The Evolution of Eastwood: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

“I may have found a way out of here.” – Frank Morris

Aspiring writer Richard Tuggle had painstakingly researched and adapted a script about the only potentially successful escape attempt from the world’s most notorious prison. He submitted it to multiple agencies and was consistently rejected. Finally, he sought out the agent of Don Siegel and cleverly deceived a way to get his script to him. Siegel read the script and enjoyed it, passing it on to Eastwood as their next potential partnership.

Siegel and Eastwood, once close friends and frequent collaborators, had not made a film together since the original Dirty Harry (in which Eastwood had even directed a few scenes). Eastwood agreed to let his old friend direct if the film could be made through Malpaso Productions (Eastwood’s film company which had produced nearly every film in which he’d been involved since Hang ‘Em High). Siegel wanted production credit, however, and went around Eastwood to acquire the script directly. This choice created tension between the longstanding friends and would seal Escape from Alcatraz – their fifth collaboration – as their final one.

The film tells the true story of Frank Morris (Eastwood), who partnered with the Anglin brothers to mount an escape from the legendary Alcatraz prison in 1962. The film presents the prison warden (Patrick McGoohan) as a cold and cruel figure, choosing not to have him represent a real warden from the prison but rather a fictional archetype. The prisoners suffer various injustices at the hands of the guards and the warden, pushing Morris to develop a risky plan of escape.

Escape from Alcatraz is a different breed of thriller for Eastwood, allowing a deliberate pace to develop tension over an extended time rather than in a series of action bursts. The first half of the film is almost entirely dramatic in nature, establishing a variety of characters within the prison community and the various troubles the inmates suffer while there. Eventually the casualties and restrictions become too oppressive and the second half of the film becomes an escalating puzzle of tension as our characters struggle to enact their plan without being caught by the rigorous routines of the guards.

The performances are unanimously solid, featuring particularly strong turns from Robert Blossoms and Paul Benjamin (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Danny Glover in his feature film debut). Patrick McGoohan is expectedly dastardly in a role perfectly suited for his special brand of passive malevolence. The film’s script is also remarkable in its focus, despite having little in the way of spectacle or shock and nothing in the way of romance. Whether or not the facts presented are authentic, the film’s tone makes you think that this all went down precisely how you’re seeing it, including the unstated but heavily implied outcome of the escape itself.

The pairing of Eastwood and Siegel has typically yielded strong work from each of them (Coogan’s Bluff was a real dud to me, but Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, and especially Dirty Harry are all standouts in Eastwood’s filmography). Escape from Alcatraz represents strong work yet again, albeit of a more restrained variety. It would be easy to sympathize with viewers who are put off by the bridled pace, but chances are strong that most viewers will find the steadily ratcheting tension rewarding and compelling.

It is unfortunate that this marked their last partnership, but it is not wholly unexpected. Eastwood had reached a point in his career where he’d had too many established hits (particularly as a director) and it’s easy to imagine that they’d both outgrown the mentor/performer dynamic that had flavored their earlier collaborations. Presumably, they patched up their differences prior to Siegel’s death in 1991, but there would never be another film from the pairing that was most directly responsible (apart from Sergio Leone’s western trilogy) for Eastwood’s rise and development as a star. As finales go, Escape from Alcatraz may not be the biggest possible hit, but it’s an impressive work nonetheless.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE GAUNTLET

THE GAUNTLET (1977)

I’m warning ya, you mess around and I’ll put the cuffs on you. You talk dirty, I gag ya, if you run, I’ll shoot you. My name is Shockley, and we’ve got a plane to catch. Let’s go.” – Ben Shockley

The script for The Gauntlet had been bouncing around development for a while before it landed with Eastwood. Previously attached stars included Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and even Barbara Streisand. When Eastwood eventually signed on to direct, he cast himself alongside his then real-life romantic partner Sondra Locke (who had first appeared with Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales).

