the dude. At the end, the killer stares hard at Clint, then says, "You!" Clint shoots him five times, leaving a pattern exactly like the scars in his own flesh.
So maybe Clint is a ghost. Or maybe not.
After shooting the bad guy five times in the chest, Clint fires once more and plugs him in the forehead, causing one of the greatest death-grimaces ever recorded on film. Clint does not have a scar on his own head, so this seems like an extra shot he never received.
So maybe Clint is just a mortal man who did not want to repeat the bad guy's mistake of leaving wounds that could be survived. Or maybe not.
The aforementioned Mr. Canby speculated that Clint's character was supposed to be God. We're not sure why God needs to retrieve guns from a bank safe-deposit box, as The Preacher did, to smite someone down. But why not?
God or no god, Clint helped raise western drama from the near-dead with "Pale Rider."
For that we thank you, Clint.
Next up: "Heartbreak Ridge."
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Genre: Detective story, heavy on the whores
Notable for: Clint cast daughter Alison Eastwood in supporting role
Coolest thing Clint does: Pulls a severed arm off his throat
Clint was never accused, up to this point in his career, of appealing to female audiences. But "Tightrope" may be his one film that least resembles a chick flick. Estrogen must react to this movie like vinegar in a baking-soda volcano.
For starters, the film is shot in blackness extreme even for Clint. Women like movies that look bright and sunny. Dark lighting matches a dark story. It's a tense murder mystery with a creepy killer who wears masks and stalks prostitutes.
Also, the film has lots of good-quality violence and a fair amount of gratuitous female nudity, although usually the naked parts belong to women who are dead. As a subtext to murder, "Tightrope" features a cornucopia of male sexual perversions and fantasies.
Women must have left the theaters of 1984 and spent 40 minutes bitching about how thoroughly disturbed they were by "Tightrope."
In short, it's one of Clint's best non-cowboy films ever for the testicle-wearing audience.
Clint plays a police detective in New Orleans who investigates a series of murders in the sex district.
His cop character has a backdrop of semi-normal family life that is unusual for Clint's roles. He plays a divorced dude raising two daughters. The oldest daughter is played by his real-life daughter, Alison Eastwood, then 12. Little Alison went on to be a model, actress, film director and the head of a clothing line. Best of all, she posed for Playboy.
Clint's murder investigation is hampered by his chronic inability to ignore his boners. While questioning prostitutes and strippers, he cannot resist some kinky stuff. There is even a highly unClintlike suggestion that he has tried gay sex.
Every woman is gorgeous and they all want to screw Clint as soon as they see him. Click here to see some especially laughable sexual banter. Even the good girl Clint romances between whores wants it rough.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear the killer is really targeting Clint, not random prostitutes. Before it's over, the killer attacks Clint's nice girlfriend and his daughters, and he stuffs Clint's old-lady babysitter into a washing machine.
The final scene ranks as one of the greatest in the chronicles of Clintdom.
Clint and the killer wrestle hand-to-hand in a fight to the death along some train tracks. A train bears down on them as they roll in the dirt. As the train passes, Clint rolls away from danger but the killer still has Clint's throat in a death grip.
As the camera backs up, we see the killer is no longer attached to his arm. It was severed by the train. Clint pulls the dead limb off his throat and throws it aside.
Sorry ladies, but that is some seriously manly shit.
Next up: "Pale Rider."
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Title: City Heat
Genre: Gangster action-comedy
Notable for: Clint stars with Burt Reynolds
Coolest thing Clint does: Walks down the middle of the street like God himself in gunfight with four hoods
"City Heat" is probably the most over-exaggerated "disappointment" in Clint's career.
Hollywood drooled dollar signs when Clint was paired with Burt Reynolds for a blockbuster action-comedy. Those idiots failed to realize two stars with a combined age of 101 were overripe to really kill audiences in a genre dominated by Eddie Murphy.
Ticket sales were disappointing to Hollywood idiots, but the film still cleared about $13 million in profit. With inflation, it made $26 million in today's dollars.
As an entertainment product, we give "City Heat" a solid 7.5 on the Clint-O-Meter. It's nowhere near a 10 ("The Outlaw Josey Wales"), but it has plenty of gunfights and is enjoyable if viewed without the burden of high expectations.
Clint plays a steely police lieutenant (what a stretch) in 1933. Reynolds is his former partner turned wisecracking private eye.
The comedy mostly springs from banter between the two stars. Their interplay is characterized by Clint calling Burt "shorty" and Burt calling Clint "ape face." One recurring "gag" has Clint watch Burt get beat up or shot at without lifting a finger to help, until a bad guy accidentally spills his coffee or fires a stray bullet through his windshield. Then Clint grimaces, rises and delivers swift and harsh vengeance. See? He cares more about his coffee than Burt!
None of it is laugh-out-loud funny, but that was predictable even in 1984, considering the comic track record of Mr. Reynolds.
The action in action-comedy comes when the boys are thrown together to fight two competing mob gangs. Bullets fly, although in a comic-book sort of way instead of the menacing-danger style of Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop."
You may ask how Clint and Burt come to fight two gangs of mobsters at once. We wish we could answer clearly, but unfortunately the script avoids coherent plot development.
Conflict starts when Burt's partner in the private eye business, Richard Roundtree, is very predictably murdered after double-crossing one mobster in a scheme to screw over another.
Never mind all that. The point is, Burt and Clint have a crapload of fistfights and gunfights and never get a scratch.
The best action scene has Clint turn bullet-proof as he slowly walks down a city street and kills four gangsters. His shotgun blasts make a car explode into a fireball and make a fire hydrant spray water on the blaze. Even we can see that is intended to be a gag because Clint plays his "Fistful of Dollars" image so over-the-top.
Whorehouse humor comes into play in the final scene, when Burt dresses in a wolf's head and girl's nightgown liberated from a bordello customer with a Little Red Riding Hood fantasy. Thus disguised, he beats up some hoods who kidnapped his horny, high-society girlfriend (Madeline Kahn, who should have been in more scenes).
Art, it ain't. But to paraphrase a popular song of the era, boys just want to have fun.
Twenty-six years later, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could expect more than a little boyish fun by putting Clint in a comedy with the dude from "Smokey and the Bandit."
Next up: "Tightrope."
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Title: Sudden Impact
Genre: Dirty Harry, take four
Notable for: "Go ahead, make my day"
Coolest thing Clint does: Goads mafioso into heart attack at the mafioso's daughter's wedding
After several weeks of country singing, comedy with apes, half-baked spy stuff, and fake cowboys coping with a harsh modern world, we were nearly distraught from withdrawal from real Clint Eastwood.
Thank God for "Sudden Impact." The return of Dirty Harry is like a Colt 45 tall boy to a sweaty alcoholic.
Clint is accused of dragging out the Dirty Harry franchise too long, but that's mostly bullshit because "Sudden Impact," the fourth of five, may be the best in the series.
Harry's gun is bigger than ever and assorted scumbags receive his usual dose of death or public disgrace.
