Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

 

It’s been over a year since I updated this page.  A lot has happened.  I’d love to say I’ve been doing all my writing over at Daily Grindhouse, but the truth is, I haven’t done all that much writing in the past couple years. Trying mighty hard to change that. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get up in the morning and go to work and be there for my family and do the bare minimum required of me as a human being. It’s been that kind of a stretch. But there have been several things I’ve written at Daily Grindhouse and even a couple other places, so I’ll get back on track about sharing them here.

 

First, I’ll post my reflection on the movie MANDY, which I ran on Daily Grindhouse today. I saw the movie on my birthday, September 16th, and then again two more times on the small screen over the past two months before I was finally ready to write anything. Now I did, and it’s the one thing I’ve done in quite a while that I feel remotely satisfied with. I said what I wanted to say. Now I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

 

At best and at worst, movies serve as emotional prisms. Movies aren’t just stories, aren’t just artwork, aren’t just moving pictures with music. Movies are the baggage that we bring to them. A movie like MANDY, all baroque flourishes and deliberate broad strokes, is particularly revealing in the way it refracts its audience, splitting light in all sorts of directions. MANDY has been rapturously received by several. That’s an authentic reaction. But MANDY may not work for others, and they’re not wrong either. They can’t be. I’ve seen MANDY three times now and while I fall far more on the side of affection for it, even still, I’ve felt a little differently about it each time. How can that be? Some movies — maybe all — have a lot to do with the people watching them. A person’s reaction to a movie can and will vary, depending on whichever self shows up at in front of the screen on that day, at that time, in that exact moment.

 

The plot of MANDY is easily described, by design. A lumberjack named Red, when not working, lives a hermetic but harmonious existence with his girlfriend Mandy in the mountains of eastern California, an existence that is upended by the arrival of a would-be prophet named Jeremiah Sand, who becomes fascinated with Mandy and orders his acolytes to abduct her. When she rejects him, Sand murders Mandy horribly and grotesquely in full view of Red, which sets Red off on the bloody road to revenge.

 

With a storyline that elemental, the specifics are all in the presentation. That’s why the mileage varies so wildly.

 

The movie announces itself more like a 1970s rock record than a movie. In crimson, uncredited words appear on the screen, underscored by an electric-guitar overture: “When I die Bury me deep Lay two speakers at my feet Wrap some headphones Around my head And rock and roll me When I’m dead.” It took a little digging for me to find the source of that quote. Sure sounds like something a frontman might yell out to an arena while looking out at the tiny flames of a dozen-thousand cigarette lighters. But that’s not the source. Those were the last words of a murderer, just before he was executed for his crimes. In reality, in Texas, in 2005. So this florid, subjective, surreal film is grounded in a very distinct, very bleak place, though that would surely be lost on at least 99% of any audience, as it was on me.

 

The music opening MANDY is “Starless” by King Crimson, again placing this film musically and tonally somewhere between prog-rock and heavy metal. The visual world of MANDY opens as Red is completing a logging job, with a notably processed shot of a thick tree falling as Red turns from it to head to the helicopter airlifting him off-site. Red is a smoker. He tosses his cigarette away. He wears a baseball jersey with the number 44 on it. Shirts are important in this film. Inside the helicopter, a colleague offers Red a flask, but Red waves it away. Immediately that’s a detail that registers.

 

 

Mandy is introduced lips-first, as she takes a smoke. Her face is introduced alongside her painted artwork, currently in process. Red arrives home, turning off a radio playing a Reagan speech which pins the timeframe of this story in the early 1980s. A stylized, sparkling blue title card announces this is happening around the Shadow Mountains, ‘circa 1983.’ The Shadow Mountains are a real place which may sound like the name of a prog-rock or metal track title. When he enters the house, Red announces himself to Mandy with a knock-knock joke with no real punchline. He’s played by Nicolas Cage, instantly recognizable as such. Mandy is played by Andrea Riseborough, less world-famous, sure, but still a prominent talent, who here is unrecognizable by contrast. She shows him the painting she’s been working on, and he’s impressed, though not particularly articulate about it.

 

The scene shifts to the middle of the night, with a bluish glow reminiscent of the scene-setting title card. Red and Mandy lie together in bed, not sexually but intimately, talking of space and of the Marvel character Galactus. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb, already flush with color, takes on a new glow here — the movie is already parting from reality long before any of the characters partake in mind-altering substances. In the morning, Mandy wakes to the sound of an unidentifiable animal. She goes out to the woods alone, where she finds a dead fawn. Was this the source of the sound, or the result of it? Either way, Mandy sheds a tear. That night, she shares with Red a troubling story about starlings from her childhood. Between small birds and small deer, Mandy appears to empathize with the peaceful creatures of the world. She identifies with the animals who are often prey. At the end of her story, Red says only, “Oh baby, come here,” and embraces her. It’s notable that what little personal background we get of these characters comes all on the side of Mandy. We don’t know anything of Red’s past, save one detail from which we can infer plenty.

 

 

Mandy goes for a walk and a smoke along a mountain road, which is where she encounters the van driven by Jeremiah Sand’s Children Of The New Dawn. The scene is filtered red, and everyone inside the van appears to be varying degrees of stoned. The heretofore idyllic score by Jóhann Jóhannsson turns malevolent. The screen freezes on Mandy’s face as she passes the van and her eyes meet Sand’s, in a stylish flourish that could just as well have come from an early Tobe Hooper film.

 

The narrative is hijacked here by the movie’s villain, a la PSYCHO or MANHUNTER, and not just the narrative, but the filmmaking style itself. In an interview with Rue MorgueMANDY director Panos Cosmatos reveals Linus Roache was not the first choice for Sand. In fact, he was thinking of Nicolas Cage. For sure, Jeremiah Sand is a role anyone can imagine Cage playing, with relish. Cage would not be the obvious choice for a taciturn character like Red, and likewise, Linus Roache, a fine actor, is not who any genre fan would have expected to play a deranged cult leader. In some ways, his performance is the boldest and most inarguably creditable aspect of the film. Roache invests the role with exactly the level of histrionic high-low ferociousness that Cage would have done, and he’s excellent.

