Friday, May 21, 2010

"Paint Your Wagon" and the pitfalls of respectability

Title: Paint Your Wagon
Released: 1969
Genre: Indescribable musical mish-mash
Notable for: Clint sings (too often)
Clint's subliminal message: "Surprise! No one expected this."

Breaking tradition, Andrew invited two 16-year-old friends, Cole and Preston, to participate in The Clint Eastwood Project for additional male perspective.

"But," Brad said shamefully, "we're watching 'Paint Your Wagon.'"

"God, no!" Andrew moaned. "Cole has never seen any Clint Eastwood movie. He'll think we have vaginas."

Rarely is any film so universally ridiculed as this bloated musical.

Clint sings and plays kind of a weenie. The story is idiotic. The singing is worse than second-rate. The film is quasi-legendary as a big-budget flop plagued by troubled production. The project was such a disaster the director, Tony-winner Joshua Logan, never directed another movie.

"Uhhhgg," we groaned every time a new song started. "What kind of movie is this?" Preston asked.

It is a movie that goes on far too long at 2 hours and 44 minutes. It has too many songs with no value. Lee Marvin's singing is so horrible Clint sounds OK by comparison.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the final credits. Against all odds, it held our attention.

Clint and Lee Marvin are partners in a vice-filled gold-rush town. They share a woman who is "married" to both of them and sleeps with them on alternate nights. Between that nonsense, songs appear for no reason. Clint sings four songs, most disgracefully an insipid ditty called "I Talk to the Trees."

But the movie improved toward the end, which was an admittedly long wait. It had fewer songs and more of a humorous male-pig spirit. It is impossible to dislike a scene where a town meeting ends with a rollicking cry of, "All in favor of bringing prostitution to town say aye!" Plus Cole surprised us with a real talent for anticipating song lyrics and lip-syncing with a Broadway flair.

To the extent this film has a message, it says respectability is overrated. The few respectable characters, like a preacher and an upright farmer, are buffoons. Everyone who drinks, gambles, whores around and shares a wife is likable.

Respectability is the only explanation for why Clint signed up for a movie like this. It was the second of three big Hollywood productions he made in a row, which seems like a play for mainstream respect.

Clint himself later said making "Paint Your Wagon" was so disturbing the experience convinced him he wanted to direct movies so he could call the shots.

A real man prefers to do things as he sees fit, and that's respectable enough.

Next up: "Kelly's Heroes."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Where Eagles Dare" and the difference between an ass and a bad-ass

Title: Where Eagles Dare
Released: 1969
Genre: World War II action-adventure
Notable for: Pairing Clint with Richard Burton
Clint's subliminal message: "Me like explosions."

Clint Eastwood must have felt like he finally made it big when he was cast in "Where Eagles Dare." Everything about the film is big in a Hollywood way. That's good and bad.

First and foremost, this is a big-budget World War II story that features Clint in a secondary role behind Richard Burton. No one at the time knew Burton's career was about to start a steep decline, so he was still regarded as one of the leading actors of his generation. Clint has a backup role with the primary dramatic function of killing Nazis by the dozen. The movie is chock full of expensive looking stunts and what we suppose are primitive special effects. It is shot on location and has lots of mountain scenery.

Now for the bad: The movie is too long, the plot twists are meant to be impressively intricate but often get in the way of the action, and parts of the story are damn silly.

The film centers around an allied spy team sent to infiltrate a Nazi mountain stronghold accessible only by cable car. Their mission is to rescue a captured American general. It's a British operation but for reasons not explained until the end (and not explained very convincingly then) Clint tags along as the lone American.

Viewers do not need much time to figure out there is a hidden story. The captured American general turns out to be a phony. The entire mission is really an elaborate ruse to flush out German double-agents within the British spy network.

Weak points are easy to spot. For one, the Brits would find simpler ways to root out German spies. For another, Burton looks too old and booze-bloated to do half the things he does. A third point that particularly irritated us: Everyone on the mission was chosen because they speak fluent German — but no one ever speaks German. Not even the Germans speak German. They speak English with German accents. It's like "Hogan's Heroes."