Clint spits his overused catch phrase, "Go ahead, make my day," through clenched teeth while confronting a coffee-shop robber. Just as good but less catch-phrasey is the scene where he grabs a smirking punk in an elevator and tells him, "To me you're nothing but dog shit, understand?" If you get blue-ray, the vein that pops out in Clint's temple during that dog-shit speech looks bigger than a garter snake. Just as good is when Clint goads a mafioso into a fatal heart attack. The mafioso is not even listed in the credits but he's played by Michael V. Gazzo -- Frankie Pentangeli from Godfather II.
Damn good stuff and it has nothing to do with the real plot of "Sudden Impact."
"Sudden Impact" is really about a female serial killer taking revenge for a gang rape. She tracks down each rapist, shoots him in the balls, then in the head.
Sondra Locke plays the cock-shooter and we say it is her best performance in a Clint Eastwood film. It's a role suited to her talents.
Dirty Harry is investigating her string of penis-disfiguring murders, but he comes to realize the victims deserve to die. He practically joins forces with Locke when the scumbags kill his partner (yes, again) and cripple his dog.
The climax comes when the worst scumbag rapist falls through a carousel and is impaled through the chest on the horn of a unicorn. Our guess is symbolism is intended.
At the end, Clint sets both Locke and his audience free. This is Locke's last appearance in any Eastwood film because an ugly split-up loomed in real life. Who could have seen that coming?
Testosterone, protruding temple veins, and rapists brought to crotch-searing justice. A man needs to know what he does best. Thanks, Clint.
Next up: "City Heat."
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Title: Honkytonk Man
Genre: "Grapes of Wrath" meets "Tender Mercies"
Notable for: Clint co-stars with son Kyle
Coolest thing Clint does: Robs a poker game to collect a debt
Spoiler alert! Clint dies at the end of "Honkytonk Man."
We mention that dramatic fact because it caused semi-scholarly interest as we watched Clint cough blood from lungs ravaged by tuberculosis.
"Has Clint ever died in a movie before?" Andrew asked. We have watched his first 38 films and our limited brainpower could not remember a single one in which his character dies.
Question: Could that lack of death scenes possibly be correct? Answer: Almost.
Combing the archives of The Clint Eastwood Project, we discovered just one forgotten death scene. Clint's character was murdered by sex-crazed schoolgirls in the weird 1971 movie "The Beguiled."
"Escape From Alcatraz" was fuzzy on whether Clint lived or died but certainly did not kill him off. "High Plains Drifter" had a death scene but that was a flashback. Clint played a ghost who remembered his murder. (Sez us, that's who.)
Not until "Honkytonk Man" did Clint ever go for a tear-jerker death. Once again, he was obviously trying new things as a movie star who just turned 50.
"Honkytonk Man" starts as a comedy set in the Great Depression. Clint plays a drunken small-time country music singer who relies on petty larceny to pay the bills.
The story revolves around his opportunity to make it big with an audition at the Grand Ol' Opry. Predictably, he sings in this movie and the results are not highly pleasing to the ears. Marty Robbins must rescue the title song from Clint's vocal stylings.
Mostly, it's a story about man-and-boy buddies on the road. The boy is played by Clint's real-life son, Kyle Eastwood, who was 14. Kyle plays Clint's nephew, whose parents inexplicably send him with Clint on the road trip from dusty Oklahoma to the big audition in Nashville.
Clint's idea of providing guidance to Kyle's character should have sent the poor kid to reform school. Under Clint's influence, Kyle screws a whore, drinks whisky, steals chickens, breaks Clint out of jail, gets accidentally stoned on weed and helps rob a poker game.
On the road to Nashville, the story turns more to tragedy as we realize Clint is deathly sick with tuberculosis. Hey, at least it provides some excuse for his singing voice. By the time he reaches the Opry, everyone knows Clint will die soon, but he insists on making some records.
Then he croaks. After the funeral, one of his records plays on the radio. So he made it big after all, we guess.
Tears were not successfully jerked from our eyes, but that's good. We don't like that kind of crap.
To our surprise, we both enjoyed "Honkytonk Man" quite a bit. Clint was appealing as the rogue with a heart of gold. Well, maybe not gold but some minor semi-precious metal. Kyle Eastwood did a creditable acting job for an amateur.
Judging from the slogan on the poster, this movie is largely about Clint teaching Kyle to be a man. Being a man means following your dream no matter how high the cost. Or maybe it means getting drunk every day and finding whores. We're not sure which Clint had in mind.
Next up: "Sudden Impact."
Monday, November 1, 2010
Genre: Spy "thriller"
Notable for: Special effects
Coolest thing Clint does: Kills a KGB agent in a men's room
We have now reached the point in Clint's career where it is no longer safe to expect each movie to bring the manly joy of grunting, squinting and cold-blooded volleys of gunfire.
He's begun to "spread his wings" and "test his boundaries" and otherwise reject his own stereotype.
Sometimes we don't care to watch.
"Firefox" nearly put us to sleep, even though everything about the movie sounds like it should be good.
"Hey! Let's put Clint in a tense spy story!" some cigar-smoking producer probably said. "The audience will eat it up like Nathan's hot dogs on a Coney Island Fourth of July!"
"Killer stuff," some coke-snorting screenwriter probably said. "But let's go one better by making it a spy story full of amazing special effects. This is 1982, man. You're dead without special effects."
Good as it all sounds, the end result is mostly boring. The essence of Clint is missing, and he is not funny or quirky to compensate for the loss.
Clint plays a hotshot pilot traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam. He is so mentally fragile he occasionally melts into a quivering pile of wimp.
Despite his mental instability and complete lack of spy training, Clint is selected for dangerous and daring mission inside the Soviet Union. He must break into a top-secret Soviet research facility and steal a highly advanced jet fighter.
The plane, called Firefox, is so sophisticated it runs off a pilot's thought waves. "If the Soviets can mass-produce it, it will change the structure of the world," Clint is told. So you know that's important.
Why pick a basket case like Clint for the job? Two reasons. One, he is such a great pilot everyone he assumes he can fly a plane that works on thought waves. Two, he speaks fluent Russian. Da!
For most of the movie, Clint is undercover sneaking into and around the Soviet Union. The commies are always close to catching him, and Clint leaves a trail of dead helpers in the underground resistance. We think the script also contained some sort of message about the courage of Jews, but we were too uninterested to grasp it.
Once Clint steals the plane amid a fiery diversion, "Firefox" turns to extended scenes of aerial combat.
The movie was made about halfway between "Star Wars" and "Top Gun," and the special effects show it. The problem with wowing audiences with the best special effects of 1982 is what happens by 2010. We are no longer impressed. The console of the high-tech jet fighter looks like a video game before graphics cards were invented.
Reliance on special effects is not the only thing "Firefox" borrows from "Star Wars." In one scene, Clint struggles with the thought-controlled plane until his mind replays the words he was taught in training, "You must think in Russian." It sounded suspiciously like, "Use the force, Luke."
