Archive for the ‘Clint’ Category

 

Burt-DayIMG_4674

 

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.

 

longest_yard_ver2

 

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.

IMG_5595

 

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)

 

Certainly as a director and a little less so as a star, Clint Eastwood has worked in just about every genre there is. One glaring exception is horror, or so it would seem. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER comes pretty damn close. It’s a genre rope-a-dope. You see the star of THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY and he’s riding a horse and carrying a six-shooter, so you think you know what kind of a movie you’re expecting. And then you get hit with something else entirely, but not right away.

 

 

 

Here I find myself in the unfortunate position of spoiling a movie early on simply by describing it in terms of the horror genre – since for a long stretch, the story of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER would not lead one to conclude it should be filed anywhere other than the Westerns shelf of the library.  

 

 

But, at the very least, Clint Eastwood as director and star uses some elements of the ghost-story genre in the construction of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER.  The unnamed gunslinger appears out of the haze of the frontier heat on his way into a town that he eventually paints blood-red (literally) and re-names “Hell,” and the wailing score by Dee Barton of PLAY MISTY FOR ME is at all times more horror-movie than Morricone 

 

 

Clint’s second film as director after the aforementioned PLAY MISTY FOR ME, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER was heavily influenced by the styles of Clint’s mentors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone.  Unlike PLAY MISTY FOR ME, which was a then-contemporary thriller, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER would have seemed like a return to familiar genre terrain for Eastwood. But this was no usual shoot-’em-up. It was the first of many sly and bold deconstructions of his own “nameless gunfighter” persona – this is no hero, but a ruthless avenging angel.  And maybe “angel” isn’t remotely the right term.  

Actually it definitely isn’t.

 

 

Written by Ernest Tidyman, creator of SHAFT, and moodily lensed by Eastwood regular DP Bruce SurteesHIGH PLAINS DRIFTER lets you know almost immediately that this isn’t Gary Cooper territory. The townspeople of Lago are nervous about a trio of murderous outlaws, led by Stacey Bridges (played by Geoffrey Lewis), who once terrorized the place and are rumored to be on the way to do it again. So when a mysterious stranger, in a familiar tall, dark and handsome form, rides in from the desert and shoots down some nasty customers, it would seem he’s the answer to Lago’s prayers.

 

 

But when a well-dressed blond lady tries to meet-cute with the stranger by bumping into him, he forces her into a barn and not very ambiguously forces himself on her. This is within the first fifteen minutes of the film. It’s startling and upsetting, and while there are indications the woman seems to enjoy it, that only makes it more difficult to process. Our movie’s hero has done one of the worst things you can do to anyone to a seemingly innocent person. And we’re still supposed to root for this guy? Can you imagine the Salon thinkpieces if this film were to come out today?

 

 

Of course, as it turns out, nobody in Lago is innocent or pure. But we don’t know that at the time of the sexual assault. And even once the truth is revealed, this moment still doesn’t sit right. Nobody deserves such a violation, and even if logic were perverted and contorted enough to make rape seem justifiable, does that make things better? Is anything really resolved? And why are we watching in the first place?

 

 

Twenty years later, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Science awarded Clint’s film UNFORGIVEN for its canny deconstruction of the star’s own persona and that of basically every American action hero of the past century. But — not to take anything away from UNFORGIVEN, which is a favorite — HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER proves Clint had been doing that all along. The gulf between what an audience expected from Clint in 1973, when he first rides into this movie on a white horse, and then what he proceeds to do in short order, is unfathomable. It’s still shocking today. No action star before or since had been so daring with their onscreen persona. No movie star period would risk such a vicious reversal of expectations.

 

HPD

 

 

Like HIGH NOON, this story is about a lone gunfighter preparing to face off against three outlaws in a frontier town. Like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, the story finds a town hiring a mercenary to teach them to fight against invaders. But in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, the hero abuses the authority he’s given: He assaults a woman, drinks up the town’s booze, appoints a little person (Billy Curtis, who is excellent in the movie) the town sheriff, defaces the scenery, and ultimately abandons the people in their supposed time of need. He’s an unchecked anarchist at best.

