Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Joe Kidd:" The power of Clint Eastwood moments

Title: Joe Kidd
Released: 1972
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."

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