Archive for the ‘Guns’ Category

 

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

 

 

 

 

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This weekend I watched GROSSE POINTE BLANK again, for the first time in a long time. It’s eighteen years old now! It can vote! As an undergraduate film student, I wrote a seventeen-page paper on GROSSE POINTE BLANK — that’s how convinced I was of its greatness. I still love it, but I’ll try to be more brief here.

 

 

GROSSE POINTE BLANK has a perfect one-liner comedy concept – a contract killer accepts invitation to his ten-year high school reunion due to its proximity to his latest contract – and a sharp fit of a leading man in John Cusack, always the most cerebral of 1980s teen stars, who transitioned better than most into adult roles in the 1990s.

 

 

Cusack and his co-writers fine-tuned Tom Jankewicz’s original script and got the movie made under the direction of George Armitage, a filmmaker who works way too infrequently, having made the way-underrated hillbilly barnstormer VIGILANTE FORCE with Kris Kristofferson and Bernadette Peters, the somewhat-underrated (many cool people know how fantastic it is) crime classic MIAMI BLUES with Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the most-underrated-of-all action epic HIT MAN with Bernie Casey and Pam Grier.

Armitage nails the unusual tone of GROSSE POINTE BLANK, a very dark comedy about a paid murderer who kills people for money and who is lovable mostly only because he’s played by that guy who everyone loved in BETTER OFF DEAD and SAY ANYTHING.

 

GROSSE POINTE BLANK is one of the best-sounding movies of its decade, which is quite a feat considering this was the era of DAZED & CONFUSED, PULP FICTION, DEAD PRESIDENTS, and FRIDAY. The score is by Joe Strummer of The Clash. Pretty epic ‘get’ there. The soundtrack is stacked with killer pop, ska, punk, and new-wave songs from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The supporting cast is pretty deadly – Dan Aykroyd deftly playing against type as Grocer, an insane hitman and rival of Cusack’s Martin Blank, who in true capitalist fashion is looking to consolidate his industry.

Alan Arkin as Blank’s traumatized psychologist, Dr. Oatman, who is terrified of his patient and continually begs him to stop coming back.

Joan Cusack as Blank’s secretary, equally traumatized by her cuddly sociopath of a boss.

Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman as a pair of bored government spooks who Grocer sets on Blank.

MAGNUM FORCE’s Mitch Ryan — a Dirty Harry sidekick! — as the dad of Blank’s high school sweetheart (played by a very winning Minnie Driver).

Stuntman and martial artist Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who probably has the movie’s single best line. (“It is I…”)

 

 

In retrospect, GROSSE POINTE BLANK is a bit less successful in its action-movie moments as it is any time it’s being a hyper-verbal, deep, dark, and truly bizarre character study. But boy, it’s not like we ever get too many of those. I mean, technically this is a romantic comedy where plenty of people get shot dead.  My kind of movie entirely. If I were making movies, I’d probably make one like this (though maybe not as witty). We flatter ourselves with self-descriptions sometimes.

 

grossepointeblank-07

 

And in case you were ever wondering where the name of my site came from, now you know!

 

 

 

 

Fire away at me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally gonna see THE RAID 2 this week! Been waiting two long years for this thing — can you feel my excitement buzzing like a swarm of cicadas on a summer day? The action in the first movie was all-out peanut-butter-and-bananas, and the events of that one were confined to one building. In this new one they go outside! Oh my god. Imagine these maniacs in cars. I can’t wait. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about the first one when I listed it in my 2012 year-end top-ten.

 

THE RAID

 


If I were an action-movie hero (and who’s to say I’m not?), I’d be on the phone to writer/director/editor Gareth Evans yesterday.  He has made,  by a wide margin, the best action movie of the year, displaying all of the most integral virtues of the field. THE RAID starts from the most basic plot – a small group of cops are cornered in a high-rise packed with murderous thugs – and uses only a fraction — $1 million – of the means most action movies have in the pocket.  None of the guys in THE RAID look to be over five feet tall and ninety pounds, and the lead actor (Iko Uwais) looks a bit like Halle Berry circa STRICTLY BUSINESS, yet somehow hey all turn out to be the kind of fearsome, fearless shitkickers who make all fifty-two Expendables look like a Mad Magazine parody.  That’s due to the fact that these are all incredible athletes, of course, but also due to filmmaker Gareth Evans and his ferocious camerawork and ginsu-blade cutting style.