The Western is maybe the single genre where American audiences most expect our heroes to be heroes. Clint Eastwood used the Western to make us ask ourselves what that means.

 

 

 

— JON ABRAMS. 

 

 

ME

 

 

 

 

PIANY

 

Considering as a whole of the soon-to-be thirty-eight films directed by Clint Eastwood, this latest could easily seem to be more of a departure than usual.

 

Jersey Boys (2014)

 

 

Just so we’re clear, there actually is a precedent for a Clint Eastwood musical.

 

CLINT V. LEE

 

 

One of the great ironies of movies is that two of the ultimate tough-guy actors in American film history, maybe THE two — Clint and Lee Marvin — only ever acted against each other in a musical, 1969’s PAINT YOUR WAGON. It isn’t one of the great spectacles of the genre, but it does provide the unlikely event of a Lee Marvin vocal solo, and then a Lee Marvin vs. Clint Eastwood duet, and hey, here’s Clint singing about nature:

 

 

Clint has always been a music enthusiast, as a pianist and jazz singer, and while he isn’t the most dynamic vocalist in the world, it’s a fun novelty when it does happen. For ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, the second comedy Clint made with Clyde the orangutan, Clint got to team up with Ray Charles for the single:

 

 

More recently, he rasped the theme song to 2008’s GRAN TORINO, which I still think is charming and fun.

 


More importantly, music is a lesser-discussed leitmotif of Clint’s long career as a filmmaker. His first film as director, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, finds Clint in the role of a radio DJ in California. The title is a request he gets from a female admirer. “Misty” is a jazz standard, famously performed by Johnny Mathis, a favorite of Clint’s.

 

CLINT DJ

 

One of Clint’s greatest directorial triumphs, 1988’s BIRD, about legendary saxophone player Charlie Parker, was not only a well-made biopic, unfliching and meticulously performed and executed, but it was also Clint’s full-on love letter to jazz music.

 

 

BIRD

 

One of Clint’s most under-valued films as both actor and director was 1982’s HONKYTONK MAN, a small-scale period piece in which he plays a country-western singer on the trail to Nashville. One of the films closest to Clint’s heart, his son Kyle, now a respected jazz musician himself, plays the young boy in the story.

 

HONK

 

In 1984’s raucous CITY HEAT, Clint leaves his buddy Burt Reynolds in the middle of a huge brawl just so he can play the piano. He also plays piano onscreen in 1993’s IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

PIANO MAN

 

 

While it isn’t one of his better films, 1997’s MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL serves in part as an extended tribute to Savannah native and piano-playing jazzman Johnny Mercer, another Eastwood favorite. The movie is also a nice (and rare) acting showcase for his daughter Alison.

 

ALISON

 

In his role as composer, Clint’s scores for MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CHANGELING, HEREAFTER, and J. EDGAR are highlights of those films, whatever else you think of them. (A couple are better than others, I will admit.)

 

jersey

 

All of that is to say that it’s not entirely crazy that Clint’s newest film as director is a film adaptation of the stage musical JERSEY BOYS.

But it is a little bit crazy. For one thing, Clint Eastwood has one of the richest and broadest filmographies, in the way of subject matter, of any major American director outside of maybe Hawks and Kubrick, but Broadway is decidedly not Eastwood turf. Dancing is not an Eastwood thing. I’m not sure if longtime Eastwood editor Joel Cox has even cut a full-on musical sequence. And Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, while certainly fine and pleasant, don’t seem like Clint’s type of band. Maybe I’m wrong, but I gotta ask: Is Clint’s heart really in this one?