Suffice to say, we were glad when the movie ended with Clint flying home in his stolen Soviet fighter.
Did we learn anything from this experience? Yes. We learned even Clint Eastwood can screw up agreeing with guys who smoke cigars and snort coke.
Next up: "Honkytonk Man."
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Title: Any Which Way You Can
Genre: Cash-in sequel
Notable for: Clint's final role with an ape
Coolest thing Clint does: Keeps fighting with a broken arm
Clint never lacked interest in money. He created his own production company before such things were common for actors. By Hollywood's insane standards, he became renowned as a tightwad filmmaker. And, as the five Dirty Harry films demonstrate, Clint has no fear of milking a cash cow.
"Any Which Way You Can" is a cow that screams, "Moo, baby!" This sequel to "Any Which Way But Loose" is the same movie, only more so.
Anyone who disliked the 1978 original, a surprise hit that made more money than any other Eastwood movie to that point, will not like the sequel. There is not a shred of what cinema scholars might call "growth," or "thematic exploration," or "humor that is not gross and childish." What the film lacks in class, it makes up for in a wealth of jokes about ape shit on front seats of police cars.
For the millions who liked the original, "Any Which Way You Can" is even better. Newcomers to the experience of watching Clint cavort with an orangutan are advised to start with the sequel.
"Any Which Way You Can" follows the precise formula and has all the same characters as the first film, but some weaknesses are cleaned up.
Clint once again plays a good-natured bare-knuckle brawler who travels with an ape. Again they frequently encounter country music superstars (and, inexplicably, Fats Domino) performing in cheap honkytonk bars. Again Ruth Gordon is the lovably salty old lady. Again Sondra Locke is allowed to sing country music (click here if you must witness the horror). Again Clint's buddy Orville comes along for the ride. And again Clint is pursued by the world's goofiest gang of neo-Nazi bikers.
But this time the story is better for three reasons.
One: Locke's character comes crawling back to Clint and is kept in her place. To the extent the first movie revolved around anything, it revolved around Clint's senseless attraction to the total bitch played by Locke. In the second movie, the love story is mostly abandoned. Locke is more like a piece of scenery eager to screw.
Two: "Every Which Way But Loose" was mostly a collection of gags, and the better and more memorable gags are in the sequel. This movie, not the original, is where Clyde deposits the aforementioned ape shit in police cars and where he punches people outside the truck window. This is where Ruth Gordon goes all moony after getting laid. This is where she also drives to Bakersfield in a tow truck as sparks fly from a disintegrating car hooked on back. This is where Clint, copying Clyde, swings from a light fixture to put Locke in the mood for boinking.
Three: Unlike the original movie, "Any Which Way You Can" has an actual plot that builds to a climax. Even a stupid plot is better than none at all. Mobsters arrange for Clint to fight a dude so fearsome he literally killed his last opponent and crippled the one before that. Clint's friends convince him to cancel the fight, which causes the irate mobsters to seek revenge. They kidnap Locke and Clint agrees to fight after all. A wacky collection of high-rollers from around the country gathers for the fight. Along the way, Clint makes friends with his opponent and, finally, buddies up with the goofy Nazi bikers.
Clint received no Oscar nominations and no boost to his reputation as a serious filmmaker. But that's OK.
We refuse to criticize an artist who chooses to cash in when the opportunity to make money arises. Especially when the cash-in project is better than the original.
Next up: "Firefox."
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Title: Bronco Billy
Genre: Pretend cowboys on the road
Notable for: Putting the beat in offbeat
Coolest thing Clint does: Throws knives at Sondra Locke
Neither of us ever watched "Bronco Billy" and we never wanted to watch it. We feared Clint disgraced himself a little with this movie.
Low expectations are well earned. Here is the entire Netflix description: "A ragtag troupe of misfits led by Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) perform their hearts out as members of a fly-by-night Wild West show. Billy inspires his entertainers, including Doc Lynch (Scatman Crothers) and Lefty LeBow (Bill McKinney), as they wow crowds with lassos, knife throwing and sharpshooting. Then stranded heiress Antoinette Lilly (Sondra Locke) becomes Billy's assistant, and soon the two are squabbling, scuffling and falling in love."
It sounds bad enough to make a grown man puke.
So we loaded down with Mexican food-like material from Taco Bell and resolved to endure the movie as an inescapable part of the sacred experience that is The Clint Eastwood Project.
Perhaps it does not say much, but "Bronco Billy" is better than we — or anyone with testicles — had a right to expect.
No doubt, this movie is way offbeat for Clint. It must have been hugely disappointing to anyone who entered a theater expecting another silent-tough-guy western. Clint is good with guns, and thwarts a bank robbery, and he handles himself well in a bar fight. But the story is no western and Clint is no tough guy.
For a while, we were puzzled by Clint's character and his "ragtag troupe." First we thought they might be con men, but that was wrong. Then we suspected they were semi-retarded. This was wrong, too. Or at least mostly wrong.
As the story evolves, viewers realize Clint seems weird because he is sincerely but oddly good-hearted and idealistic. He calls people "Pard" and "buckaroo" and tells children to finish their oatmeal. Induced to say grace at an orphanage where his troupe is putting on a free show, Clint asks God to help the orphan cowboys and cowgirls "so they don't get tangled up with hard liquor and cigarettes."
"Clint is mildly deranged," Andrew correctly concluded.
Deep into the movie, it is revealed that Clint and most of his troupe are ex-cons who dream of a better life in the world of cowboy movies from their childhood.
We won't bother to explain the side story of Clint's romance with the bony Sondra Locke because it is predictably disappointing.
Our biggest surprise in "Bronco Billy" is we actually grew fond of the characters. By his standards, Clint's character has an extravagant dose of backstory. We learn he grew up in New Jersey and was a shoe salesman until he shot his cheating wife and did seven years in prison. He dreams to save enough money so he and his troupe can buy a ranch and live real cowboy lives.
Perhaps Clint was encouraged by the success of "Every Which Way But Loose" to think audiences were ready to see him be a nice guy. That's the best explanation for "Bronco Billy."
Clint must have feared his fans were too dense to appreciate the upbeat nature of "Bronco Billy," because he had one character explain the film's message in short sentences.
"Don't you understand what Bronco Billy and the wild west show are all about?" the character asks Locke. "You can be anything you want. All you have to do is go out and become it."
There is nothing wrong with that message, even if it sounds alarmingly close to dime-store psychology someone like Dr. Phil might dispense.
Next up: "Any Which Way You Can."
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Title: Escape from Alcatraz
Genre: Prison action
Notable for: Clint's last film with Don Siegel
Coolest thing Clint does: Duh! He escapes from Alcatraz
Clint's only prison movie gets off to an uncomfortable start when he shows his naked ass.
"Jee-zuz!" Brad objected. "No one wants to see Clint's ass. The guy was, like, 50 when he made this movie. Not even 50-year-old women want to see a 50-year-old man's ass."
"Clint probably had an ass-double," Andrew theorized. "I bet that's not even his real ass."
