Wednesday, September 1, 2010
"The Outlaw Josey Wales:" An American icon without pancakes
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."