 

Sand sends his henchmen after Mandy. One of them, Mother Marlene, played by Irish stage actress Olwen Fouéré, first approaches Mandy at the convenience store where she works, posing as a friendly customer. Mandy mentions she lives “up by Crystal Lake,” the naming of which cannot be a coincidence in a film like this one. Meanwhile, another henchman, Brother Swan (also played by an Irish actor little known to American audiences, Ned Dennehy), uses an instrument called the Horn Of Abraxas to summon up fearsome figures from deep in the woods, who resemble something that could have resulted from a collaboration between George Miller and Clive Barker. These men are the Black Skulls, and the first time I saw this movie, it didn’t even occur to me that these characters WEREN’T supernatural in origin, which I think is probably the point. If MANDY is a film that exists apart from reality as we perceive it, the Black Skulls, whose closest cinematic precedents are the Gimp from PULP FICTION and the Plague in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, feel like they exist from a reality even apart from MANDY, if that makes sense. They arrive by sound first, monstrous, and pull up on motorcycles and ATVs. Their faces are masked in leather and they snarl inaudibly. Brother Swan is visibly terrified by them. The Black Skulls accept a human sacrifice, taking one of Sand’s more expendable followers with them for undisclosed purposes, before proceeding to siege and befoul Mandy and Red’s sanctuary of a home.

 

The abduction is a horror-movie scene, and a violation of the sanctity of the three-act structure to boot. The movie’s inciting incident comes at the midpoint, if not precisely then intuitively. This disregard for convention, the kind of convention that is traditionally comforting, I think is the main reason some people are turned off to MANDY. Others call it pretentious, or predictable, and while I can’t disagree, I perceive a sincerity in the making of this film that allows me to buy into it whole-heartedly.

 

From here, the film takes a hyperdrive warp into psychedelia, as Mother Marlene “prepares” Mandy for Sand by dosing her with a sting from a [noticeably fake-looking] giant wasp. As Mandy reels from the intoxicating effect, one of the film’s most indelible, disturbing, hilarious, and temporarily gratifying scenes transpires, as Sand plays Mandy a track from his terrible folk album (where he sings lyrics extolling his own greatness) and then literally exposes himself to her. It’s disgusting and weird and upsetting, which is why it’s such a hero moment when Mandy laughs in his face, spurning his music and his speeches and his dick.

 

The victory is short-lived, because that’s when Sand and his followers burn Mandy alive, with Red bound and gagged and forced to watch the entire destruction of the love of his life. This is an odd moment to bring up the matter of costuming, but I’d like to point out that in Mandy’s final scene, she’s wearing Red’s “44” jersey, while Red is wearing a black-and-red jersey (not for nothing, the same colors as Red’s truck), emblazoned with the face of a tiger. Again, these small details register. Swan hands Sand the “Tainted Blade of the Pale Night” — these people have florid names for all of their belongings — and Sand stabs Red in the gut, vowing he and Mandy will see “the cleansing power of fire.” The viewer realizes we’ve already seen Mandy for the last time, since the Children of the New Dawn carry her out of the house inside a burlap sack, which they string up and set ablaze. The camera hones in on Red’s tormented face, all the more painful because Mandy has already been turned into an inanimate object — neither Red nor we the viewer get a chance to say goodbye.

 

Again, mileage may vary, but for me this scene works as intended, not least because of the force of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score — sadly, his last — which in this moment is equally sad and horrifying. If MANDY is a film that intentionally aligns itself with music, it’s impossible to overstate the heavy lifting this film’s score provides. Also interesting is how Cosmatos and Loeb handle the aftermath. The music subsides, and the lighting goes more “natural” and less apocalyptic. Sand and his people get into their cars and drive away, leaving Red tied up and bleeding, but alive. To me, this is how trauma feels, the way the most mundane observations of sight and sound register after one’s entire world has been altered forever.

 

Red frees himself and watches as the wind blows away the ashes which are all that remain of Mandy. He staggers inside, clad only in his tiger shirt and tighty-whities, and sees that the TV is still on. It’s playing what has already become MANDY‘s most meme-worthy (and in some quarters, maligned) element, the “Cheddar Goblin” commercial, for which Cosmatos recruited Casper Kelly, the absurdist mind behind “Too Many Cooks.”

 

 

Red mutters, “Cheddar Goblin,” and lies down, passing out. In a weird way, this was a relatable moment to me on par with the moment in this year’s HEREDITARY, the aftermath of the accident in which Peter realizes what’s happened to his sister Charlie and is stunned into catatonia. I’ve been there. I hope you haven’t been.

 

One more time, the very substance of MANDY alters as Red has a vision of Mandy in death — presented in a brief animated segment, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since KILL BILL. And then Red wakes up. He grabs a bottle of vodka and still bleeding, storms into the bathroom, screaming gutturally in grief and drinking. He sits down on the toilet, still wearing only that tiger shirt and his underwear, and cries. This, to me, is the heart of the film. As I said up top, any one movie can be a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, MANDY is a story about a relapse.

 

 

 

Red goes to the trailer of his friend Caruthers, who is played by the estimable Bill Duke, an under-heralded filmmaker and creative force best known as a character actor, who I revere for his work in PREDATOR. Red tells Caruthers what happened, and says he’s come “for The Reaper.” All of this is bizarrely exciting because it suggests some odd backstory we can only invent for ourselves — how does Red know Caruthers? Why is Caruthers holding a weapon for Red? Why do these guys name their weapons? (And does that make them too different from the Children of the New Dawn?)

 

Another highly-stylized chapter heading comes on screen — Mandy’s name, in the form of red veiny lines that almost appear to be transforming the name into a beating heart. It’s also the movie’s title — here now, over an hour into the film, only now does the title screen appear. Red speeds out in his truck in search of the Black Skulls. It’s telling to note that what was for an hour’s time a dreamy romantic reverie and a phantasmagoric horror show has now transmogrified into MANDY in its most crowd-pleasing form, a full-on action-revenge picture, with action-film icon Bill Duke serving as its herald.

 

As Red tears through the Black Skulls in a fit of fury and blood, he cracks one-liners and absurdist Cage-isms (“You’re a vicious snowflake!”)  and snorts some of the coke they’ve left lying around their lair. Again, this is a relapse. The violence is relapse. That it’s the movie’s most entertaining mode is what makes it disturbing — again, to me. There’s a sort of release in relapse. It’s thrilling to rip shit up, even if what you’re ripping up is your own life, or someone else’s. It’s clear by now that Red has been holding back — declining to drink, committing no violence worse than cutting down trees, and choosing instead to love and live with Mandy — but the loss of her has given him permission to unleash whatever fury he’d been holding back. If this were an Oscar-minded drama about the struggles of alcoholism, we would not want to see Red drink again, but since it’s framed as a revenge picture, we crave the relapse as much as he does. And that’s upsetting. It’s upsetting in the pleasure of it.