So what? It's still a good movie. It's worth watching for the explosions and body count alone.

Burton and Eastwood must have parachuted into Bavaria with about 4,000 pounds of dynamite because they blow up everything in sight. It is extremely impressive and totally impossible. Clint single-handedly kills so many Nazis he ends up looking like a comic-book commando. Which is fine by us.

Nazi-killing was a hallowed Hollywood tradition by 1968, so Clint could get away with it. But someone ought to note critics hated his spaghetti westerns for being too violent but he killed far more people here in a mainstream Hollywood hit.

Published biographies say Clint learned an important lesson from "Where Eagles Dare."

Burton allegedly gave Clint a good idea of how he never wanted to behave as a movie star. Burton and Eastwood reportedly got along OK but Clint was appalled by Burton's drinking binges, his entourage (including Elizabeth Taylor, whom we hope Clint bedded) and other annoying trappings of a big ego. We get the impression Clint thought Burton acted like an asshole.

A real man does not have to be an asshole to be a bad-ass. Clint knows that, onscreen and off.

Next up: "Paint Your Wagon."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Coogan's Bluff" and the value of audacious action

Title: Coogan's Bluff
Released: 1968
Genre: Country cop in the big city
Notable for: Clint's first starring role in a modern, urban setting
Clint's subliminal message: "Every lady wants to bop me."

Eastwood's first cop movie was so riveting Andrew fell asleep during "Coogan's Bluff." Twice.

Brad shook him awake and called him vile names, but his heart was not in the abuse. This week Andrew is revered as The Great Raccoon Banisher.

The Raccoon Scare of 2010 happened on April 30, when Brad was out of town for a weekend of drink, depravity and leering at cleavage at the Kentucky Derby. When he arrived home on May 2, his wife explained the trauma endured in his absence.

A raccoon strolled down the chimney and promptly delivered three offspring. Thus a new generation arrived to continue the raccoon tradition of eating garbage and spreading rabies. The women of the house screamed and swooned.

Andrew did the stupidest thing ever. He went to the garage and grabbed the leaf blower. The leaf blower?

He turned on the machine and blew air and noise up the chimney. It was so stupid it worked. The mother raccoon ran out and the babies were removed by hand.

This display of cunning saved $300, which is what pest-removal guys charge around here. Three hundred goddam dollars buys a kid the right to nap during a movie.

"Coogan's Bluff" seems a little bit like a made-for-television movie from the late 1960s. And for good reason. That's exactly how the project started. Someone decided the story would make a good feature film for Clint Eastwood, so they tossed some sex and a few naked breasts into the script.

Clint plays a cop from Arizona sent to New York City to bring back a fugitive. He does a good job in the role and the movie is not exactly bad. But the basic plot is entirely predictable from the moment Clint lands in New York. We know the New York cops will assume he's an idiot from the sticks. We also know Clint will eventually show up those city slickers and maybe win their grudging respect. We know Clint will encounter difficulties with the fugitive but eventually get his man.

Two flaws do not stand up well over time.

First, the bad guys are ridiculous hippie street thugs of a sort that almost certainly never existed. This leads to plenty of supposedly humorous situations where the country cop from Arizona comes face-to-face with 1960s counterculture as imagined (in a comic-book sort of way) by Hollywood guys well past 30. It's dated, dumb and not funny now.

Second, everywhere Clint goes women want to hump him even though he lies to them and pushes them around. If that seemed feasible in 1968, it does not in 2010.

There are a couple good action sequences and the movie foreshadows "Dirty Harry" in the way Clint catches the bad guy. He takes audacious action -- lying, stealing information, roughing up a woman -- that is beyond the New York cops and their wimpy rules.

That is the lesson of manhood here: If you want to get the job done, don't be afraid to try bold action.

Be bold. Grab life by the leaf blower.

Next up: "Where Eagles Dare."