"No way. Clint is too cheap to pay an ass double. Clint likes to show his ass."
"What is wrong with you?" Andrew asked. "Take that back."
Mercifully, the ass exposure ends early. For the rest of the movie, including a shower scene, the audience is spared the sight of middle-aged male butts or genitalia.
"Escape from Alcatraz" is based on a true story and shot on the real Alcatraz Island off San Francisco. Clint must like Alcatraz as scenery, because it was also the site of the climax of the third Dirty Harry movie, "The Enforcer."
Despite visual authenticity, "Escape from Alcatraz" has a phoniness common in prison movies. Nearly all the prisoners are good guys and the prison warden is a sadistic prick who enjoys crushing their beautiful spirits. Yeah, sure. This, we guess, is what they call dramatic license.
Clint plays Frank Morris, ringleader of the only escape from Alcatraz. The movie starts with Morris being transferred, bare ass and all, into Alcatraz from a prison in Atlanta.
Even when playing a real person, Clint stays true to typical form by making his character's background a mystery. All we are told about Morris' life is he expects no visitors. When one prisoner learns Morris does not know his own birthday, he says, "Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?" Clint answers, "Short."
Most of the storyline is predictable from the title alone.
Clint discovers the old concrete of Alcatraz is so crumbly it can be chipped away with a nail file around ventilation shafts. He hatches a plan to climb through the shafts to the roof, then shimmy down and float to freedom on rafts made of raincoats.
Elaborate scheming is needed to fool the guards and the evil warden, and this is the basic tension of the movie. Clint and his guys have several close calls but never get caught. This tension is somewhat defused by the fact the audience knows they will not get caught. But it is still entertaining.
Aside from the warden, the only villain in the movie is a big, hulking creep named Wolf who tries to make Clint his prison bitch. While taking a shower, Clint slugs Wolf in the nuts and jams a bar of soap into his mouth. From then on, Wolf is determined to kill Clint. In another non-surprise, he fails.
At the end of the movie, Clint and two other convicts make it to the ocean, float away and are never seen again. No one knows if the real Morris gang drowned (most likely) or made it to freedom, and the movie leaves that question unanswered, too.
"Escape from Alcatraz" turned out to be the end of one chapter in Clint's career. It was his last film directed by Don Siegel. Except for Sergio Leone, director of Clint's spaghetti westerns, Siegel was the director most important to developing Clint's onscreen persona.
It was a fitting end to their partnership: A film that was tight, entertaining, and not taken seriously by serious movie people.
Clint must have been man enough to know by age 50 that he wanted to aim a little higher, bare ass and all.
Next up: "Bronco Billy."
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Title: Every Which Way But Loose
Genre: Redneck flavored fun
Notable for: Clint co-stars with an ape
Coolest thing Clint does: Never loses a fight unless he wants to
People who compliment Clint on his late-life brush with serious critical acclaim frequently do so by insulting "Every Which Way But Loose."
"Eastwood has sure come a long way from the days when he made movies with monkeys," they say.
We understand their point.
On the surface, "Every Which Way But Loose" must be one of the stupidest movies ever made, and it contains the hideous spectacle of Sondra Locke singing country music.
Clint's character, named Philo Beddoe, is presented as a blue-collar guy, but that's not really correct. Blue-collar guys have jobs. Philo spends his time working on cars in his yard, which is strewn with junk. He makes money betting on himself in bare-knuckle fights staged for wagering purposes. Where we're from, that sort of guy would be called "white trash," not blue collar.
Philo's lifestyle is based on the strange premise that street-corner prize fights are a common American tradition. Every town in the movie has a local champ and a bunch of working-class guys who are ready to gather to bet on a fight. Everyone has heard of Tank Murdock, an unbeatable brawler from Denver.
There is no coherent storyline, so the movie rests on oddball characters and memorable scenes.
Clyde, an orangutan, is Clint's buddy more than his pet. Clyde drinks beer, makes obscene hand gestures and is otherwise incorrigible. Ruth Gordon, who was 82 at the time, played a highly cranky old lady obsessed with getting a driver's license. Miss Gordon's talents were considerable but hearing an old lady say "goddamn" and "horse shit" is not nearly as hilarious in 2010 as it evidently seemed in 1978.
As for plot, there's not much.
Clint meets Sondra Locke, falls for her, she disappears and he drives off in his truck looking for her. Along the way, he makes enemies of the world's goofiest gang of swastika-wearing motorcycle riders and two inept cops. Bent on revenge, both the cops and the bikers follow Clint and Clyde as they follow Locke. Country music bars and singers are frequently encountered to keep the redneck charm flowing. At the end, Clint fights the legendary Tank Murdock, as if the whole movie led up to that climax, which it most certainly does not.
The worse flaw is Clint's inexplicable infatuation with Locke. Her character is, in a word, repulsive. She is selfish, bitchy, annoying, and her costuming while singing onstage in country-music bars seems designed to emphasize that she has the breasts of small boy.
Even the trailer for the movie -- conveniently posted above for your pleasure -- acknowledges that the story is absurd. "It's no joke," the narrator says. "It's Eastwood as you've never seen him before."
Andrew said it better: "A street fighter who has a pet orangutan falls in love with a traveling country music singer, who leaves him while he is chased by bumbling neo-Nazi bikers? What screenwriter could think anyone might buy that script?"
Despite all those flaws, "Every Which Way But Loose" was one of Clint's most popular movies. And it is still fun to watch.
Here's the best explanation for the popularity: For the first time in his career, Clint played a thoroughly likable character and audiences were ready to like him. Philo Beddoe is a good fighter, sure, but not a mean one. He's a nice, average guy looking for happiness in a world full of oddballs and apes.
And, what the hell, it's still a little funny to hear an old lady say off-color things. Look at Betty White.
Nice guys don't always finish last, eh, Clint?
Next up: "Escape from Alcatraz."
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Title: The Gauntlet
Genre: Comic-book cop
Notable for: Making it obvious that Clint had a Yoko
Coolest thing Clint does: Drives a bus through an impossible storm of bullets
Life is full of jokes, and that is our best explanation for what was in Clint's mind when he made "The Gauntlet."
For regular guys, it's like when we pull out a seven-iron for a 210-yard tee shot, or when we pretend the size of our manhood is enormous.
Clint must have found it amusing to make an action film so far beyond believable that the joke is on himself. He becomes a parody of the ultimate action star. At least that's our theory. No matter what Clint had in mind, we're pretty sure he knew his audience would like over-the-top action even it is silly.
Even the movie poster was a ridiculous comic-book styled drawing. A frightened Sondra Locke clings to a ripped and gun-toting Clint (never mind that in the movie she is just as tough as him) with torn clothing revealing flesh seductive enough to qualify as false advertising.
The most basic elements of the plot are standard cop-movie stuff. Clint is a Phoenix detective sent to Las Vegas to retrieve a jail prisoner needed to testify in a trial. He becomes a target for mobsters and police who want his prisoner dead. The prisoner is a woman, and a romance develops.