Since I started writing about movies, I’ve written more about Clint’s movies than I have any other filmmaker’s. A while back, William Goldman claimed Clint’s career is the single best in all of movies, and I surely agree. Because, while you can debate the specific merits of each of his soon-to-be-thirty-eight films, you would be hard pressed to argue that this is not one of the most intellectually curious directors there has ever been. If he was just the mindless, expressionless acti0n star his critics once dismissed him to be, he could easily have made a long line of DIRTY HARRY knock-offs. Instead, his Westerns are more thoughtful than almost anybody else’s, his action films are more surprisingly personal than almost anybody else’s, and his dramas show an uncommon interest in people and perspectives unlike his own.

Is that why he’s doing a musical about a bunch of doo-wop singers with over-the-top falsettos? I hope so. I think the last few Eastwood efforts — INVICTUS, HEREAFTER, and J. EDGAR — show the same kind of intellectual curiosity and ability to surprise. Maybe it’s always bothered Clint that PAINT YOUR WAGON was so poorly received, and maybe this was his best shot at making a full-on musical, one of the few genres he’s never attacked as a director.

I can’t say for sure, obviously. I guess what troubles me, looking forward, is all the stuff that shouldn’t trouble me — the peripheral stuff, the uncharacteristic allowance of a reality show about his family, the TV commercial, the movie with Justin Timberlake, and the super-uncharacteristic chair incident. You don’t have to agree with everything an artist does to love their art, but some of that stuff is pretty out there. (The chair thing I can handle. The Timberlake movie… it’s still hard for me to talk about.)

Maybe I should shut up and trust in one of my artistic heroes, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to see a JERSEY BOYS movie — I’m just plain not at all a doo-wop enthusiast — and that’s the first time I’ve been disinterested ahead of a Clint Eastwood movie.

As of press time I still haven’t gone to see it, but I will be happy to have my reticence proven wrong. It’ll get a fair shot from me no matter what.

 

@jonnyabomb 

 

Charles Bronson!

Well, that’s not me, obviously.  That’s good old Charles Bronson.  But I wrote the cover story.  “The Later Years Of The American Action Hero.” That’s me.

Paracinema is a brilliant movie magazine which covers a lot of the cool stuff you won’t often see in, say, Entertainment Weekly.  You can tell from some of the other stories mentioned on that cover there (Bruce Lee, Sam Raimi, etc.).

My article is about the kind of movies that action stars make when they get old.  Charles Bronson.  Lee Marvin.  Obviously Clint’s in there.  But I get into the next generation after that too — Arnold, Stallone, those guys.  And then I ponder what’s going to happen when the current crop starts getting some gray whiskers.

I think it’s one of the better things I’ve ever written.  And I’m truly honored to be featured in this great magazine, in the midst of some truly special writers.

Paracinema is carried by many book stores and magazine stands, particularly in the cities.  CLICK HERE for a list of the venues that have it in stock.  If you don’t want to go looking for it, you can order the issue from the Paracinema website:  CLICK HERE.  The magazine costs a very reasonable $7, I think shipping is two dollars extra.  I know in this day and age every dollar counts, so I don’t make the suggestion lightly, but even still, your support would mean a whole lot to me.  If you know me personally, you know I’d do it for you.

Did I mention it’s super-fun?  Satisfaction guaranteed.
As always, you can find me here, in your hearts, wherever truth and justice prevail, or at least on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Thanks. Love you all. — JA.

Charles Bronson!

A Perfect World (1993)

One of Clint Eastwood’s most underrated pictures, A PERFECT WORLD features Kevin Costner’s single best performance ever.  Maybe that’s why Costner doesn’t get a whole lot of credit – because not a lot of people have seen A PERFECT WORLD.  I’m not totally sure why that is, unless people were confused by the title’s similarity to that of the Cosby Show spinoff that was still popular at the time.  This is a different perfect world from where they’re coming from.

Here Costner plays a fugitive criminal named Butch who kidnaps a small boy named Phillip – the kick is that the boy, raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, has a blast along the way, and the crook warms to him, for example dressing him up in a Casper mask for his first Halloween.  Their unusual friendship is by far the most compelling part of the movie; the subplot with the cops pursuing him — even though Clint plays the sheriff! — can’t compete.  By definition, you start to buy into the friendship between Butch and Phillip and you don’t want it to be ruined by reality, in this case the fact that Butch is a wanted fugitive for robbery, murder, and kidnapping and that can only end a couple of bad ways.