The narrative is, in many ways, reminiscent of Eastwood’s much earlier film Coogan’s Bluff. In fact, several comparative narrative beats made me wonder if there wasn’t a subconscious desire on Eastwood’s part to try that basic story again, this time helming the directorial duties himself. The premise is that drunk and disillusioned officer Ben Shockley (Eastwood) is sent on assignment to extradite a witness named “Gus” Malley for a “nothing trial”. Upon arrival, Shockley quickly realizes that someone powerful would do anything to make sure that neither he nor Malley makes it back to Phoenix alive, and the pair of them must navigate a treacherous series of ambushes, traps, and unfortunate encounters before eventually facing down a multi-block, heavily armed barricade.

The two films are similar in their basic extradition plotline and in the narrative elements of the protagonist stepping into trouble beyond his original understanding. But there are some major differences between The Gauntlet and Coogan’s Bluff that make The Gauntlet the unquestionably stronger film.

First and foremost is the presence of Locke as the feisty and resourceful Malley. Locke wasn’t given much to do acting-wise in The Outlaw Josey Wales except for pine, swoon, and worry (all of which she still managed to make believable). With the character of Malley, she is given a much richer character and she attacks the role with commitment and complexity. She steals nearly every scene she’s in (which is most of the movie) and the real-life chemistry between her and Eastwood make their dynamic on screen frequently crackle.

The script is also tighter and more direct, with a more logical and focused direction to its narrative. There are some obvious contrivances and conveniences, a handful of which may very well elicit eye rolls, but the general structure is noticeably stronger than Coogan’s Bluff. However, the script could have done more with its character development and presented a less outlandish resolution to the central conflict. When viewed in reference to the similarly-premised earlier film, the script shines. But taken as an isolated piece, it’s pretty pedestrian.

Eastwood himself is as reliable as always, boosted substantially by getting to work with Locke. As an actor, there isn’t much surprise here, but as a director it’s both a step forward and backward. It lacks nearly all of the rich thematic exploration of The Outlaw Josey Wales, which makes it feel somewhat regressive – I forgot several times in the viewing of it that Eastwood directed it. However, as an action thriller, Eastwood deftly navigates some authentically thrilling sequences. His experiences on The Eiger Sanction were more ambitious (and dangerous), but his instincts for pacing the thrills take a big step forward here. Nearly a fifth of the film’s budget was spent solely on the action effects and that investment shows on-screen.

All of this adds up to something of a mixed bag. The script is mostly innocuous (not to mention frequently trite and unbelievable), but the action sequences are genuinely exciting (particularly the bombardment of its outrageous climactic journey through the gun-saturated city streets) and Sondra Locke delivers a compelling and interesting performance. Fans of Eastwood’s more rough-and-tumble thrillers will find a lot to enjoy, but those looking for something with more depth or substance might be left shrugging it off.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

You Should Be Watching: May 10-16

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found. I highlight films that come with my personal recommendation as well as provide a list of notable titles that are coming and going so you’re sure not to miss out on the good stuff.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Modern Times

  

 

Year: 1936

Director: Charles Chaplin

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Stanley Blystone, Al Ernest Garcia, Richard Alexander, Cecil Reynolds, Mira McKinney, Murdock MacQuarrie, Wilfred Lucas, Edward LeSaint, Fred Malatesta, Sammy Stein, Juana Sutton, Ted Oliver, Gloria DeHaven, Norman Ainsley, Bobby Barber, Chuck Hamilton, Jack Low, Harry Wilson, Heinie Conklin, Bruce Mitchell, Lloyd Ingraham, Walter James, Buddy Messinger

 

Last week, I highlighted the legendary icon of silent film Charles Chaplin through the biopic about his life simply called Chaplin, which stars a young Robert Downey Jr. Consequently, this week, I’m taking you back a half century further to recommend Charlie himself in a mid-career film that will have the whole family cracking up at Chaplin’s antics (yes, you should share this and other silent movies with your kids). But there’s a reason Chaplin titled this film Modern Times, and he has much more to offer than mere slapstick. Chaplin, playing the part of A Factory Worker amidst The Great Depression, applies a humorous twist on key issues of the day, not unlike modern day socioeconomic concerns, through a series of loosely connected set pieces. Regardless whether he’s exploring the relentless, dehumanizing nature of industrialism via the machines of the assembly line, taking on the problem of political witch hunts, or celebrating romantic love among the destitute, he makes your laughter mean something. You may even feel your heartstrings plucked, and speaking of the love relationship, Paulette Goddard holds her own against Chaplin and lights up the screen every time she appears.