It sounds like something Dirty Harry could do, but this time Clint is no Dirty Harry. His cop is a drunken loser chosen for the assignment because no one would doubt he could screw it up enough to wind up dead.
Clint eventually figures out his boss expects him to fail. Making it all the way back to Phoenix becomes a personal test of manhood. At the end, he delivers his prisoner to the courthouse by driving a bus reinforced with sheet metal past a gauntlet of cops who open fire.
Action movies never bear up well to strict scrutiny for realism, but "The Gauntlet" makes no effort to appear plausible. So many scenes and story lines are flat-out impossible that Clint had to be laughing. Here are just five examples.
1. Early on, cops open fire on Clint when he is inside Sondra's ranch-style house. They pump out so many bullets the structure collapses. That's a lot of bullets. Luckily Clint and Sondra escape through the secret tunnel that leads from her house into the desert.
2. Vegas casinos take bets on whether Clint and Sondra will make it alive to Phoenix. When the odds are 100-1 against them, Sondra bets $5,000 that they'll make it.
3. Cops are portrayed as mindless robots who gather in large numbers to murder anyone their boss wants dead. Except at the very end, whey they all inexplicably grow a pair and defy orders.
4. The prosecutor is in on the conspiracy to murder his witness, which raises the question: Why did he file the case at all?
5. In the climactic final scene, hundreds of cops fire at Clint's reinforced bus from both sides of a city street, apparently too dumb to notice the danger of cross-fire.
There is much more, but you get the idea.
In real life, "The Gauntlet" ushered in Clint's "girlfriend-movie period." His ill-fated romance with Locke had come to full bloom, and she would become a frequent co-star despite limited box-office appeal. Clint would earn the same sort of pussy-whipped reputation John Lennon received for putting Yoko on "The White Album."
It's good Clint was able to laugh at himself. That's a talent that comes in handy in movies and real life.
Next up: "Every Which Way But Loose."
Friday, September 17, 2010
"The Enforcer:" The manly appeal of a world where no one is screwed over without violent retribution
Title: The Enforcer
Genre: Dirty Harry, part 3
Notable for: Tyne Daly and the beginning of Clint's questionable reputation as a feminist filmmaker
Coolest thing Clint does: Drives a car into a liquor store with guns blazing
Deep, black despair has clouded our perspective since a despicable fraud was committed last weekend in the corrupt city of Chicago.
Our beloved Detroit Lions started a new season in strange and unfamiliar style — with victory — by beating the Chicago Bears 21-19. Millions of television viewers saw Calvin Johnson catch the winning touchdown in the waning seconds of the game.
Oh, we were happy. We danced around our living room, sang the sacred Lions fight song ("Gridiron Heroes") and called Jay Cutler names like "crybaby" and "douchebag."
Then it happened. Under the influence of either Satan or a large bribe, the referees invented a rule and pretended it was violated by the Lions. They pretended the winning touchdown never happened due to some gibberish about the "process" of catching a football.
The usual futility, stupidity and ineptitude make it difficult enough to go through life as Lions fans. Adding larceny to the list is too much to bear.
Our despair was still strong when we sat down to watch the one man who never gets screwed like the Lions: Dirty Harry Callahan in "The Enforcer."
By this third installment of the Dirty Harry series, we know what to expect.
1. Clint carries a huge pistol and blows away scumbag maniacs in spectacular style. Check.
2. He has disdain for superior officers who are either spineless or evil. Check.
3. Unnecessary nudity and/or a kinky sex scene is unexpectedly but briefly stumbled upon. Check.
4. Harry's partners are jinxed. Double check.
5. Against all odds, the bad guys lose in the end. Check (of course).
We like that kind of stuff. How about you?
The basic storyline pits Harry against a gang of homicidal radical terrorists like the Symbionese Liberation Army, a militant group famous in the mid 1970s for kidnapping and brainwashing heiress Patty Hearst.
The creeps kidnap the mayor of San Francisco and demand ransom. Harry and his new partner track them down on Alcatraz Island, which they invade and conquer with bullets and shoulder-fired rockets. Clint does not care about the mayor, who is a douchebag, but he has a revenge-seeking hatred for the gang of radicals because they killed one of his many dead partners.
As is true for many Clint movies, the plot is not everything. Here are some highlights.
Funniest scene: Clint is transferred to the personnel department as punishment for being too violent in his police work. "Personnel," he says, "that's for assholes!" To which his sniveling, brown-nosing boss says, "I was in personnel for 10 years."
Best action: Three trigger-happy robbers are holed up in a liquor store with hostages. They demand a car from police. "What are you going to do?" Clint's partner asks. "Give them one," Clint says. Then he drives through the front of the store, dodging a shotgun blast, and shoots all three perps. The last one is intentially shot in the crotch from behind while running away, and he falls to the floor grabbing his nuts with both hands.
Best actor sighting: We nearly went crazy trying to place the actor who plays a black militant leader and reluctant informer who helps Dirty Harry. First we thought it was Jim Brown, the great football player turned marginal actor. But it was not Jim Brown. It was what's-his-name, the guy who played the bank robber who heard the first "Do I feel lucky?" speech in the original "Dirty Harry."
The most obvious way "The Enforcer" is different from earlier Dirty Harry films is Clint has a chick for a partner. It's Tyne Daly, later of the "Cagney and Lacey" television show. Clint is appalled to receive a female partner, but she wins his respect and, it seems, affection. There is no love scene, but you get the idea they would eventually hump like otters except Tyne gets shot dead at the end. Dirty Harry looks like he wants to cry.
"Men appreciate more than killing," Andrew reflected.
Oddly enough, Clint was lauded in certain feminist quarters for "The Enforcer." The bra-burners praised him for presenting a strong female character who overcame prejudice to prove her worth as a cop and a friend. Maybe feminism is what Clint had in mind, but we sincerely doubt it.
Dirty Harry was no feminist. He was hugely popular because, regardless of race or gender, he hated no one except people who deserved hatred. And because in his perfect world injustice was always punished by, at minimum, a bullet to the testicles.
We needed a man like that in Chicago last week.
Next up: "The Gauntlet."
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Genre: Western when westerns weren't cool
Notable for: Being maybe the best Clint Eastwood movie ever
Coolest thing Clint does: Kills a lowlife bounty hunter, then spits tobacco juice on his forehead
We regret a serious delay in The Clint Eastwood Project caused by the disruption of a family vacation to the city that may best represent everything people love and hate about the United States of America: Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Gatlinburg's natural beauty, breathtaking over-commercialism, excess consumption and cheesy roadside attractions form a scene like Wisconsin Dells times five or Niagra Falls on steroids. For miles, half the businesses are Ripley's Believe it or Not museums, hillbilly-themed gift shops, and dinner theaters featuring live animals. The rest are pancake houses. Gatlinburg evidently passed a city ordinance requiring every able-bodied citizen to eat pancakes.
Every time we ventured out of that madhouse and onto the side trails in the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is profoundly beautiful, we were surprised to see almost no people.
