Clint Eastwood got his start in movies in Revenge of the Creature (1955) but didn’t hit it big until he played Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. This made him a TV star and he successfully made the transition to movie star with Sergio Leone’s The Man with no Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Throughout the 60s and 70s, he was the quintessential anti-hero. Instant Netflix has a huge number of Clint Eastwood’s movies available so I’m devoting the week to him.
1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – “While the Civil War rages between the Union and the Confederacy, three men — a quiet loner (Clint Eastwood), a ruthless hit man and a Mexican bandit — comb the American Southwest in search of a strongbox containing $200,000 in stolen gold. In his third classic spaghetti Western with Eastwood, director Sergio Leone continues to shake up the genre with stylish photography, a hefty dose of cynicism and an instantly recognizable score”
Sergio Leone’s epic conclusion to his Man With No Name trilogy is a masterpiece. Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef all out-macho each other through the whole film. Ennio Morricone’s musical score is not only excellent, it’s iconic – I’ve even heard people use it as a ringtone. The Spanish desert locales are very impressive and the costuming, especially on the soldiers, is quite good. The three-way showdown at the end of the film is very exciting as is the Civil War bridge sequence.
2. Hang ‘Em High (1968) – “Clint Eastwood (in all his squinty glory) survives a hanging, vowing revenge on the lynch mob that left him dangling. To carry out his oath, he returns to his former job as a lawman. Before long, Eastwood catches up with the nine men and starts dispensing his brand of justice. The film aspires to be an Americanized spaghetti Western — and succeeds”
This movie, the first from Eastwood’s Malpaso company, is a good western with a lot of good ideas but suffers from a lack of standout setpieces. If this seems like a Sergio Leone western to you, note that he was offered the director’s chair but was filming Once Upon a Time in the West at the time. While the action seems a little lackluster, the supporting cast is full of good actors – Ben Johnson, Ed Begley, Alan Hale, Jr., Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Pat Hingle. The film spends a lot of time dabbling in various aspects of frontier justice.
People watchers – look for Mark Lenard (Star Trek’s Sarek) as a prosecutor.
3. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) – “In this antic Western, Hogan (Clint Eastwood) is a mercenary who hires his gun out to the highest bidder. But he meets his match in Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine), who’s committed to helping a group of Mexican revolutionaries battle the French. The unlikely duo team up to join the fight — and maybe earn a few centavos in the process”
Capably directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), this western comes across as a mix between a buddy cop movie and a caper movie (assuming you can overlook the almost plagiaristic similarities to The African Queen). Top-billed Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood appear to be having fun but the entire rest of the cast seems disposable and the script isn’t deep enough for a two-person movie. For stunt-lovers, there are a couple of good fire gags at the film’s climax. I enjoyed it but it’s nothing special unless you watch The African Queen right before it in which case you’ll wince at every scene.
4. The Beguiled (1971) – “An injured Civil War soldier (Clint Eastwood) takes refuge in a fancy Southern girls’ school and quickly becomes the center of attention as the girls clamor for his affections, and the headmistress (Geraldine Page) freely practices her surgical skills on him. A far cry from typical Eastwood films, this moody, atmospheric drama is a tension-filled cult favorite from director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz).”
Clint Eastwood plays wonderfully against type here and Don Siegel turns a common male fantasy on its ear in this atmospheric drama. There’s a nice early bit of foreshadowing with a tethered crow, and other thematic elements with a painting, a turtle and a brief discussion of slavery. Don Siegel keeps the tension ratcheted up but has a tendency to overuse flashbacks and voiceover for inner thoughts. The ladies are uniformly excellent – Geraldine Page ( finally winning on her 8th Oscar nomination for a Trip to Bountiful), Elizabeth Hartman (Oscar nominated for A Patch of Blue), Jo Ann Harris, Darleen Carr, Mae Mercer, Pamelyn Ferdin, Melody Thomas, Peggy Drier, and Patricia Mattick. People watchers: Melody Thomas grew up to become Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman of Young and the Restless). This film is a wonderful counterpart to the girl school sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
5. Joe Kidd (1972) – “A wealthy landowner (Robert Duvall) attempts to hire former bounty hunter Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) and a band of killers to track down a group of armed revolutionary Mexicans (led by John Saxon’s Luis Chama) whose U.S. land claims were denied and then burned by the government. At first, Kidd turns down the offer, until Chama steals his horse and terrorizes his friends. John Sturges directs from an original screenplay by Elmore Leonard”
This is another very good Clint Eastwood western set a bit after the standard western period (automatic pistol, telescopic rifle sights, etc.). One of my favorite character actors John Saxon plays a central figure Luis Chama but actually has little to do aside from a memorably misogynistic quote – “I don’t keep you to think. I keep you for cold nights and days when there’s nothing to do.” Clint Eastwood is a much more human hero in this film – drunk, hot-headed, poaching on Indian land, and quite capable of poor decision-making but still a crack shot with a rifle than he is in his typical westerns. The story by novelist Elmore Leonard is exciting and fast-paced. The cinematography by Bruce Surtees shows the high mountains off to beautiful effect. Robert Duvall has a fun and riveting time as Frank Harlan, our chief villain.
People watchers keep an eye out for Dick Van Patten in a brief role as a hotel manager. All in all this is a very good though not classic western.