 

Temple Grandin

    

Year: 2010

Director: Mick Jackson

Genre: Biography, Drama

Cast: Claire Danes, Catherine O’Hara, Julia Ormond, David Strathairn, Melissa Farman, Barry Tubb, Cherami Leigh, Tamara Jolaine, Charles Baker, Blair Bomar, David Born, Chloë Evans, Jordan Strassner, Michael D. Conway, Xochitl Romero, Joe Nemmers, Richard Dillard, David Blackwell, Toby Metcalf, Brady Coleman, Silver Renee, Chad McMinn, Nicole Holt, Jake Messinger, Cynthia Huerta, Jessica Wilson, Cassandra L. Small, Kurt Cole, William Akey

 

While I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing Claire Danes in many of her other roles, nothing could have prepared me for seeing her inhabit the role of Temple Grandin, who was among the first people with autism to publicly share their personal experience of living with it. If this were the only role I’d seen Danes play, I’d assume she herself had some form of autism. As it is, she’s practically unrecognizable, not only in her appearance, but in her very attempts at speaking and expressing herself. Her Golden Globe for Best Actress was well deserved.

Temple’s story is remarkable and represents and is among the most fascinating, well-made, and inspiring biopics I’ve seen. She is a brilliant, motivated woman of outstanding character. But early in her life, because of her condition, she refused to speak and threw frequent temper tantrums, leaving her tragically misunderstood and mistreated by her parents and ultimately misdiagnosed as was common at the time. Thankfully, that was only the beginning of her story, and through the journey, you’ll see the amazing things she has accomplished and hopefully gain empathy and a much greater understanding and appreciation for a group of people who are so easily dismissed.

NOTE: The last day to stream Temple Grandin on Amazon Prime is May 21.


 

Changeling


Year: 2008

Director: Clint Eastwood

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Drama

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich, Geoff Pierson, Amy Ryan, Gattlin Griffith, Michelle Gunn, Frank Wood, Colm Feore, Michael Kelly, Denis O’Hare, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Devon Conti, Peter Breitmayer, Antonia Bennett, Erica Grant, Jan Devereaux, Kerri Randles, Morgan Eastwood, Ric Sarabia, Debra Christofferson, Russell Edge, Mary Stein, Gregg Binkley, E.J. Callahan, Reed Birney, Colby French, Kelly Lynn Warren, Richard King

 

For a Clint Eastwood-directed film that’s only 10 years old, Changeling is curiously absent from the cultural consciousness and is criminally underrated. This gripping, stylish Twilight Zone-esque mystery dramatizes the stranger-than-fiction events surrounding Christine Collins (played by Angelina Jolie) and the disappearance of her son Walter. The screenwriter himself, J. Michael Straczynski, in researching the details of the true events found the story so bizarre he thought it couldn’t be real. Being set in 1920s L.A. gives Eastwood a veritable playground of ideas to explore, from the city’s attempts to present a glamorous facade to brutality and corruption within the police force. But through his expert direction and some great casting including Jeffrey Donovan as the police captain, John Malkovich playing against type as Reverend Briegleb and especially with Jolie’s passionate Oscar-nominated performance, the most important quality that’s on display is the unbreakable bond between a missing son and a mother who will go through hell just for the possibility of getting him back.


 

Breakdown

      

Year: 1997

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy, Rex Linn, Ritch Brinkley, Moira Harris, Kim Robillard, Thomas Kopache, Jack McGee, Vincent Berry, Helen Duffy, Ancel Cook, Gene Hartline

 

To finish, let’s go back to 90s thriller territory with Jonathan Mostow’s standout suspense ride Breakdown, which is another Twilight Zone-type story about a disappearance that contains more than faint echoes of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Kurt Russell is in prime form here as yuppie Jeff Taylor, husband to Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) and opposite Russell, J.T. Walsh is wonderfully unnerving. The movie starts out simple enough with the couple driving across the country in their brand new Jeep, but before long they have car trouble in the desert, they get separated while Amy gets a ride to go call for help at the only place around for miles, and then nothing. She has vanished without a sign, and an increasingly desperate and panicked husband can’t find anyone to believe his story. Mostow’s direction is focused and tight, always propelling the mystery, paranoia, and action forward. So once the tension starts, it doesn’t let up, leaving you with a thoroughly pulse-pounding experience.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 11
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