 

THE RAID

 

This isn’t just the best action film of 2012 – it’s pure cinema.  Great film-making isn’t only about storytelling and style, though THE RAID has that too.  It’s about using the tools of cinema to most effectively get a story across, with style as a garnish.  What Gareth Evans does here is present the kinetic ass-kicking doled out by his stars in a way that maximizes its impact.  The choreography of both the battles and of the camerawork that captures them has an uncommon clarity.  The violence is tactile – you can practically feel it.  This cumulative effect is also achieved by brilliantly-chosen and –rendered sound design – whether it be the sound of bullets rolling around in a wooden drawer, or that of a chambered clip, or of a machete scraping the underside of a table, or the face of a stone wall.  While everyone else was name-checking Bruce Lee and John Woo in their reviews of this movie, I was oddly enough reminded most of Martin Scorsese’s short film “The Big Shave.”  That’s the level of clever, innovative, forward-thinking filmmaking on display in THE RAID. I’m talking craft, not content.  That said: Will Gareth Evans one day make his own TAXI DRIVER or GOODFELLAS?  I would not bet against it.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

Raw Force (1982)

 

On the Norwegian Wikipedia page for the 1982 exploitation epic RAW FORCE — probably the only time I’ll ever start a sentence that way — we are informed that the movie was banned in Norway in 1984. That’s the most attention any kind of majority, political or otherwise, has paid this movie. RAW FORCE is made for almost no one, because it is apparently made for almost everyone. Nearly every convention or trope of genre movies from the first seventy or so years of the existence of film is expended in this one rickety heap of madness.

 

THIS IS THE RAW FORCE.

 

As I tried to describe on our latest podcast focusing on RAW FORCEdescribing this movie is like fighting a giant squid. Just when you’ve bested one wavy storytelling strand, another one snaps up and grabs you by the throat.

 

Here’s the trailer, which is maybe the most dishonest trailer I’ve ever seen:

 

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That trailer literally sells a different movie. The clips are the same, but some of the character names and all of their backstories are totally different. The editors somehow cobbled together a cohesive story from several scenes that have no connection. This is the SHOGUN ASSASSIN of movie trailers. RAW FORCE is plenty of kinds of fun, but one adjective that does not apply is “cohesive.” This is the summary I gave on the podcast:

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NOT THAT EDWARD MURPHY

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First, a quote from Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Okay. So early on in RAW FORCE, when a plane lands on a remote island and a character mentions that the waters surrounding the island are infested with vicious piranha, you can bet you will see those fish by the end of the movie. And if that character is a white-suited human trafficker who looks and talks exactly like Adolf Hitler, you may fairly assume he’ll be the one to meet them.

 

EVERYBODY HATES HITLER

 

Otherwise, RAW FORCE, also known as KUNG FU CANNIBALS, completely ignores the principle of Chekhov’s gun. This movie operates under its own rules, and also it doesn’t have any rules. If you somehow managed to drink up all the movies and television shows of the 1970s and then you barfed them back up, the mess on the bathroom floor might look like this.

 

RIGHT IN THE TUMMY-BALLS

 

Saloon fights, graveyard fights, bazooka fights, hippies in warpaint, gratuitously naked ladies, karate-chopping hobbit bartenders, giggling monks who dine on human women, ninja zombies, a BOOGIE NIGHTS style group of protagonists calling themselves the Burbank Karate Club, an ornery sea captain, a kung fu chef, an extended riff on ‘Gilligan’s Island’, and the aforementioned worst person in human history: All this and more in RAW FORCE.

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This was a fun episode even though I was delirious and feverish and congested and loopy. As always my co-hosts Joe and Freeman were terrific, engaging, and informative. You can subscribe and download the show on iTunes (please comment with feedback!) or you can

CLICK HERE!

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Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. We’re recording a new episode this week! Stay tuned.

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

BYE I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

 

 

RAW FORCE

 

LADIES

 

 

 

 

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

Definitely, definitely, definitely don’t look at the title THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE and mistake it for having anything to do with the Michael Jackson album. Also known as THEY CALL HER ONE EYE and HOOKER’S REVENGE, this vicious, grubby revenge picture from Sweden is little known to mainstream audiences but has been massively influential on the grindhouse and cult-film circuit. You see the footprints of this movie all over Tarantino’s work, particularly KILL BILL, and even on our promo artwork for Daily Grindhouse.

DG LOGO

 

 

 

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973) is a hard movie for normal people to watch. I’m in no way a normal person and I still had a lot of trouble with it when I finally watched it for the first time for our most recent podcast. In fact, I kind of hated it. Despite that knee-jerk reaction, we still had a detailed, rambunctious, hopefully informative conversation about it. Give us a listen!

Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. A new episode drops this week! Stay tuned.