"Where is everyone?" I asked. Andrew's theory: "They're all looking for pancakes."
Our single biggest disappointment in Gatlinburg was not the rampant over-commercialism or the widespread incidence of morbid obesity. It was the choice of exhibits in the so-called "Hollywood Wax Museum."
Andrew and I eagerly strolled through the gallery of wax figures looking for you-know-who. We figured to take each other's photograph standing next to Clint, maybe saying things like, "Go ahead, make my day."
Inexplicably, Clint was not there. The place was full of second-string Hollywood luminaries like Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson -- but no Clint. You better believe we left a sharply worded comment card in the suggestion box.
So it was a pleasure to return home and enjoy another iconic American experience known as Clint Eastwood in "The Outlaw Josey Wales," directed by Clint Eastwood.
Anyone with the slightest interest in Clint has probably already seen "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and considers it one of his best movies. If he released the exact same film today, it would be nominated (at least) for a best-picture Oscar. But he released it in 1976, when westerns were out of fashion and Clint Eastwood was not considered serious.
The basic story is Clint is a peaceful farmer who seeks bloody revenge after his wife and child are murdered during the Civil War by an irregular outfit of marauding Union sympathizers. When Mel Gibson made the same movie and set it in Scotland, he won an Oscar. That was "Braveheart." Gibson enjoyed it so much he made the same movie again, set it in colonial America, and called it "The Patriot."
Clint becomes an outlaw for refusing to make peace with the Union after the war. He is gruff and deadly, but never kills anyone except in self-defense, although sometimes it's rather eager self-defense.
Unlike most of Clint's westerns, he forms friendships with a collection of rag-tag outcasts. This is one of the first movies to treat Indian characters as real people who are interesting and even funny. Chief Dan George is superb as the "civilized" Indian who, like Clint, turns against the government because of wrongs to his family.
In the end, it is a story not just of murder and revenge. It is a story of murder, revenge and redemption. Plus great spitting!
Clint spits tobacco juice with such enthusiasm and expertise it is almost a form of dialogue. For one outstanding example, he unloads a gob on the white suit of a carpetbagger attempting to sell bottles of miracle elixir. "How is it on stains?" Clint asks.
Several more Immortal Clint Lines are sprinkled through the movie. Most notable is his classic response to a bounty hunter who says he came after Clint in order to make a living. "Dying ain't much of a living, boy," Clint says.
To summarize: Great story, great action, great spitting and classic lines. We even see a glimpse of Sondra Locke's boob and ass, although we are not sure we want to.
God bless America and God bless Clint.
Next up: "The Enforcer."
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Title: The Eiger Sanction
Genre: Spy thriller
Notable for: Clint climbs mountains
Coolest thing Clint does: Dangles (for real) on a rope off a sheer rock face
Nothing sounds much stupider than the idea of Clint Eastwood playing a mountain-climbing assassin spy. The stupidity factor explains why neither of us ever watched "The Eiger Sanction" until compelled by the noble yet absurd duty of completing The Clint Eastwood Project.
Expectations were low, but we were both pleasantly surprised.
"Definitely worth watching," Andrew says. It is a passably interesting spy story sprinkled with gratuitous female nudity, humor now very politically incorrect, and legitimately striking mountain sequences.
Forgive us for being slightly confused about whether we are supposed to take the spy stuff entirely seriously. Much of it is more like "Get Smart" than James Bond. The spy boss is a "bloodless albino" far beyond eccentric. His right-hand man is an obnoxious tool who breaks out ridiculous karate skills to fight Clint. Clint's lifelong enemy is a swishy guy with a homicidal streak and a beefy bodyguard.
The story starts with Clint, a college art-history professor, being both blackmailed and bribed out of retirement and back into the employ of a shadowy spy network. His specialty is assassination, or "sanctions." Clint is the only man for the job because he has mountain-climbing experience and one of two enemy agents to be killed is going on a expedition up the Eiger in Switzerland.
Clint's character is somewhat urbane and very jaded. He has disdain for his students, his spy network and even his country. In his assassin's view, America conducts itself no better than its enemies.
We suppose his character is also intended to be hip and worldly because he enjoys interracial love and his nemesis is a gay guy played by Jack Cassidy. The hipness falls flat but we laughed at the jokes because they are full of stereotypes no one would put on film now. Cassidy's gay character has a lapdog named "Faggot." Clint's main love interest is a "black chick" named Jemima. "Maybe your mother was turned on by pancakes," he tells her in allegedly flirty banter. He also has sex with a Native American girl who never says a word, as if the white fathers have not taught her their tongue. Clint himself puts on a stereotypical "cupcake" lisp as a disguise in one scene. We gather it was considered a hoot just to see Clint pretend to be gay.
Clint, as director and lead actor, was mostly interested in the mountain-climbing stuff. That's what makes the movie.
His character works to get back into mountaineering shape by looking up an old friend who runs a mountain-climbing school in the desert. The old friend is played by George Kennedy in his second Eastwood film in a row. For another return appearances, this is the third film in a row that shows Clint drinking Olympia beer. Malpaso must have had a product-placement deal with Olympia, because no one liked that beer that much.
Conveniently, Kennedy's mountain-climbing school has been transformed into a resort full of beautiful young women do nothing but lounge around in bikinis. Clint's trainer is the Native American girl who can run like the wind up mountains. To encourage Clint to keep up, she pulls ahead and pops her top to show her boobs. So there is some great film-making here.
Twists and turns of the spy story seem of secondary importance by the time they get on the Eiger. Clint and some other actors really went up on the mountain (helped by helicopters). They shot real climbing scenes and many of their own stunts. That stuff was real: One crew member was killed an another was seriously injured by a rock slide during production.
Mountain-climbers gave the film props for authenticity, despite a couple of gaffes only an expert would notice. Expert credentials are not necessary to see that, no matter how safely the stunts were staged, Clint had balls to do it.
Any real man respects a guy with balls. It's difficult to imagine any filmmaker today doing what Clint did to make this movie.
Next up: "The Outlaw Josey Wales."
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Title: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Genre: Offbeat crime caper
Notable for: Oscar nomination for best supporting actor
Coolest thing Clint does: Blows into bank vault with 20 mm cannon
Ten minutes into the film, Andrew's friend Preston looked up from his tacos and uttered four words that must have been spoken many times by Clint Eastwood fans.
"I don't get it," the kid said.
Just when Clint seemed securely pigeon-holed as the quiet but deadly cowboy/cop, he put out a movie that is completely different. It worked because "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" is very entertaining and maybe even very good.
Here are some ways this is no regular Clint Eastwood movie: Everyone around Clint dies but he kills no one; people shoot at him repeatedly but runs instead of shooting back; as far as we know, he doesn't even have a gun; he is likable and smiles several times; by his standards, Clint has character growth and dialogue; and for maybe the first time ever, Clint plays a character who is supposed to be his real age, a Korean War veteran slightly past his prime.
Told you it was different.