May 15
Metropolis [Restored] (1927)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 17
Red Dawn (1984)

May 18
Creed (2015)

May 21
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Conspiracy (2001)
The Sunset Limited (2011)
Temple Grandin (2010)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 11
Forbidden Planet (1956)

Werner Herzog:

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

May 16
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

May 18
Luchino Visconti:

La Terra Trema (1948)
The Leopard (1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

May 25
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)

 


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Faces Places (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Warrior (2011)
Last Flag Flying — Amazon Original (2017)
Stories We Tell (2012)

 

FILMSTRUCK

David Lean Collection:

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Alphaville (1965)
Army of Shadows (1969)
Bob le Flambeur (1956)
Le Trou (1960)
Je T’aime, Je T’aime (1968)

 

HULU

Warrior (2011)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 16
89 (2017)
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 12
Still Mine (2013)

 

HULU

May 12
Jane (2017)
Still Mine (2013)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

You Should Be Watching: May 3-9

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Filmstruck, and anywhere else streams are found. I highlight films that come with my personal recommendation as well as provide a list of notable titles that are coming and going so you’re sure not to miss out on the good stuff. Alright? Let’s get started.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Chaplin

      

Year: 1992

Director: Richard Attenborough

Genre:  Biography, Comedy, Drama

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, Matthew Cottle, Maria Pitillo, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Dunn, Deborah Moore, Diane Lane, Nancy Travis, James Woods, David Duchovny, Michael Cade, P.H. Moriarty, Howard Lew Lewis, John Standing 

 

Long before Robert Downey Jr. put on the mantle of the iconic Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), he wowed audiences with his Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning performance as the king of silent film comedy–Charlie Chaplin. It’s fascinating to watch him become the character synonymous with Chaplin, that is The Tramp. But many people don’t even realize that mustachioed fellow with the cane and the funny gait did not represent Chaplin’s normal self. Charles Chaplin was a real person behind the mustache and wig. He was a complicated man who led a complicated life, and he was far from perfect. But like any man, he had hopes and dreams, and he wanted to make the world laugh, and laugh they did. It’s a special experience to see Downey Jr. bring this man to life, giving us viewers a window into the life of such an important figure in the history of film. Hopefully, afterwards, you’ll have the push needed to go explore the real Charlie Chaplin’s work.


 

The Negotiator

Year: 1998

Director: F. Gary Gray

Genre: Action, Crime, Adventure, Mystery, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, David Morse, Ron Rifkin, John Spencer, J.T. Walsh, Siobhan Fallon, Paul Giamatti, Regina Taylor, Bruce Beatty, Michael Cudlitz, Carlos Gómez, Tim Kelleher, Dean Norris, Nestor Serrano, Doug Spinuzza, Leonard L. Thomas, Stephen Lee, Lily Nicksay, Lauri Johnson, Sabi Dorr, Gene Wolande, Rhonda Dotson, John Lordan, Jack Shearer, Donna Ponterotto, Michael Shamus Wiles, Mik Scriba, Joey Perillo

 

While we’re on the subject of earlier work by actors who are part of the MCU, let’s move on to this tense but highly entertaining 90s crime thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson playing classic Samuel L. Jackson. His character is Danny Roman, a hostage negotiator turned desperate hostage taker after he’s accused of murder and corruption. Yep, Kevin Spacey stars too. If that’s a problem for you, I’m sorry, but I’m recommending art here. Performances not people. Spacey is brilliant as fellow negotiator Chris Sabian, as he so often is in roles that give him the opportunity to play out a mental chess match with the other guy. It’s an edge-of-your-seat guessing game throughout as to what’s actually going on and who’s going to get the upper hand. If you like fast-paced 90s thrillers, you can’t go wrong seeing these two go head to head. The Negotiator is a blast.