Screenwriter John Lee Hancock went on to adapt MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL for Clint and then pretty much fully committed to being middlebrow, as the auteur responsible for the phrase “Academy Award Winner Sandra Bullock,” but his work here is perceptive and indelible.  Clint stocks the movie with a tremendous supporting cast, including Laura Dern, Bradley Whitford, Bruce McGill, Keith Szarabajka, Ray McKinnon, and Mary Alice (not for nothing, a regular on A Different World.)

Clint’s performance as the lawman chasing down the outlaw isn’t his most essential in that respect, but as a director he truly shines, perfectly balancing the urgency of the plot with a leisurely pace, almost reminiscent of Terrence Malick and BADLANDS.  He gets an unforgettable performance out of T.J. Lowther, the child actor playing Phillip.  If I’m not mistaken, this is the first Eastwood film to spotlight small children in any significant way (TRUE CRIME is one of the only other examples.)  The score by Lennie Niehaus is typically spare and effective.  And the cinematography by Jack Green, doing a victory lap from his triumph on 1992’s gorgeous UNFORGIVEN, is a real highlight.  Even divorced of content and story, this is a beautiful movie.  Factoring back in the central relationship, it’s something special.  A PERFECT WORLD is an important waystation along the highway of one of the most significant careers in American movies.

A PERFECT WORLD is playing this weekend at New York’s IFC Center.

@jonnyabomb

APW

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

— Clint Eastwood, as The Outlaw Josey Wales in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES:

Clint Eastwood’s career is so long-running and so varied in subject matter that the mainstream reactions to his work have really run the range.  He was nobody, then he was a sudden success, then he was underrated, then he was accused of shallowness and sadism, then he was ignored, then he was discovered as a great director, then there was a backlash or seven, then he was called overrated by some, then the waves of rediscovery surged and ebbed and flowed, and so on.  By any measure there are plenty of bright spots on that lengthy resume, many under-seen and under-appreciated films, and some stone-cold masterpieces.  As actor and collaborator he has THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and DIRTY HARRY, and as director, he has UNFORGIVEN, BIRD, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and this one right here.

 

 

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is about a farmer who joins the then-raging Civil War when his family is massacred by marauders.  When the war ends, he becomes an outlaw rather than surrender his guns.  In the course of his travels, he meets a variety of companions and, as their protector, forms a kind of frontier community that due to his outlaw status he may or may not be able to join for good.

Time Out New York has referred  to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES as “messy” and “rather ponderous” and I truly hope that you take my word for it over theirs.  THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES takes everything that Clint ever learned from Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, and everything he learned from cinema in general and Westerns in particular, and pours it all into this one glorious epic.  The film is stuffed with savvy references to the history of American Western cinema, from the dizzying callback to the “Ecstasy Of Gold” sequence from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY when Josey’s home is attacked, to a pointed reference to the white scorpion from THE WILD BUNCH, to about a hundred visual cues and thematic echoes of the work of John Ford, particularly in the complicated, layered depiction of Native American characters, which is virtually unique to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.


  

 

 

One part revenge picture, one part Lone Ranger & Tonto picaresque (a travelling odyssey with the greatest Indian sidekick ever in movies, Chief Dan George), one part political allegory, and one part mournful hymn, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is clearly Clint’s warm-up lap before UNFORGIVEN.  It’s a meditation on violence and the effects of a life of violence on its perpetrators.  Interestingly, it factors in the Native American experience in an unusual way, as something of a peripheral but running concern.  Josey’s most consistent companion in a film where he has several of them — something of an irony in both the one-man-army Eastwood career and in a film where he’s billed as an outlaw — is Lone Watie, a very elderly man of measured speech whose easygoing, pointed humor and relaxing manner are a fascinating contrast to the typical clenched-teeth Eastwood gunslinger performance.  The most charismatic, funniest role in the entire movie is carried out by a then-77-year-old man.