It is difficult to describe the movie in any way that gives it justice. Clint basically leads a gang of robbers in an elaborate caper, but the story is punctuated by enough weird interludes that the overall flavor resembles a "Road Runner" cartoon.
At the start of the film, Clint is a soft-spoken preacher, for Christ's sake, delivering a sermon in slick-backed hair. Only a few moments are required to determine things are not as they appear. A dude walks into the church and starts shooting at the preacher. Clint runs away and flags down a passing car. It's a freshly-stolen vehicle driven by Jeff Bridges, who plays Lightfoot.
Lightfoot is, to put it mildly, a free spirit. He has a silly laugh, an abundance of self-confidence, mad driving skills and an engaging smile. A friendship and man-to-man affection develop, and Clint and Jeff become road buddies.
Clint is pursued by former colleagues who think he double-crossed them on an earlier robbery. They broke into a bank vault with a cannon, a crime famous enough that newspapers nicknamed Clint "The Thunderbolt." Loot from the robbery was hidden in a one-room schoolhouse but surviving gang members mistakenly believe Clint took it. They tracked him down when he was laying low by pretending to be a preacher.
Clint and Bridges go to the schoolhouse to get the money but discover the building is gone. It has been replaced by a new school. "Progress, I guess," Clint says.
Two surviving members of the old gang, led by a brutal mug played by George Kennedy, eventually track down Clint and Bridges. They are ready to execute them when instead the four decide to try the old robbery a second time.
An elaborate caper ensues, featuring an extended scene with Bridges in drag. The robbery appears to be a success, but it unravels quickly. One robber is shot by cops. Kennedy decides to take the money himself, but first he knocks Clint unconscious and gives Bridges a savage beating. Kennedy ends up being eaten by a dog, which seems fair.
Luck turns better for Clint and Bridges when they happen upon the old schoolhouse and find it still contains money from the first robbery. The school was not torn down, as they assumed, but moved to become a historical museum.
A happy ending is not in the cards.
Bridges is still messed up from the beating given by George Kennedy. Trying to smoke a victory cigar in the front seat of a Cadillac convertible, Bridges starts speaking to Clint with half of his face, like a stroke victim. He dies right there in the Caddy. Clint throws away the cigar and drives on.
"That was incredibly sad," Andrew said.
Clint brought the star-power to the billing but it is impossible to watch the film and think of him as the main man. Other actors, including two previous and future Oscar winners, were more compelling. Kennedy was great playing the dangerous guy. Bridges received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his kick-ass portrayal of Lightfoot. He lost out to Robert DeNiro in "Godfather II," so we won't argue with the academy on that call. Brief and quirky appearances by character actors like Dub Tayor and the guy who played the "Squeal Like a Pig" rapist in "Deliverance" make a big impression.
If Clint consciously allowed other actors to outshine him, he deserves credit. That's something few mega-stars do.
A real man does not allow himself to be pigeon-holed. Clint, in his later films, made that obvious. Now we get it.
Next up: "The Eiger Sanction."
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Title: Magnum Force
Genre: Cop versus cop
Notable for: First of one too many "Dirty Harry" sequels
Coolest thing Clint does: Girl: "What does a girl have to do to go to bed with you?" Clint: "Try knocking on the door."
Right in the middle of watching the return of Dirty Harry Callahan in "Magnum Force," we were struck by a crisis of masculine obligations.
Candace, Brad's wife and Andrew's mother, came home, walked in the door and said, "Help."
The manly code says we are obligated to assist a woman who asks for help. But, for God's sake, Dirty Harry was on a rampage. Brad looked up from the screen. "Did you say help?" he asked. "Yes," she said, "there's something wrong with my car!"
Damn. Car trouble. The final holdover of what used to be called man stuff. Brad ran to the garage but Andrew kept watching "Magnum Force." He did not even hit the pause button out of courtesy. He knows the code well. You have to assist a woman in need, but not if someone else does first.
Less than two minutes passed before Brad returned, having fulfilled the age-old obligation of opening the hood and peering inside. "Your serpentine belt came off," he told Candace. "Did I miss any killings or boobs?" he asked Andrew.
Thus all laws of gender relations were fulfilled. Sometimes it's hard to be a man.
"Magnum Force" features the return of Dirty Harry without bothering to mention how Harry is a cop again. Clint threw his badge into a pond at the end of the first movie, before anyone realized a spree of sequels was coming.
Oh, well. Clint's fans didn't care and we don't either. "Magnum Force" is, again, a fast-paced series of unlikely action sequences but with a higher body count and more gratuitous nudity than the original. One walk-on homicide victim is a bimbo who takes off her bikini top at a pool party moments before she is blown away by the bad guys. Nice screenwriting there.
The story is pretty simple. A bunch of gangsters and lowlifes are blown away by motorcycle cops, and Clint uncovers a death squad of young hot-shots operating within the San Francisco Police Department. The only real surprise is his that Hal Holbrook, Clint's by-the-book superior officer, turns out to be the ring-leader.
The cast is full of future semi-stars including Robert Urich (Spenser: For Hire), David Soul (Hutch), and Tim Matheson. No matter how well Matheson played a killer cop, we could not look at him without seeing Otter from "Animal House," a movie made five years later. Toga!
Early in the original "Dirty Harry," Clint thwarts a bank robbery while eating a hot dog. In "Magnum Force," he thwarts an airplane hijacking while eating a hamburger. Both movies climax with a chase-slash-showdown in some sort of mining facility. "Magnum Force" also appears to try giving Clint a cool catch phrase. "A man's got to know his limitations" lacks the charm of "Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?"
Despite that, "Magnum Force" clearly was intended to be different than the original. It tried, somewhat awkwardly, to put to rest the criticism that "Dirty Harry" was a fascist.
A death squad within the police department, as any fool can see, now those are some real fascists. And Harry fought them to the death. He turns down an invitation to join the death squad. "I am afraid you've misjudged me," Clint says to the bad guy on screen and to movie critics in the audience.
This stuff eventually produces what may be the longest and most ham-handed line Dirty Harry ever utters.
"I hate the goddam system," Clint tells Hal Holbrook. "But until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick with it."
It seems silly that Clint felt the need to make sure everyone knows Dirty Harry is a true-blue American. But we guess he had his own manly obligations. When people call a guy a fascist, he must to do something to shut them up.
Next up: "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Title: High Plains Drifter
Genre: Western ghost story
Notable for: Clint's first time directing a western
Coolest thing Clint does: Blasts three assholes from a barber chair
John Wayne was so disturbed by "High Plains Drifter" he sent a letter to Clint Eastwood complaining that the real west was nothing like the eerie and cruel place depicted in this movie. The real west was full of good people who pulled together to tame a wilderness, Wayne said. They were not cutthroats and cowards with no sense of decency.
To which we say: Who the hell cares?
"High Plains Drifter" was released when Brad was the same age Andrew is now. It immediately became his favorite Clint Eastwood movie and he is not sure that has ever changed. Andrew, for once, does not argue with his father on this point. "It's damn good," he says.