 

 

Also intriguing is how Red is wearing the “44” jersey in the scenes where he tears through the Black Skulls. The last time we saw that shirt was on Mandy. Really, this is the movie’s least noticeable but most notable break from “reality” — how is Red wearing a shirt Mandy had on when she died? It makes no sense, unless you maybe want to consider that Red is now Mandy’s avatar, acting out the physical equivalent of the laughter she’d leveled at Sand. In other words, the only sense it makes is movie-sense.

 

After killing all the Black Skulls, Red makes his way to their drug supplier, The Chemist (Tom-Petty-esque character actor Richard Brake), whose warehouse includes a tiger in a cage. The Chemist introduces the tiger as “Lizzie,” and as Red glares at him, covered in the blood of dead enemies, The Chemist seems to get the message, and sets Lizzie free. (Remember Red’s tiger jersey?) This particular symbolism may appear to be peripheral, but it isn’t too subtle.

 

Red continues to travel north, and when he stops to rest, he has another animated dream, this time of a nude Mandy caring for a wounded and bloody half-tiger/half-man. She reaches inside his wounds and pulls out a glowing green diamond, and then Red wakes up. He continues on to his final battles, all of which transpire in a canyon which absolutely could have doubled for a FURY ROAD set. The most gore is yet to come. Red splits Brother Swan’s head apart to interrupt him when he references the quote, “Better to burn out than to fade away” (guess Red isn’t a Neil Young fan), engages in a duel of oversized chainsaws with Sand’s most formidable henchman that ends as you might expect, enters Sand’s triangular temple and beheads Mother Marlene, and crushes Sand’s skull with his bare hands. The last two victims both offer Red sex in an attempt to persuade him to spare their lives, but Red has no interest in anything but destruction. After killing them all, Red burns the entire place down.

 

Even during my first screening of MANDY, all this climactic violence felt inevitable. Though it’s never uninteresting to watch, not remotely!, the movie is long since out of surprises. That has significance. From that first absurdist knock-knock joke to Mandy’s harrowing story about the starlings, all of the mystery, all of the reward, was in the relationship between Red and Mandy. Once that’s destroyed, it’s not hard to predict where the movie will go. Without love, without hope, there’s nothing but death. In the final moment of the movie, as Red drives away from the battlefield still caked in blood so thick his skin itself appears red(!), he first flashes back to the very first time his eyes met Mandy’s — the film’s sole flashback — and then he has a vision of Mandy, looking at him from the passenger seat. She’s holding a cigarette and smiling. Many viewers will look at this moment as a last visit with an avenged loved one, a bittersweet moment, such as we get in films like THE CROW. That’s what I’d like to see. That’s not what I see.

 

In the film’s final moment, Red turns to his vision of Mandy and bares his teeth in something approximating a smile, but in truth he’s no longer capable. She’s gone. His hope is gone. The end credits roll without music, possibly only the first or second time the movie has been without it. There’s nothing left for Red. It’s over. This is why you fear the relapse.

 

All of that said, at the very end of the credits, you can hear starlings chirping. And after the credits, the final image we see is a portrait of Red, as done by Mandy and left on her drawing table. She’s not gone, not completely. There’s something left. There always is.

 

 

 

 

 

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This past week, Nitehawk Cinema hosted the latest Kevin Geeks Out show, focusing on Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces in movies. It was my great honor to be among the talented and hysterical presenters. I got the chance to talk about one of the greatest movie stars of the past century, as part of my mission to remind people of his greatness. The following is what I presented:

 

000 BURT REYNOLDS

 

It feels like high time to remember what makes Burt Reynolds so important. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s he was the number-one movie star in the country for five years straight. For that reason, Burt’s story is part of America’s story. He met everybody. His memoir is loaded with many of the most famous people of the past century. His book is like Forrest Gump, if Forrest Gump was Burt Reynolds.

 

001

 

Why am I bringing up Burt Reynolds in a show about Wigs, Toupees, and Hairpieces? There are at least two big reasons, and I’ll get to them both. I’d argue that hair is a central theme of Burt’s stardom, and it’s also part of the reason we lost track of him.

 

Burt Reynolds, with his dog Bertha. 1970.

 

002 SAM WHISKEY

 

For a good part of his career, Burt didn’t have his signature mustache. Here he is taking a bath in SAM WHISKEY from 1969. That same year, Burt grew a mustache for his role in 100 RIFLES opposite Jim Brown and Raquel Welch.

 

003 DELIVERANCE

 

But one of Burt’s signature roles had nothing to do with the mustache. Here he is in DELIVERANCE from 1972. It’s a strong movie and Burt is a big part of what makes it that way. In an alternate universe, we can imagine, Burt continued on this hairless path.

 

004 AS ROCKY RHODES IN 'THE TWILIGHT ZONE'.

 

Burt says he grew the mustache because he was tired of being compared to Marlon Brando. This is Burt from an episode of The Twilight Zone, early in his career, where he plays a sort of Brando type actor. In the book Burt tells a story about Brando cornering him at a party to accuse him of cashing in on the resemblance. Burt said, “I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look. But I promise not to get fat.”

 

005 MUSTACHE PARTY

 

So, the mustache. This is the popular image of Burt Reynolds in people’s mind. At one time in American pop culture, a mustache was a symbol of maleness, of virility. Maybe it was a Teddy Roosevelt thing. But as time went on, and especially nowadays, the mustache seems to promise comedy.

Ron Swanson.

Ned Flanders.

Chuck Norris.

 

006 PLAYGIRL

 

That’s the catch-22: It’s partly because of the very sign of his legendary machismo that people stopped taking Burt Reynolds seriously.

 

007 COSMO

 

And this is another reason. In 1972 Burt posed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine. He did it right before DELIVERANCE made him a huge star. Burt did it for a laugh, but it worked against him. People didn’t get it.

 

008 Fuzz (1972)

 

As you can see from this poster for FUZZ, that photoshoot haunted his image.

 

009

 

Most people see Burt as a playboy, as a goofball. They don’t remember how good an actor he was, and how great a movie star he was.

 

010 DANCING

 

This is Burt (on the far right) dancing at a party near Steve McQueen and his wife. It’s true that Burt Reynolds was always fun. It was part of his image.