 

In The Mood For Love

  

 

Year: 2000

Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen, Siu Ping-Lam, Mama Hung, Joe Cheung, Koo Kam-Wah, Chan Man-Lei, Pauline Suen, Roy Cheung

 

Now let’s take a hard right and head into foreign film territory. There are so many ways that a story about adultery can go badly. Adultery is often trivialized or overly sexualized. Wong Kar-Wai avoids every single potential pitfall by emphasizing emotion and longing rather than lust. With artistic values that are quite simply off-the-charts and while avoiding salaciousness, he presents an all too real story about the pain of isolation from those we love and the subtle seeds from which affairs grow, the temporary happiness they promise, and how they affect the unseen future. The emotion of the story is enhanced even more by the backdrop of incredible shots full of creative camera angles, straight lines, bold color, so much elegance and an amazing musical landscape that accompanies the visuals highlighted by the oh so beautiful recurring Yumeji’s Theme, a dark violin-led waltz.


 

Lawrence of Arabia

Year: 1962

Director: David Lean

Genre:  Adventure, Biography, Drama

Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, José Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, Zia Mohyeddin, I.S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Howard Marion-Crawford, Jack Gwillim, Hugh Miller, Robert Rietty, John Barry, Bruce Beeby, John Bennett, Steve Birtles, David Lean, Robert Bolt, Daniel Moynihan, Peter Burton, James Hayter, Barry Warren

 

Finally, we come to David Lean’s time-tested historical epic, our second biopic and winner of seven Academy Awards, this one based on the life and writings of British officer T. E. Lawrence, who came to care for a country not his own. As a result, he sought to assist the Arabs in World War I in their battle against the Turks, using the skills, strategy, and leadership qualities he’d gained through his military experience. This is a film filled with fascinating characters and detail and exciting large-scale action. David Lean’s filmmaking in conjunction with Freddie Young’s cinematography is exquisite, always enchanting. Never has a desert landscape looked more gorgeous and combined with Peter O’Toole’s arresting performance as the titular and ever-present Lawrence, the nearly four-hour runtime is not only earned, it breezes by, so don’t let it keep you from experiencing this masterpiece.

 

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 4
Bernie (2011)

May 8
Sing Street (2016)

May 11
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

 

AMAZON PRIME

None announced

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 11
Forbidden Planet (1956)

Werner Herzog:

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

May 16
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

May 18
Luchino Visconti:

La Terra Trema (1948)
The Leopard (1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

May 25
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Amélie (2001)
Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Red Dragon (2002)
Scream 2 (1997)
Shrek (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Bull Durham (1988)
The Crow (1994)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Frailty (2001)
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Insomnia (2002)
Manhunter (1986)
Thief (1981)
Wonder Boys (2000)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)

From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
High Noon (1952)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 4
Anon — Netflix Original (2018)

May 5
Faces Places (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 4
Last Flag Flying — Amazon Original (2017)

May 5
Warrior (2011)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

Minisode 040: Road to Perdition

Welcome to our April Donor Pick, Minisode 40, where we’ll be discussing Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, the film adaptation of the Max Allan Collins graphic novel. We were pleasantly surprised to be provided an opportunity to revisit this great Tom Hanks gangster flick and have a wonderful conversation about not only its themes but its stunning cinematography and score.

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The Evolution of Eastwood: THE ENFORCER

THE ENFORCER (1976)

“You laugh at me, you bastard, and I’ll shoot you where you stand.” – Kate Moore

“Dirty” Harry Callahan is at it a third time. This time around, we get a tease of some unconventionality; but we ultimately wind up with the same old formula, which by this time is growing a bit stale.

Eastwood had every intention of helming the director’s duties for The Enforcer, but having overtaken directorial duties for The Outlaw Josey Wales (in a somewhat controversial move which you can read about in my review of that film) left him without enough time to prepare to direct again so soon. Instead, Eastwood made a rather clever decision to promote his longtime assistant director James Fargo to fully helm the film. The partnership allowed Eastwood to ease back on the responsibilities, promote a longtime collaborator, and still manage to maintain control of the production given the longstanding dynamic between him and Fargo. The resulting production was very smooth and efficiently run.