 

STREET WARS (1992)

 

STREET WARS (1992)

 

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

 

 

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

 

 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Gundown (1966)

Sergio Sollima is only the third most famous of all the Sergios who made Westerns in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s.  You already know Sergio Leone, and you may even know Sergio Corbucci.  There’s also Sergio Martino, Sergio Garrone, and Sergio Bergonzelli, but I don’t have room to write a book here!  Sergio Sollima is a clever, versatile director who built sociopolitical concerns into his enormously entertaining filmography.  He is maybe best regarded for his terrific crime films, including REVOLVER and VIOLENT CITY — both amazing places to start.  He’s not the most prolific of “spaghetti” Western directors.  In fact, Sollima only made three Westerns, all in the span of three consecutive years – THE BIG GUNDOWN, FACE TO FACE, and RUN, MAN, RUN! but they are more than enough to place him among the exalted ranks of Leone and Corbucci.  All three of Sollima’s Westerns starred the Cuban-born Tomás Milián, who played the same role in two of them.

RUN, MAN, RUN!

In THE BIG GUNDOWN and its sort-of-sequel RUN, MAN, RUN!, Tomás Milián plays the crafty, unruly bandit Cuchillo.  In THE BIG GUNDOWN, Cuchillo spends the first several scenes entirely unseen, only discussed.  He’s wanted for the rape and murder of a young girl, and it’s his bad luck that the lethal Jonathan Corbett is the mercenary hired to find and destroy him.  Now I happened to have seen RUN, MAN, RUN! first, out of chronological order, so I knew going into it that Cuchillo may not be guilty of these crimes, but for most of THE BIG GUNDOWN, you are to assume he’s the bad guy. And that makes things complicated, because he’s so comical, funny and annoyingly likable.  Cuchillo is a thief and a scoundrel, and he isn’t always too polite to women, but he wouldn’t do something quite so horrific as the act of which he’s been accused.

 

Cuchillo & The Gang

 

One of many interesting elements of THE BIG GUNDOWN is that you don’t know that Cuchillo is innocent for most of the movie, which gives the majority of the scenes some mighty fascinating tension.  Cuchillo is a raging trickster and a puckish anarchist, a Bugs Bunny or a Daffy Duck, enjoyable and infuriating – and it’s frustrating to like him so much, if he is in fact the kind of man who the senator claims he is.  Contrast this situation to what goes on in THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY, where a hangman rattles off a list of all the crimes of which Tuco, Eli Wallach’s character, has been accused, including “raping a virgin of the White race, and statuatory rape of a minor of the Black race.”  In Leone’s world, the way these offenses are added to a checklist is played — literally — as gallows humor.  Leone isn’t interested in exploring these accusations, preferring the punchline to the possible pathology.  In Sollima’s world, we still have the charming and devious Mexican bandit character, but not only is he more overtly interested in pursuing women throughout the course of the movie (Leone’s film runs almost three hours but has little time for female characters), but unlike Tuco, Cuchillo is definitively exonerated of egregious sexual misconduct.  Considering they were both released within a year of each other, it’s fascinating to ponder the parallels and variations between THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and THE BIG GUNDOWN.  Most obviously, these two wonderful films share a wonderful lead actor.

 

 

THE BIG GUNDOWN is primarily built around its marquee star, Lee Van Cleef, best known for his role as “Angel-Eyes” (THE BAD) in Leone’s THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY.  This movie was made soon after that one.  Sollima wrote it with Sergio Donati, who wrote for Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) among many others. Here Van Cleef, as Jonathan Corbett, is playing a more heroic character than he did in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY – but for much of the film we can’t quite tell for sure.  Corbett can be pretty nasty, as seen in the introductory scene where he calmly toys with three wanted men he’s got cornered – we know he’s bad; we just figure he’s better than the man he’s tracking.  Once Corbett sets out on Cuchillo’s trail, the movie becomes the same kind of Tom & Jerry cat-and-mouse game Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach played out in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY – only even more satirical and way more sociopolitically engaged.  There’s a scene where the two gunmen arrive at a ranch presided over by a beautiful woman who is surrounded by big beefy henchmen, and the subtext is practically exploding out of everybody’s ears.  It’s hilarious and awesome.

 

There is currently a version of THE BIG GUNDOWN up on YouTube, but the complete Italian cut of the film is what you want to see, and on the biggest screen possible, which is what I got to do in 2012 thanks to the “spaghetti” Western series at Film Forum.  It’s obviously one of the greats in the genre, having influenced everything from THREE AMIGOS! (in the form of the fancy-pants Teutonic killer with the monocle who haunts Corbett)to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Tarantino used parts of EnnioMorricone’s typically wonderful score).  It’s also, not for nothing, one of the most straight-up entertaining movies I’ve ever seen.  Ever!  No exaggeration.  Instantly one of my favorite movies of all time.  And it’ll probably be one of yours too, maybe even as soon as you hear the rousing Ennio Morricone theme song.

Visit me on Twitter!:  @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)