 

011 DANCING

 

Another thing about Burt Reynolds that makes him awesome, but that also works against him, is his openness and honesty. He called his own movies crap when they were crap, and even when they weren’t. He was never afraid to be the butt of the joke, but maybe people stopped noticing he was in on it.

 

012 SHATNER

 

Here’s another thing: In America, you can’t ever admit you wear a hairpiece. William Shatner is an example of a guy who didn’t hide it, and so he’s generally treated as a punchline.

 

013

 

Here’s a guy who never admits it.

 

014

 

As long as you never admit it isn’t real, you’re invincible.

 

015

 

Even when there’s relatively apparent visual proof that you’ve had work done on your hairline…

 

016

 

As long as you don’t admit it, you’re golden. The second you admit it, you’re Samson post-Delilah.

 

017 Deliverance (1972)

 

Burt says, “I’ve always been frank about my hair, because if you deny it, you’re fooling yourself.  Everybody else will do jokes about it. It’s better if you do the jokes first.” And so he did. But I think it made people forget what an effective dramatic actor he was.

 

017a

 

Fun story about Burt and the hairpiece: “One night at a bar in New York some idiot came over and made a crack about a “pelt on my head and I said, “If you can get it off before I beat the shit out of you, you can have it.”

 

017b

 

Another admirable thing about Burt is his ability to make amazing friendships. He can be best pals with a guy who turned out to be as right-wing as Jon Voight…

 

017c

 

And he can be as close as he was to Ossie Davis, who told Burt, “You’re the only actor in the world liked by both African-Americans and the Ku Klux Klan.” For the record, Burt wasn’t interested in entertaining racists. If you watch his movies, his love for people shines through — regardless of their gender, race, or orientation. If it was a party, everybody was invited.

 

018 White Lightning (1973)

 

DELIVERANCE solidified Burt as a Southern-fried action star. He appeared – still without the mustache – in films like WHITE LIGHTNING

 

019 Gator (1976)

 

…and GATOR

 

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

STICK, Burt Reynolds, 1985

 

…the latter of which also marked the start of his directing career.

 

021 The Longest Yard (1974)

 

One of Burt’s best and most famous movies, THE LONGEST YARD, shows what he can do without mustache power. It’s one of the greatest sports movies ever made.

 

022 Hustle (1975)

 

Coming from the same director a year later, HUSTLE was a very underrated crime film. Guaranteed Michael Mann saw this one somewhere along the line.

 

023 Lucky Lady (1975)

 

Here’s Burt co-starring with Gene Hackman, one of the key actors in the New Hollywood. In this era, guys like De Niro and Pacino, Hoffman and Hackman, began to redefine naturalistic acting on film.

 

024 Semi-Tough (1977)

 

And just as American movies were getting more serious, Burt went the other way.

 

025 Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 

This is SMOKEY & THE BANDIT, the movie that was a colossal hit for Burt and his friend, the director and legendary stunt man Hal Needham.

 

026 Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, Jerry Reed, and a bassett hound on the set of Smokey & the Bandit.

 

While most highbrow critics don’t give any kind of attention to Hal Needham’s work, I think it’s very important, not least because of how it showcases the severely under-appreciated art of movie stunts.

 

027 Hooper (1978)

 

HOOPER was maybe Hal Needham’s most personal movie, showing the life of a Hollywood stuntman. It’s great.

 

027a Hooper (1978) Japanese Poster

 

So is its Japanese poster.

 

028 The End (1978)

 

Even amidst the popularity of all the Hal Needham movies, Burt continued to direct, and this is also the era where he buddied up with Dom DeLuise.

 

Reynolds Roast 1977

 

Burt and Dom together are magic, they’re infectious, you can’t not love watching them,

 

029 The Cannonball Run (1981)

 

But they’re also clowns. Their movies together are live-action cartoons.

 

Dom DeLuise

 

If all you know is THE CANNONBALL RUN, it’s very easy to lose sight of Burt’s dramatic talents.

 

030 Paternity (1981)

 

When Burt makes a movie like this…

 

031 Sharky's Machine (1981)

 

…It’s easier for cinematic tastemakers to forget that, the same year, he also made a movie like this.

 

032

 

SHARKY’S MACHINE is really worth seeing. I wish Burt’s career had continued with him directing more of this kind of melancholy, sleazy crime movie.

 

033 Stick

 

Burt made an Elmore Leonard adaptation before it became the in-thing to do.

 

034 Heat

 

There’s a better film out there going by the same name, but HEAT is still pretty special, a perfect showcase for Burt as a tough guy whose glory was beginning to fade.

 

035 CITY HEAT

 

Teaming him up with his old buddy Clint Eastwood, 1984’s CITY HEAT should have been a hit. It wasn’t.

 

036 City Heat (1984)

 

I think the contrast between Clint and Burt at this stage of their careers is very telling. Both of them were stars who appealed to men as much as women. Both of them are better actors than most people recognize. Both of them directed. But only one of them became a mainstream Academy Award winning institution.

 

037

 

I love Clint, never get me wrong, but he would never let himself be the butt of the joke, the way Burt did so many times. Even in the movies he made with the orangutan, Clint was always the coolest guy in the room. In CITY HEAT, he calls Burt “Shorty.” The final line of the movie from Clint is, “You’ll always be Shorty to me.” And he gets the last word. [Clint is 6’4″, Burt is 5’11”.]

 

M8DCIHE EC004

 

Notice who’s wearing the nice suit and who’s wearing the silly costume.

 

039 Stroker Ace (1983)

 

This is also the era when Burt became more famous for tabloids than for movies. For one thing, a facial injury he sustained on the set of CITY HEAT led to a rumor Burt had AIDS. If you remember the ‘eighties, there was a lot of spite and prejudice in a rumor like that.

 

040

 

This is also around the time Burt met Loni Anderson.

 

041

 

It isn’t like Burt wasn’t famous for his offscreen relationships before, but this was where it started to overshadow his onscreen work.

 

042

 

In his book, Burt isn’t mean about it, but he indicates he got swept up in the relationship in a way he wishes he hadn’t.

 

043

 

Guess that’s hard to say no to, no matter what your type is.

 

044

 

Burt says this was one of the happiest times of his life…

 

045

 

…but then also the worst.

 

046

 

Again, headlines like these are the primary basis of his celebrity in the late 1980s. By contrast, Clint was really taking off as a serious filmmaker, going from BIRD to UNFORGIVEN.

