Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Every Which Way But Loose:" Nice guys make smash hits

Title: Every Which Way But Loose
Released: 1978
Genre: Redneck flavored fun
Notable for: Clint co-stars with an ape
Coolest thing Clint does: Never loses a fight unless he wants to

People who compliment Clint on his late-life brush with serious critical acclaim frequently do so by insulting "Every Which Way But Loose."

"Eastwood has sure come a long way from the days when he made movies with monkeys," they say.

We understand their point.

On the surface, "Every Which Way But Loose" must be one of the stupidest movies ever made, and it contains the hideous spectacle of Sondra Locke singing country music.

Clint's character, named Philo Beddoe, is presented as a blue-collar guy, but that's not really correct. Blue-collar guys have jobs. Philo spends his time working on cars in his yard, which is strewn with junk. He makes money betting on himself in bare-knuckle fights staged for wagering purposes. Where we're from, that sort of guy would be called "white trash," not blue collar.

Philo's lifestyle is based on the strange premise that street-corner prize fights are a common American tradition. Every town in the movie has a local champ and a bunch of working-class guys who are ready to gather to bet on a fight. Everyone has heard of Tank Murdock, an unbeatable brawler from Denver.

There is no coherent storyline, so the movie rests on oddball characters and memorable scenes.

Clyde, an orangutan, is Clint's buddy more than his pet. Clyde drinks beer, makes obscene hand gestures and is otherwise incorrigible. Ruth Gordon, who was 82 at the time, played a highly cranky old lady obsessed with getting a driver's license. Miss Gordon's talents were considerable but hearing an old lady say "goddamn" and "horse shit" is not nearly as hilarious in 2010 as it evidently seemed in 1978.

As for plot, there's not much.

Clint meets Sondra Locke, falls for her, she disappears and he drives off in his truck looking for her. Along the way, he makes enemies of the world's goofiest gang of swastika-wearing motorcycle riders and two inept cops. Bent on revenge, both the cops and the bikers follow Clint and Clyde as they follow Locke. Country music bars and singers are frequently encountered to keep the redneck charm flowing. At the end, Clint fights the legendary Tank Murdock, as if the whole movie led up to that climax, which it most certainly does not.

The worse flaw is Clint's inexplicable infatuation with Locke. Her character is, in a word, repulsive. She is selfish, bitchy, annoying, and her costuming while singing onstage in country-music bars seems designed to emphasize that she has the breasts of small boy.

Even the trailer for the movie -- conveniently posted above for your pleasure -- acknowledges that the story is absurd. "It's no joke," the narrator says. "It's Eastwood as you've never seen him before."

Andrew said it better: "A street fighter who has a pet orangutan falls in love with a traveling country music singer, who leaves him while he is chased by bumbling neo-Nazi bikers? What screenwriter could think anyone might buy that script?"

Despite all those flaws, "Every Which Way But Loose" was one of Clint's most popular movies. And it is still fun to watch.

Here's the best explanation for the popularity: For the first time in his career, Clint played a thoroughly likable character and audiences were ready to like him. Philo Beddoe is a good fighter, sure, but not a mean one. He's a nice, average guy looking for happiness in a world full of oddballs and apes.

And, what the hell, it's still a little funny to hear an old lady say off-color things. Look at Betty White.

Nice guys don't always finish last, eh, Clint?

Next up: "Escape from Alcatraz."

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