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."


  1. Nice to have you back.

    Due to problems with my Blogger account, I have been unable to post comments on The Clint Eastwood Project, so I will catch up a bit after I go into my canned, posted elsewhere on the Web, "Why I like Clint Eastwood and think he is the baddest ass on the planet." spiel:

    – From the first minute of A Fistful Of Dollars, I was transfixed. Clint Eastwood immediately made the John Waynes of the world obsolete. Sergio Leone redefined a dying genre, Eastwood redefined the American hero. For better or worse, my twelve year old psyche found what it had been missing in most of the formulaic, sanitized action stars of the mid-sixties: a hero (or antihero) who kicked ass without apologies or pious morality. And, oh yeah, he looked pretty cool doing it.–

    I have to mention in response to your review that The Good The Bad And The Ugly is the best movie ever committed to celluloid. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with it. It is perfect in every way, I wouldn't block out three and a half hours of my life every year to re-watch it if it wasn't. (And don't get me started on the best shootout in movie Western history!)

    Blondie left Tuco in the desert simply, I suspect, because he was sick of the constant bitching. I'm quite sure of this because by that point in the movie, I was sick of it too. Now, if it had been a woman doing the constant bitching, he might have been going overboard a little. This is the one case where Bros before Hoes does NOT apply.

    See, were talking "GOOD" in relative terms here.

    Blondie's remark on the futility of war was a natural point to make, given that he had a front row seat to the carnage and nothing better to do in the meantime. Although the Civil War was not the point of the film, I thought it made for an interesting backdrop to the movie. According to some knowledgeable people, Sergio Leone's attention to period detail was very, very good. It also gave more weight to Tuco's story arc involving his brother, the priest.

    The Good The Bad And The Ugly is simply, the Citizen Kane of spaghetti westerns, and for me the bestest movie ever.

    The American critics were scathing in their reviews of the Leone Trilogy, constantly bemoaning the fact that Clint was a vile, remorseless thug. Only in comparing these films to their sanitized contemporaries of the day, could they make this comparison, and those sanitized contemporaries of the day are irrelevant in my (our?) book anyway. If they were, you might be well into your "Wagon Train Project" by now.

    Anyone doing an actual body count in any of these movies (or most of Eastwood's work of that period) will find that no one got shot unless they deserved it. Or as Dirty Harry Callahan hisself once observed "Nothing wrong with shootin' as long as the right people get shot."

    Richard Burton gave, I think, the best description of Clint Eastwood's acting style and persona: "He has a dynamic lethargy; he appears to be doing nothing, when in fact he is doing everything." This from one of the great Shakespearian actors of the day.

    I hope you don't think me contentious for the sake of contention; we really agree on most everything else, the mere fact that you have taken on this worthy cause, makes you aces in my book. It is, in fact, one of the highlights of my week; which gives you a pretty good idea of what an average week in my life is like.

    I am with you to the bitter end and I don't mean The Bridges of Madison County (which I actually liked!).

  2. I just came across this blog - fantastic. My favourite line in The Outlaw Josey Wales is when they ride off without burying the bad guys Clint has just shot: 'Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms'.

  3. Missouri boat ride. Shame more movies not made like this. Few and far between.
    The tobacco spit and simple line, How's it with stains, was epic.