 

047

 

People see Loni Anderson, a blonde bombshell, and they probably make assumptions about her, and about Burt for being into her. But the loves of Burt’s life were girl-next-door types.

 

047a

 

The chapter in the book on Burt’s regrets about it not working out with Sally Field is really affecting.

 

048 Cop and a Half (1993)

 

So real life got sadder, and then these were the kinds of movies Burt was getting. No offense to COP AND A HALF, but it’s no IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

TSDEVSH EC011

 

In the ‘nineties, Burt went back to TV for Evening Shade, a show that had one of the greatest ensemble casts ever, but it was on CBS at a time when it wasn’t cool at all to be on CBS, assuming that time ever existed.

 

050 Boogie Nights (1997)

 

Then, towards the end of the decade, this came along.

 

051

 

By the time Burt gives his phenomenal half-dramatic/half-comedic performance in BOOGIE NIGHTS, nobody seemed to remember that’s what he’d been doing all along.

 

052

 

I think movie fans of my generation revere this movie and we revere Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in general. BOOGIE NIGHTS is a great American movie. But it was well publicized that Burt was uncomfortable with it. He’s still never seen it all the way through. Anderson went on to make several more great films, and Burt didn’t. This kind of stuff leads people to take sides, and most go with the brilliant auteur over the so-called has-been. But it’s not that simple.

 

053

 

For one thing, Burt was 62 when he made Boogie Nights. Paul Anderson was 27. Keep in mind Burt started acting back in the 1950s. Imagine you’re Burt and some kid is asking you to do and say some pretty damn out-there things. BOOGIE NIGHTS isn’t porn, but it’s sure got porn dialogue. Burt was the son of a police chief. He was raised to be a gentleman. He had valid reasons to be concerned about his image at this point in time. I don’t think Burt Reynolds is an uptight guy, but I also think it’s okay if he wasn’t too comfortable calling Julianne Moore a “foxy bitch.”

 

054 The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

 

Burt was incredible in BOOGIE NIGHTS, but just about everything that came afterwards was underwhelming. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD was a movie based on an old TV show that was itself a rip-off of Smokey & the Bandit, and now Burt was getting novelty-cast in the Jackie Gleason role.

 

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055 The Longest Yard (2005)

 

Don’t even get me started on what happened here.

 

056

 

So the full-on renaissance he deserved didn’t happen. Burt returned to Florida. He runs an acting school there now.

 

057 Burt Reynolds Institute & Museum in Jupiter, Florida.

 

Can you imagine getting acting lessons from Burt Reynolds? That’s a movie right there.

 

058

 

Burt turned 80 this month. If I had to bet on any human being lasting past a hundred, it’d be him, but still.

 

059

 

Too often the critical re-evaluations come too late. I don’t think it’s too radical for me to suggest that the work of one of the most popular movie stars in history is worth another look.

 

060 IN CONCLUSION

 

Let’s not let a legend go under-remembered in his own time. And one last thing about the book: It not only has chapters remembering Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, and Frank Sinatra, but there’s also one dedicated to the horse Burt rode in the movie NAVAJO JOE. What’s better than that?

 

Navajo Joe (1966)

 

 

— JON ABRAMS.

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Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:

For starters, if you have any problem looking at Tom Hardy’s face for an hour and a half, look elsewhere for your filmed entertainment. I don’t have that particular problem but there are several actors I’d prefer not to stare at for so long (I’ll not name them here) — point is, everybody’s got their something. For me, I’d happily argue that this is the movie where Tom Hardy establishes he’s the real deal, particularly if you haven’t yet seen his transformative work in BRONSON. There are more great screen performers than we like to think, but there are not so many performers who can hold down a screen on their own.

Writer-director Steven Knight, who wrote the must-sees DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES, has constructed an actor’s vehicle (sorry for the pun) of the rare sort where the audience is looking at little else besides the actor’s face for the entire running time. There are cutaways, in passing, to the road outside the car, but for the most part the camera is situated inside the car with its driver, a man named Ivan Locke.

Unlike most men who movies are about, Locke is an ordinary man, a person you could meet, not much of a fictionalization. He seems to be well-off, and is clearly highly competent, and until the events of this film, considered by everyone to be professionally dependable, and technically he does look like a movie star who is dressing down, but other than that, this is a recognizably human character. The story concerns Locke’s drive to be present at the birth of a child who is the product of an affair, a one-time slip in the life of an otherwise reliable family man — or so it may seem. Character will out.

Steven Knight cleverly chooses for Locke the profession of construction planner; as he drives across England at night he’s determinedly making calls to ensure the flawless coordination of a career-dependent concrete pour first thing in the morning. This is a terrific metaphor, foundations. Locke is a loving father to his two sons but now he’s having a third, and he refuses to be absent for this son the way his father was absent on him. So you could say Locke is skipping out on a building foundation in order to be present for the foundation for a life. Or you could more cynically interpret these events to be the unraveling of an orderly life — the highly respected and successful professional working father, in a race to ignore his own pained origins, ended up making a misstep which undid the entire social construction of ‘Ivan Locke’, from the foundation on up. In an otherwise flawless effort to avoid being like his father, a single mistake laid bare and undid the entire enterprise.

But the overall feeling of LOCKE the movie isn’t one of negativity;  in fact by the time Locke utters the instant-classic line  “Two words I learned tonight – Fuck Chicago” this audience member was punching the air in exhilaration. It’s interesting how that happens, since unlike the many reviewers whose pull-quotes are being used to sell LOCKE as a suspense thriller, I spent most of the film in a twilight state. The expertly delivered elements of the film — Knight’s suave high-wire of a script, Hardy’s largely-motionless, emotionally-moderate, sonorous, intentionally calming performance; the masterfully-timed, nearly-invisible editing by Justine Wright; the almost-undetectable-feeling score by Dickon Hinchliffe; the collusion of Knight’s direction and Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography and the somber sound design and even the essence of Locke’s car itself — all of these have a tangible effect, making the car a contained environment, just short of a hyperbaric chamber, putting the focus exclusively on the conversations Locke must have with his wife and his sons and his mistress and his assistant and his superior and his various business connections and so on.

Rarely has a film about a night drive felt this much like a night drive. So while the premise — Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen for the entire show! — is really an incredibly-stagy, conspicuously anti-cinematic visual risk of the sort Hitchcock liked to dare himself with (a la LIFEBOAT or ROPE), the overwhelming impression LOCKE leaves is one of verisimilitude and empathy. The film feels realer than just about any other I’ve seen anywhere in 2014. Like life itself, there’s nothing easy about that.