The plot this time revolves around a domestic terrorist who kidnaps the mayor. Callahan, having lost yet another partner, is teamed up with newcomer Kate Moore (played by Tyne Daly), who was hired because of affirmative action on the behalf of gender diversity. Callahan has strong reservations against working with a woman, but Moore eventually earns his respect when she displays integrity at the cost of a promotional award. The pair of them step right up to the edge of romance, but their partnership is cut short before things can come to fruition between them, resulting in a bittersweet victory in what was intended to be the final Dirty Harry film.

There are a handful of merits to the film, primarily revolving around Daly’s performance and the performance of Albert Popwell as a gang leader informant with complex motivations. But rumor has it that the original scripts focused more deliberately on character work, which made Eastwood nervous that audiences would reject it without more action sequences. I would have loved to have seen the resulting film from those more character-centric treatments, as one of the largest criticisms I have for the film is its formulaic treatment of decisively unformulaic characters. There are at least four fascinating characters introduced in this film, not to mention the compelling elements of Callahan himself, which are painfully treated with clichés and predictable ends.

Fans of the more procedural variety of cop thrillers may genuinely enjoy this, and there’s enough of the classic Dirty Harry vibe to satisfy fans of the first two installments, but given the rich style of the first film and the thematic deepening of the second film (and most especially following right on the heels of the powerfully complex film The Outlaw Josey Wales), The Enforcer feels very much like it’s phoning in too many of its elements. It’s not bad, it’s just not very good. Eastwood is as dependable as ever, but he isn’t bringing much complexity to the character – Callahan feels more plastic in this film than he has in either of the previous two installments, which is disappointing.

Particularly disappointing is the treatment of Moore, a treatment which caused Tyne Daly to turn down the role no less than three times before ultimately being convinced to accept it. Both in Daly as a performer and in Moore as a character, there was an opportunity in this film to make some fascinating statements about women in traditionally male-dominated roles (which would have come quite a long way in righting the ship for the treatment of women in Eastwood’s filmography as a whole). But sadly, the choices made are mostly the less interesting and more common ones, especially where the film lands with the character. It may be a bit harsh of me, but in my opinion Daly’s talents are wasted here. She’s an immensely compelling performer and a master of subtle strength. It’s a real shame to think about what she might have given us in this role with a bit more liberty from the script.

It’s easy to see why this film was intended to be the final Dirty Harry film (spoiler alert – it isn’t). There is a certain weariness, both to the character of Harry Callahan and the now-predictable formula of his perils (and the terminal perils of whoever is unlucky enough to partner him). It makes this film a little difficult to recommend, and certainly not the first place to start in the Dirty Harry franchise. Although the film does have some familiarity that fans of the genre will enjoy, it’s an otherwise largely forgettable entry both in its sub-genre and in Eastwood’s filmography.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE EIGER SANCTION

THE EIGER SANCTION (1975)

You think it’s so awful the other side has a germ formula? It’s against the Geneva Convention, isn’t it, and they stole it from us. Well what the hell are we doing with it in the first place?” – Dr. Jonathan Hemlock

As a director, Clint Eastwood’s first three films showed remarkable diversity. Play Misty for Me was a tight and focused domestic thriller; High Plains Drifter was a gritty and haunted western; and Breezy was an understated and intimate romance.

The Eiger Sanction was unlike anything he’d helmed before and was unquestionably his most ambitious work yet as a director. It is part spy thriller, part adventure story, part murder mystery, and features some of the most challenging (and dangerous) location shooting in which Eastwood had yet been involved (in front of or behind the camera). The overall effect is exciting and entertaining, but the ambition does undermine the coherence in places.

Eastwood plays Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, a former assassin who currently holds a job as an art professor who has amassed a small fortune in confiscated paintings. Coerced by his former employer into completing a final job (called a “sanction”), he learns that to seek revenge for the death of a former colleague, he must train and prepare to join a mountain climbing exhibition in which one of his teammates is also an assassin. Not only is the assassin’s identity a secret, but the mountain he will be forced to climb is one Hemlock had tried and failed to climb twice before. Motivated by revenge for his friend and the prospect of life-long freedom from the assassination profession, Hemlock agrees to train for and complete the “Eiger Sanction.”

