Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Gauntlet:" Clint laughs with his fans, not at them (we think)

Title: The Gauntlet
Released: 1977
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
Released: 1976
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

"The Outlaw Josey Wales:" An American icon without pancakes

Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Released: 1976
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."