Locke (Blu-ray), temporary cover art

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The Spectacular Now (2013)

Stories about alcoholism, if they’re being honest, have no heroes and no villains.  There are protagonists, and occasionally antagonists, but the antagonists are peripheral, really.  Authentic stories about alcoholism must ultimately focus around the protagonists and their loved ones.  A protagonist of such a story can be a hero at heart, but he’s living with an addiction, so his actions are rarely heroic.  They’re tainted, polluted.  It’s the addiction that is the story’s villain, and it’s an inescapable enemy.  It’s always there, with no safe haven to be found.

Addiction turns a hero into his own worst villain.  An addiction narrative is a suspense thriller, where the lead character is in a life-or-death battle to prevent himself from destroying his own life, and the lives of his friends and family.  Any other dramatic conflict, and there will be many, still remains strictly secondary in comparison.  Every tale of addiction is different, but every one of them can have only two potential endings.  The protagonist manages to stop, and that is no easy thing; or the protagonist dies.  Period.  Well, there may be a third option, of sorts.  It’s possible the story ends with the protagonist still alive, and embracing his addiction, but understand that this is a kind of death.  It’s a death of the spirit.

In the most generalized spoiler ever, let’s say that THE SPECTACULAR NOW, in its final moments, rejects the death of the spirit.  This is a movie with life in it.

SUTTER

And please take no offense at the fact that the opening paragraphs emphasized the male conjugation — they were written that way because this particular addiction story happens to be about a “him.”  Miles Teller plays the main character, Sutter Keely, an extroverted young man whose profound problems sneak up on the movie.  By leading with talk of addiction, this review of THE SPECTACULAR NOW robs the film of some of its shock — the movie was sold as a lyrical, regional romance, which it is, but primarily it’s the story of an addict, which isn’t immediately apparent as things play at the outset.  Sutter is outgoing and likable, with a stunning girlfriend (the luminous Brie Larson), a successful older sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, endearing and deep), and a single mother who cares about him in her seemingly brusque way (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a rope-a-dope of a performance). Miles Teller has a kind of Cusack-meets-Belushi soulfulness and affability which keeps you on his side, even as Sutter’s screw-ups multiply as the story continues.  His philosophy, as captured in the movie’s love-it-or-sneer-at-it title, is to live in the “now” as opposed to so many people who fixate on the pain of the past and the worries of the future.  It’s an agreeable philosophy, but it’s flawed.  

SUTTER

Sutter is a high school senior.  He’s at that exact moment in life where people are most concerned with both their pasts and their futures at once.  High school seniors are at an emotional precipice — with yearbooks and parties, they celebrate and reflect upon the end of childhood, while on their computers sit college applications, resumes, and job applications, the entry tickets to the chaotic carnival of adulthood.  Sutter’s fixation on the “now” seems at first like a way of framing the present in a positive light, of appreciating the moment, but in fact it’s a dodge.  Sutter wants to prolong a moment that by nature must pass.

DRIVING

It starts with the soda cup.  The first clue to how substantial a problem Sutter has is the soda cup.  He’s never without it, in the car, at his job — practiced and committed drinkers know what’s in the cup.  He’s mixing booze in there, using the soda cup as a front to hide his crutch.  The acceleration is rapid.  After a whirlwind night of partying, Sutter wakes up one morning on a classmate’s lawn.  She’s Aimee Finecky, a sweetheart to whom Sutter never gave a second thought at school.  Next to Cassidy, his girlfriend, Aimee would be considered plain.  There’s a warmth and a decency to Aimee, though, as there is to Sutter, when he’s conscious.  Cassidy has been distancing herself (she sees the warning signs before he does) so Sutter starts spending more time with the attentive Aimee.  If this were the John Hughes movie one may have had reason to expect, the lawn incident would be played for broad comedy, a meet-cute.  Here it’s perfectly pitched, humorous but subtle, and the kids quickly move on from it.  Aimee, an introvert by nature, isn’t used to spending time with Sutter, an indefatigable extrovert.  She’s entranced.  She’s co-dependent.  She’s in trouble.  By the time she or the audience realize that, we’re all already in too deep with Sutter.

SUTTER + AIMEE

THE SPECTACULAR NOW has an impact you don’t see coming, even if you do know what’s in that cup right away.  Not to oversell such a delicate and genuine film, but it’s one of the best American movies to be released in 2013.   Credit is due all around.  Tim Tharp wrote the novel upon which the movie was based.  Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) DAYS OF SUMMER) wrote the adaptation for screen.  James Ponsoldt (SMASHED) directed the movie.  Jess Hall was the cinematographer.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as the two main characters, play their roles with uncommon maturity and sophistication.  They are surrounded by an extremely talented supporting cast, including the aforementioned Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the strong women in Sutter’s life.  Kyle Chandler appears later in the film, as a character who only existed as rumor beforehand, and he makes the maximum impact in a few scenes with a perfect, knowing performance.  Comedian Bob Odenkirk, in a relatively small role as Sutter’s boss who recognizes a problem employee and tries to hang onto him as long as possible, is positively heart-breaking.  This is a movie where Bob Odenkirk, a monster talent who’s only ever made me laugh, broke my heart.  Wow.  This is a special kind of movie.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Making a good movie is a collaborative effort, done by small armies of craftsmen who have varying degrees of personal investment in the art.  Whether all were deeply moved to make it or only some, THE SPECTACULAR NOW feels eminently personal.  It’s told with quiet, relaxed authority.  There is a keenly-observed realness going on, just as there was in James Ponsoldt’s previous film, 2012’s SMASHED, and in his debut feature, 2006’s OFF THE BLACK.  Those films, though, were about young adults and middle-aged people grappling with addiction.  As terrific an achievement as SMASHED in particular was, Ponsoldt has found more unique, tender material in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.  The novelty of this plot is that it’s been de-aged.  Movies about drunks are almost always cast with characters gone to seed, nearing the ends of their lives rather than finding them at the very start. There’s still plenty of hope for Sutter. He caught this thing early.  Millions have been less fortunate. THE SPECTACULAR NOW ends on a question mark. Where will Sutter end up? Nothing is certain. But there’s reason to hope. This movie gives you hope.