To a lesser degree than his previous film, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (which Eastwood did not direct), The Eiger Sanction also has an episodic quality. The film could almost be broken into three very distinct acts which have their own internal climaxes and conclusions. The first act (featuring a brief assassination by Hemlock) is a relatively interesting subplot with good introductions to the major players of the film’s narrative. The third act, wherein the actual “Eiger Sanction” of the title takes place, is easily the most suspenseful and thrilling section of the film. It is the middle section, wherein Hemlock is training for his climb up the Eiger cliffs while simultaneously evading the threat of an eccentric opponent, that threatens to wear out the film’s welcome.

Eastwood had grown disdainful of extensive rewrites to scripts and it’s easy to recognize that the script for The Eiger Sanction could have used some tightening. The middle act certainly has merit, there are decent character moments for Eastwood and for George Kennedy (who Eastwood had befriended on the set of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and specifically sought out for this film). But it is far too extended given our awareness that the actual Eiger climb is still pending and occasionally offensive in its treatment of the character of Miles Mellough (played by Jack Cassidy) as a caricatured homosexual spy. There are even a few cringe-worthy lines in Hemlock’s seduction of a romantic interest that would likely cause significant controversy today.

Eastwood’s performance is solid as always, but also not tremendously impressive. There’s something to be said for those performers who are so skilled at their craft and so natural within their niche that if they are always “good,” they are perhaps rarely “great,” and this appears to be the case with a lot of Eastwood’s early film work. He is so dependable as a performer that he rarely seems stretched within the narrative and does not explore character possibilities very often.

The scenes on the Eiger climb, however, are breathtaking. This section makes up a mere thirty minutes of the 2 hour plus runtime, but it is a rather intense thirty minutes (I’m actively resisting using the punny word “gripping”). Eastwood performed all his own stunts without the aid of trick photography or special effects, which makes the sequences all the more nerve-wracking. One tragic element, however, is that a crewman died during one of the excavations following a sudden rock slide. Eastwood is on record as having considered cancelling the production entirely out of respect for the crewmember but claims to have been encouraged to complete the film in his memory. The resulting footage is spectacular and one can imagine how jaw-dropping it must have been on the big screen.

Despite the head-scratching plot conveniences (of which there are several) and the patience-testing middle act, The Eiger Sanction still represents an assured and noteworthy achievement for Eastwood and an entertaining film overall. To tackle such an ambitious project with only three directorial credits behind him must have seemed intimidating. But then again, this is Clint Eastwood we’re discussing, so… perhaps not.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)

“You know somethin’? I don’t think of us as criminals, you know? I feel we accomplished something. A good job. I feel proud of myself, man. I feel like a hero.” — Lightfoot

Until this point, Eastwood’s films are easily identifiable by style and tone as being within a particular family: westerns, cop dramas, romances, etc. The only exception thus far would perhaps be The Beguiled, but there’s a case to be made for its place in the psychological horror club. But you’d be excused, should the conversation arise, for not quite knowing how to categorize Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

It begins with elements of screwball comedy and buddy-road movies before shifting to the realms of introspective drama and heist films. It isn’t until the final few moments of the film that you realize you’ve actually been witnessing the life cycle of a friendship: the rare drama which centers around a relationship between two men which is intimate without being sexualized and affecting without being manipulative.

When we first meet the titular characters of Thunderbolt (Eastwood) and Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), Thunderbolt is posing as a small town preacher trying to lay low while being pursued by three of his former heist partners. A coincidental encounter forces Thunderbolt on the run again, directly crossing paths with the affable and carefree young Lightfoot. The two of them embark on a road adventure attempting to flee Thunderbolt’s old partners, eventually being overtaken by them and coerced into one last payday heist.

There is an episodic quality to the narrative, which was scripted and directed by Michael Cimino (who had previously impressed Eastwood with a written draft of Magnum Force and would go on to win an Academy Award for The Deer Hunter). Each new plot wrinkle has a distinct flavor, ranging from comedy to thriller and back down to drama, culminating in a climactic heist with irrevocable complications. At first viewing, these shifts in tone almost seem disjointed and unfocused, and I’ll admit I walked away from that initial viewing somewhat unimpressed.

