Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Honkytonk Man:" What happens when Clint tries a tear-jerker

Title: Honkytonk Man
Released: 1982
Genre: "Grapes of Wrath" meets "Tender Mercies"
Notable for: Clint co-stars with son Kyle
Coolest thing Clint does: Robs a poker game to collect a debt

Spoiler alert! Clint dies at the end of "Honkytonk Man."

We mention that dramatic fact because it caused semi-scholarly interest as we watched Clint cough blood from lungs ravaged by tuberculosis.

"Has Clint ever died in a movie before?" Andrew asked. We have watched his first 38 films and our limited brainpower could not remember a single one in which his character dies.

Question: Could that lack of death scenes possibly be correct? Answer: Almost.

Combing the archives of The Clint Eastwood Project, we discovered just one forgotten death scene. Clint's character was murdered by sex-crazed schoolgirls in the weird 1971 movie "The Beguiled."

"Escape From Alcatraz" was fuzzy on whether Clint lived or died but certainly did not kill him off. "High Plains Drifter" had a death scene but that was a flashback. Clint played a ghost who remembered his murder. (Sez us, that's who.)

Not until "Honkytonk Man" did Clint ever go for a tear-jerker death. Once again, he was obviously trying new things as a movie star who just turned 50.

"Honkytonk Man" starts as a comedy set in the Great Depression. Clint plays a drunken small-time country music singer who relies on petty larceny to pay the bills.

The story revolves around his opportunity to make it big with an audition at the Grand Ol' Opry. Predictably, he sings in this movie and the results are not highly pleasing to the ears. Marty Robbins must rescue the title song from Clint's vocal stylings.

Mostly, it's a story about man-and-boy buddies on the road. The boy is played by Clint's real-life son, Kyle Eastwood, who was 14. Kyle plays Clint's nephew, whose parents inexplicably send him with Clint on the road trip from dusty Oklahoma to the big audition in Nashville.

Clint's idea of providing guidance to Kyle's character should have sent the poor kid to reform school. Under Clint's influence, Kyle screws a whore, drinks whisky, steals chickens, breaks Clint out of jail, gets accidentally stoned on weed and helps rob a poker game.

On the road to Nashville, the story turns more to tragedy as we realize Clint is deathly sick with tuberculosis. Hey, at least it provides some excuse for his singing voice. By the time he reaches the Opry, everyone knows Clint will die soon, but he insists on making some records.

Then he croaks. After the funeral, one of his records plays on the radio. So he made it big after all, we guess.

Tears were not successfully jerked from our eyes, but that's good. We don't like that kind of crap.

To our surprise, we both enjoyed "Honkytonk Man" quite a bit. Clint was appealing as the rogue with a heart of gold. Well, maybe not gold but some minor semi-precious metal. Kyle Eastwood did a creditable acting job for an amateur.

Judging from the slogan on the poster, this movie is largely about Clint teaching Kyle to be a man. Being a man means following your dream no matter how high the cost. Or maybe it means getting drunk every day and finding whores. We're not sure which Clint had in mind.

Next up: "Sudden Impact."

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