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MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976)

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

You may have noticed that I’ve talked about MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED a lot.  I wrote about it only once, for my friend’s spotlight on Underrated Comedies.  As I wrote then, this isn’t only an underrated comedy in my eyes.  In my opinion, this may just be the most underrated American film of all time.  Am I exaggerating?  Read on, amigos.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, DRAGNET, and three James Bond movies.  It was directed by Peter Yates, best known for classic tough-guy movies such as BULLITT and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.  One of the producers on MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED is Joseph Barbera — that’s right — one half of the insanely prolific Hanna-Barbera cartoon team.

All of the above credits may begin to hint at the unique atmosphere of MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED — I could call it “cartoonish realism” if I thought the term might ever take off.  The story concerns an independent ambulance company competing against rival services in addition to the proper channels. They’re barely-legal L.A. outlaws, riding into life or death situations. Most of them do it for the kicks.

The veteran driver is nicknamed “Mother” and that’s the only name he’s known by. He’s a man of simple pleasures: He likes getting massages from pretty ladies, keeping a fully-stocked cooler in the rig, and “buzzing” gaggles of nuns with his siren as they’re crossing the street.

That’s Bill Cosby.

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The new guy is Tony Malatesta, a former police detective nicknamed “Speed” due to the bogus drug allegations that recently got him shitcanned from the LAPD.

That’s Harvey Keitel.

And the knockout receptionist with larger ambitions is nicknamed “Jugs” (which she hates, by the way.)

That’s Raquel Welch.

Those are three very different stars, which means that the movie is a collection of very different tones. This movie brims with raucous comedy and sober tragedy, on a scene-to-scene basis.  Somehow it all hangs together cohesively – credit to the sure hand of Peter Yates.  But even with that said, it’s probably still not what you’re expecting.  Cosby’s got a potty-mouth, for one thing!  Your Cosby Show memories will be forever changed once you hear him say “Bambi’s mom had great tits.”  But even as he’s doing that, he’s rocking some real pathos too.  His performance here is way more HICKEY & BOGGS (see that too, please) than GHOST DAD or LEONARD PART SIX.  There’s a real depth to his acting that could be frankly shocking even to longtime fans of his comedy.

Meanwhile, Keitel was best known at the time  for his work with Scorsese – he appeared in TAXI DRIVER the same year – but even though he’s cast as the straight man here, he’s totally down to play. And Raquel Welch, a sexual revolution in human form, is easily their equal and frequently their better. It’s one of her best-ever roles.

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Add to that a supporting cast that includes L.Q. Jones, Bruce Davison, Dick Butkus, Larry Hagman in brilliantly gross & bastardy form, and the sorely-underappreciated character-actor great Allen Garfield (THE STUNT MAN) as the low-rent boss of the gang, and you have one of the most fun movies of the 1970s, and arguably one of the most unheralded.  Name another great movie from that year – ROCKY, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK – and then ask me if I’d rather watch MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED.  Apologies to Stallone, Hoffman, Redford, and Duvall, but I think you already know my answer.

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And check out this fun photo-article on the film’s shooting locations.

Days of Thunder (1990)

The sky always looks like it’s on fire in Tony Scott’s movies.  Everything looks like it’s taking place at magic hour, but it’s like the most intense magic hour ever captured and it lasts the entire movie.  In DAYS OF THUNDER, the action takes place on raceways which lends to the notion that all the gasoline on the concrete ignited from the sparks given off from the earthbound drama and is burning up the atmosphere.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Not everyone is a Tony Scott fan — too much style, they argue — but I definitely am.  [You can read a lot more about the reasons why here.]  Honestly though, my Tony Scott fandom doesn’t begin until a year after DAYS OF THUNDER, with 1991’s THE LAST BOY SCOUT.  I’m not so into 1983’s THE HUNGER (an anomaly, his only horror movie), 1986’s TOP GUN (not my kind of macho), or 1987’s  BEVERLY HILLS COP II (I know, I’m surprised about that too.)  There were two Tony Scott movies released in 1990; first the far-lesser-known REVENGE and then DAYS OF THUNDER in the summer.  Then he got hold of a Shane Black screenplay, and after that one by Quentin Tarantino, and the rest was action-movie history.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Stylistically, Tony Scott was doing what he did from the very start.  He arrived in features fully-formed in that respect.  But it could be argued that something resembling a worldview, or thematic preoccupations, didn’t start gelling until later on.  What I personally respond to in Tony Scott’s work is a healthy distrust/ disrepect/disregard for authority and bureaucracy and an affinity for outsiders and loners.  I suppose that is present in his earlier films, but there (in TOP GUN and DAYS OF THUNDER) it’s coupled with the Tom Cruise machine, which represents something different than Scott’s most frequent muse, Denzel Washington.

Days of Thunder (1990)

I like Tom Cruise as an actor and as a star, but he’s never been anything resembling a favorite.  My favorite Cruise performances are in MAGNOLIA and COLLATERAL, both rare instances where he submitted his usual star persona to the whims of a great director.  He’s worked with plenty of great directors, of course — Spielberg, Scorsese, DePalma, Stone, Levinson — but usually by coupling his engine to their formidable powers, by partnering with their vision rather than being a part of it.  That’s how DAYS OF THUNDER, like TOP GUN before it, works.  Tony Scott’s energetic style flatters Tom Cruise, in a way that Tom Cruise himself, as a movie star, is the story being told here.  Contrast that to any of the movies Scott made with Denzel, which, whether you enjoyed them as much as I did or not, were more like character pieces.  Tony Scott only ever worked with huge stars, but the mechanism is different when you’re talking about the ones he made with Tom Cruise.

DAYS OF THUNDER was written by Robert Towne, from a story by Towne and Cruise.  That is the highest possible caliber of screenwriter.  This is how Tom Cruise got to his rarified level.  He made a point, smartly, of working with the best.  You want a script that’ll showcase your starpower?  Hire the guy who wrote CHINATOWN!   In his review of DAYS OF THUNDER, Roger Ebert picked up on the early Cruise formula, which we now know was very much by design:  Cruise plays a super-talented hothead who eventually achieves his goals through the aid of an experienced mentor figure and the love of a beautiful woman.  Here he’s untrained but naturally talented racecar driver Cole Trickle (note the TC initials flipped), who links up with a semi-retired pro (Robert Duvall) to conquer the NASCAR circuit.  After an early accident, he meets a beautiful doctor (Nicole Kidman) who nurses him back to health.  There’s a ton here for armchair psychologists, but I’m not going to go there.