 

 

Chief Dan George

 

Consider also the taciturn young Navajo woman, Little Moonlight, who gets wrapped up into the defacto community that Josey Wales and Lone Watie pick up along the way in their travels.  Her very existence in the film has an accumulated history to it — she is visually reminiscent of the Comanche squaw in THE SEARCHERS, but while that character was treated with less respect, literally booted down a hill by Jeffrey Hunter and laughed at by John Wayne, there is a redemptive quality to how Little Moonlight is portrayed here.  She gets to carry a gun!  I’ve seen a ton of Westerns and I’m pretty sure I never before or since saw an Indian squaw get a chance to fight alongside the heroes.

 

 

There’s also the warrior chief Ten Bears, a character who isn’t in much more than one scene but is played indelibly by the 1970s’ go-to Native American character actor, Will Sampson.   An artist in life, Sampson was often framed as a looming, possibly dangerous figure on film.  He was the deaf-mute Chief in the anti-establishment classic ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and the observant man-who-knows-whales Jacob in the wackadoo killer-whale epic ORCA.  While even those roles bordered on stereotyping, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES inverts the image by portraying Ten Bears as a fearsome warrior chief, but then immediately equating him with the film’s hero.  There is an instant recognition of equals that passes between Ten Bears and Josey Wales.  It’s not unforeseeable that, had he lived, Will Sampson could have gone on to his own UNFORGIVEN, playing a similar violent-but-self-aware character in advancing age.  Clint would direct, of course.

 

 

The brilliance of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is that it works on so many different levels at once — it can and has been watched as a Clint’s-so-badass manly-man classic action film, from the epic gunfights right down to the quotability — but there’s an incredible depth and poetry to its engagement with American history and American film.  It’s simultaneously traditional and revisionist.  No action star before or since has ever been as knowing and sly about his onscreen persona as Clint has been, and none have deployed it so cannily.  If all you see when you look at Clint is “Dirty Harry” or “The Man With No Name,” well, he gives that to you here, but even as he’s delivering it sincerely, he’s also serving it up as a rejoinder.  For one thing, this is a good movie to watch for any of those skeptics who assume Clint’s acting is limited.  Here he fills in the image of his standard vengeful-gunslinger character with pools of complicated emotion.  Josey Wales can be nasty, not only to his enemies but to many who deserve compassion.  I mean, in this movie he spits on a dog!  Josey Wales is often a dick.  He’s maladjusted but that makes sense:  He’s a veteran.  He’s seen heinous things, and done them too.  He’s good at killing, less so at living.

 

 

 

There’s a lot more to be said about this movie, from the sweeping landscapes by cinematographer Bruce Surtees (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID) to the score by composer Jerry Fielding (THE WILD BUNCH, THE GAUNTLET), but there’s only so much time and space.  Let’s end with a special hand for the bad guys:  John Vernon, who plays Clint’s ally-turned-nemesis Fletcher, has between this, his roles in POINT BLANK and CHARLEY VARRICK, and Dean Wormer in ANIMAL HOUSE, played at least four of the greatest heavies in film history.  (Five, if you count KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.)  He could do ominous erudition with ease, but here there’s a melancholy and a weariness to his relentless pursuit of his quarry in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES that really stays with you, as much as Clint’s iconic warrior-gunman does.   Eastwood regular Bill McKinney, probably best known for his part in DELIVERANCE, is menacing and monstrous here as the more straight-ahead villain, Captain “Redlegs” Terrill.  A hero is only as tough as his toughest enemies.  It’s not easy to play the equal but opposing force in a Clint Eastwood action film, but both of these gentlemen do a phenomenal job.  Respect.  Thank you.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

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

frank_frazetta_thuviamaidofmars

frank_frazetta_space_attack

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)