For starters, Clint's distinguished career of threatening grimaces, squints and low growls may have peaked in this film. He speaks every line in a menacing, hoarse half-whisper. No one messes with him without paying dearly. He humiliates, kills and rapes.
If we didn't like that stuff, this blog might be called "The Julie Andrews Project."
The thing John Wayne evidently could not appreciate is that Clint, who directed, did not try to make a story about the real West.
Our Netflix envelope credits "High Plains Drifter" for "existentialism." We're not exactly sure what that means, and we're too lazy to look it up. But we know Clint did a masterful job of using bleak visual images and eerie music to enhance a nightmarish and other-worldly story.
The film begins with Clint riding into a dreary town called Lago. He needs only a few minutes to kill three men who deserve it and rape a woman who likes it. We're pretty sure the rape scene -- or at least the part about the woman enjoying it -- would be too offensive to use in a movie today. But what are you going to do? This was made in 1973, not today.
Weird stuff begins right away. Clint, the ultimate mysterious stranger who will not tell anyone his name, has a dream about a man being whipped in a dusty street. It turns out the whole town has a dirty secret. Everyone stood by and watched as a former sheriff was whipped to death by goons hired by the local mining company.
The sheriff, in flashbacks, looks up through his dying eye at townspeople who do not lift a finger to help and says, "Damn you to hell." That's foreshadowing!
Town residents hire Clint to protect them from three desperadoes about to be released from territorial prison. These are the same three guys who whipped the sheriff to death. For some reason never made plain, the town framed all three on a robbery charge and now the killers want revenge.
Clint accepts the job on the condition that the town must give him anything he wants. He plunders the wares of merchants and makes a midget sheriff and mayor. He orders residents to paint every building bright red and renames the town Hell. He installs a banner welcoming the killers home and sets up a big table as if throwing a party.
At the end, Clint kills all three bad guys as the town burns down. Hell, indeed. As the last scumbag dies, he yells at Clint, "Who are you?"
That question is still treated with remarkable uncertainty. Richard Schickel, who has written extensively about Clint, contends his character's identity in "High Plains Drifter" remains a mystery. The New York Times overview (brace yourself, liberals) starts off by misquoting the ending of the film in a way that makes it more ambiguous.
Come on experts, this is no mystery.
In one scene, a woman says the murdered sheriff was buried in an unmarked grave. "They say the dead don't rest without a marker of some kind," she says.
In the final scene, the midget carves a grave marker.
"I never did know your name," he tells Clint. "Yes, you do," Clint says.
Then the camera focuses on the name on the grave marker. It's the name of the murdered sheriff. Clint rides away and literally disappears in the haze.
Those clues are obvious, not subtle. Clint is the ghost of the dead sheriff, come to bring justice to both the men who killed him and the town that let it happen.
It is a great film with the ultimate manly message that no bad deed goes unpunished. If John Wayne did not like it, that was his loss.
Next up: "Magnum Force."
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Title: Joe Kidd
Genre: Bloody-justice western
Notable for: Clint versus Robert Duvall in death struggle
Coolest thing Clint does: Too many to choose just one
Any male who enjoyed Clint Eastwood back in the days when his films were still more likely to feature apes than win Oscars must be a male who likes "Joe Kidd."
We imagine that during the creative process everyone got together and said, "Hey! Screw Elmore Leonard's script! Why don't we make a Clint Eastwood movie with lots of Clint Eastwood stuff that all Clint Eastwood fans will love!"
The result is a western with a loathsome villain played marvelously by Robert Duvall and Clint as a hero who knows how to do everything and is afraid of nothing.
The story is secondary to a string of what people now call "Clint Eastwood moments." Clint bashes a pan into a guy's face, he shoots a scumbag with a shotgun without looking up from his beer, he make an immediate move for Duvall's pet whore, he opens the door of a mission tower just at the right moment to make a bad guy fall to his death, he bashes another bad guy by swinging a clay pot from the tower, he single-handedly stops the execution of five innocent people, he plugs a guy with one shot from a long-range sniper rifle, he drives a train into a bar and opens fire, he blows Duvall away with a slight trace of a smile and he belts the town marshall in the jaw.
Reviewers were not impressed but we are incapable of disliking a film like that.
The film starts with Clint, dressed in funny-looking city dude clothes, in jail for small stuff -- poaching, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Taken to court, he chooses 10 days in jail over a $10 fine.
Quickly it is revealed that Clint is no city dude. He is a man with (as usual) a dangerous and somewhat mysterious past.
Duvall, a rich cattle baron, rides into town with a gang of homicidal psychopaths to hunt down and murder Luis Chama, rabble-rouser for Mexican property rights. Duvall knows Clint was once an expert man-hunter, whatever that means. He bails Clint out of jail and hires him to help track down Chama.
Clint first refuses, saying, "I haven't got anything against Luis Chama." He changes his mind when Chama's men mess with Clint's own ranch.
Quickly it becomes clear that Duvall is the real villain, not Chama. Duvall is a prick who orders everyone around, including hotel keepers and the town marshall. One great touch is the way Duvall consistently mispronounces Chama's name. Either intentionally or ignorantly, he's so arrogant he fails to know his enemy.
Duvall's role in "Joe Kidd" is not the most famous in his career, or even the year 1972. But he is an actor who always plays one great cowboy.
Once he believes he has the upper hand on Chama, Duvall double-crosses Clint and takes him captive. This is a major mistake.
Clint eventually kills all the bad guys and convinces Chama to give himself up, trusting the courts to settle his land grievances.
Leaving aside some highly unlikely action sequences -- like the train that just happens to be all warmed up and empty, sitting in a spot where the tracks just happen to end outside a bar where the bad guys hang out, and Clint just happens to know how to drive a train -- the plot takes some dumb twists to make Clint a supporter of Mexican land rights.
Duvall inexplicably "fires" Clint and takes him captive even though he knows he is a dangerous man. We can imagine Duvall might try to screw him on money later, but his character is arrogant, not stupid. He would not make Clint an active enemy before the killing is finished.
It makes even less sense when Clint urges Chama to give himself up and fight his case in court. Clint was in jail at the start of the movie for attempting to piss on the courthouse. He does not seem to be a man with great faith in the justice system.
Oh well. The Clint Eastwood moments are what make the film.
Note to Clint's people: Eastwood has made several sequels in his career, but never a sequel to one of his westerns. It's not too late, dudes.
Josey Wales would make a good sequel but Joe Kidd would be better. That character is less defined, thus more flexible. Joe Kidd's time had mostly passed when the original film was made. His man-hunting days were over and he was trying, with mixed success, to fit into a more civilized society. Today Clint could play Joe Kidd in about 1930, trying to cope with a completely changed world. The possibilities are rich.
Just a thought.
The manly appeal of "Joe Kidd" is obvious. Clint can take charge of any situation without fear and with certain success. No one is like that in real life, but it is fun to imagine. This the distilled essence of Clint's appeal to male audiences. No one ever needs to tell him to man up.
Next up: "High Plains Drifter."