Days Of Thunder (1990)

I was never bored by DAYS OF THUNDER (credit there to Tony Scott) but I also didn’t care too much at any point, due to the fact that, as a true-blue Yankee, I don’t really get the appeal of stock car racing.  It’s a bunch of cars with advertisements stencilled all over them, driving around really fast in a circle.  How is that more fun than reading?  Maybe this movie plays better with fans of the sport.  Apparently the story is very loosely based on some actual racing professionals, including Dale Earnhardt, and the presence of real-life NASCAR luminaries as announcers and so on (not to mention producer Don Simpson in a creepy cameo) makes the whole thing feel gaudily believable.  It also helps that Cruise and Kidman are supported by a murderer’s row of character actors, including John C. Reilly (way before TALLADEGA NIGHTS), Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as a surprisingly nasty villain, a surprisingly serious Randy Quaid, and a pre-JUSTIFIED Nick Searcy and Margo Martindale.  One of my favorites, Michael Rooker, plays Tom Cruise’s main-rival-turned-BFF (Val Kilmer style) who engages him in a wheelchair race — obviously the single most enjoyable part of the film to a weirdo like me.

The entire thing is held together by Robert Duvall, a bedrock if the movies have ever had one.  His unflappability and steadiness provide a nice counterbalance to the typical borderline-scary Cruise self-determination and high-achieving.  It does make one wonder, since Cruise once benefitted so much from older co-stars such as Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Newman, why he doesn’t seem as inclined to do the same for younger stars, now that he’s hit fifty (!).  Cruise’s last three action films — MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, JACK REACHER, and OBLIVION — are moving him further away from his co-stars, and back towards lone-wolf stature.  Advancing age suits a guy like Robert Duvall.  It didn’t much hurt the appeal of Nicholson, Hoffman, or Newman either.  What will it do to Tom Cruise, whose stardom is founded on forward momentum?  What’s the guy going to do when he can’t run anymore, and on top of that, they want to restrict his driver’s license?

Days of Thunder (1990)

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Days of Thunder (1990)

The Gauntlet 1977

Let’s start off by agreeing that the poster above is probably the single best one of all time. That is a Frank Frazetta. This isn’t the kind of thing Frazetta usually painted, but as he described in the documentary PAINTING WITH FIRE, Clint came over to ask him personally to do it, so he did. It’s a fun part of the documentary because Frazetta was often told he resembled Clint.

Frazetta Self-Portrait

Frazetta Self-Portrait

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frank-frazetta-the-destroyer

Frazetta-Tigress

I’m starting off my thoughts on THE GAUNTLET with its poster and poster artist because rarely has there ever been such a perfect match of promotional artwork to finished film. Frazetta’s paintings were bombastic, ferocious, horned-up, and hyper-masculine. He painted incredibly beautiful women, but at the same time I’m not sure how impressed the feminists would be.

Likewise, THE GAUNTLET features this kind of dialogue:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d have to give her a 2, and that’s only because I’ve never seen a 1 before.” — Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood).

I mean, that’s a fun line to me, but I recognize it ain’t exactly courtly.

A large part of my writing about movies to date has featured a long-running battle between the brain and the crotchular vicinity, with the heart reffing the match. Intellectually I tend toward the feminism-friendly but instinctively I rage and I ogle as much as any man on the planet. Being thoughtful and being masculine often results in internal hormonal warfare. I love Clint’s movies for their violence and their brutishness as much as for their progressive thinking and genre-spanning restlessness. THE GAUNTLET is the Icarus of Clint’s movies, darting dangerously close to the burning sun that is the mass of critics who eternally underrate and undermine his work. I don’t think the wax exactly melts, but it’s a photo-finish. What helps is context.

THE GAUNTLET comes in a pivotal place in Clint’s career. It’s the first film he directed after his first masterpiece, 1976’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. In 1976 he also starred in THE ENFORCER, which is the Dirty Harry movie which straight-on tackles the issue of feminism by assigning Callahan a female partner. His next film as director after THE GAUNTLET was 1980’s BRONCO BILLY, hands-down one of his most personal films. It’s interesting to note that THE GAUNTLET was not originally derived as a vehicle for Clint — both Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make it with Kris Kristofferson, and according to Wikipedia, Steve McQueen had considered it at one point before dropping out over arguments with his female co-star, Barbra Streisand (!!!). The writers, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, later wrote 1985’s PALE RIDER, in which Clint starred, and also 1977’s supreme horror oddity THE CAR, apropos of nothing.

So THE GAUNTLET, while incredibly entertaining, is not particularly endemic of Clint’s work — it features very few of his thematic preoccupations, outside of systemic corruption and outsized masculinity. Clint plays an alcoholic detective — unlike Harry Callahan, not remotely an ace — who is charged with safeguarding a federal witness who turns out to have damning evidence about a major authority figure. It’s a set-up. He’s meant to be killed alongside her, and the movie becomes one long dash to the endzone, the titular gauntlet wherein Shockley commandeers a city bus to drive to the federal courthouse in Phoenix despite the fact that the entire police force is bearing down on him with a literal blizzard of bullets. That painting Frazetta did? Not much of an exaggeration.

The most obvious Clint-ism about THE GAUNTLET is that this movie happened during the Sondra Locke era, so she’s the actress who plays the witness. With respect, I’m not the biggest Sondra Locke fan. She seems kind of brittle to me. The combative banter between their two characters is usually entertaining as written, but comes off a little harsh, with the visual disparity between them. With any other female lead, the constant hectoring may have been more charming. There are other Eastwood stock players in the mix, including Pat Hingle (HANG ‘EM HIGH, SUDDEN IMPACT), William Prince (BRONCO BILLY), and the great Bill McKinney (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES), but the co-stars who leave the biggest impression remain Sondra Locke and that bus.

Really, the final gauntlet scene is what makes this essential viewing. The constant barrage of gunfire is so outlandish that it goes beyond comical to harrowing and then back again. It’s a predictor of the next three decades of American action movies, right up to the present. At the time, it could have been Clint’s way of sending up his own gun-happy image — it certainly works as satire, but so too does it work as a viscerally-pleasing massacre of public property. (The human body count is not particularly high in this film, compared to other Clint actioners.)

Whether there’s much going on beyond the surface of this particular film or not, there are few things as ingratiating and as enjoyably American as Clint in his 1970s primacy, and if THE GAUNTLET isn’t one of his most essential films by a long shot, it’s still pretty damn fun.

@jonnyabomb

The Gauntlet (1977)