But a bit of reflection, particularly on the film’s surprisingly emotional conclusion, produces a kind of retroactive appreciation for all that you’ve seen before it. You thought you’d been watching a disconnected menagerie of moments and sequences with little to no discernable relationship. But it is precisely the relationship between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot that has been the focus of the story: two friends from different walks of life colliding and irrevocably changing each other in ways they couldn’t possibly have predicted. What we’ve seen – the humor, the adventure, the suspense, and the melancholy – have been the rhythms and seasons of all the best friendships in their time.

Eastwood himself delivers a strong performance, balancing toughness and tenderness with ease as the narrative calls for it. Jeff Bridges, however, — in an Oscar nominated performance – is the heart and soul of the story. Lightfoot relates to Thunderbolt as father-figure, older-brother, and best bud all at once as the two of them explore, escape, and enterprise together. Likewise, Thunderbolt takes Lightfoot under his wing and you can easily track a steadily growing affection between them that the two actors capture with effortless verisimilitude. There was apparently some disappointment on Eastwood’s part when the Academy recognized Bridges but not him. However, despite Eastwood’s sensitive and appropriately anchored performance, Bridges is the unquestionable scene-stealer, especially as the film draws towards its inevitably heart-tugging finale.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a strong film, but very of its time. It’s saturated with the sensibilities and thematic concerns of the seventies, and is likely to distance some viewers with its episodic nature. But for those who appreciate films which take their time developing their disparate ideas and trust their audience to go there with them, there are some genuine rewards to be had in the journey. I saw this film in a marathon with three other Eastwood features and after a week’s reflection, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was the one to which my heart and mind kept returning.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: MAGNUM FORCE

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

“I hate the —— system! But until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it.” – Harry Callahan

It was barely two years after Dirty Harry that Eastwood would strap on the signature .44 Magnum once again as Harry Callahan in Magnum Force. The results can’t help but be measured up against the original, in both positive and negative ways.

Picking up sometime shortly after the events of Dirty Harry (a fact only identifiable by a single reference from Harry about his last partner), Harry Callahan (Eastwood) has been relegated to stakeout detail by the stubborn and irritable Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook). However, someone in the city is taking justice into their own hands by murdering accused criminals who escaped the system through wealth or technicalities. When the evidence begins to point towards a group of vigilantes on the police force, Harry determines to uncover the truth and bring them to justice himself.

The film was largely an extension of unused material from the first film and a response to some of the criticisms and controversy that film generated. Eastwood wanted to make it clear that Callahan’s character was not a lawless vigilante, so building upon an idea first introduced by Terence Malick into his version of the Dirty Harry script, a script was commissioned by future director John Milius, with eventual rewrites by Michael Cimino. Eastwood was offered the director’s chair, but declined, which was a puzzling choice given what would become on-set tensions between he and Ted Post, someone who had directed Eastwood multiple times on Rawhide and had helmed the solid western Hang ‘Em High.

The final film caused considerable tension among its creators regarding the finished product. Writer John Milius all but disavowed it, citing the changes to the final act and the heightened violence from his original drafts as veritably ruining his original intentions for the story. In addition, director Ted Post cited multiple conflicts with Eastwood, who he claimed was frequently disputing who was truly in charge on set. Post accused Eastwood of exerting ego and leveraging control on set rather than allowing him to do his job. When the two of them had last collaborated, Eastwood’s star was only just rising in America and his directorial confidence didn’t exist yet. Although Eastwood himself had actively turned down the director’s duties for Magnum Force, it would appear that letting go of the role was harder than initially expected. Post and Eastwood would never work together again.

When viewed on its own merits, Magnum Force is a perfectly entertaining police thriller. The performances, particularly by Eastwood and Holbrook are strong as well as a solid showing by Felton Perry as Eastwood’s new partner. It also features a who’s-who of sorts for soon-to-be stars of the 70s including David Soul, Tim Matheson, and Robert Urich. It also effectively highlights Harry Callahan’s skills as a detective, something the original film didn’t emphasize as much as his boldness or attitude. In direct contrast to the vigilantism of which Callahan’s character was accused in the original, there is a deliberate and occasionally heavy-handed emphasis in this film to show that Callahan IS a part of the system and has no tolerance for predatory vigilantism (I’ll leave it to others to determine the level – if any – of hypocrisy at play in these assertions).

What’s sadly missing, unfortunately, are the strong senses of style and suspense that Dirty Harry had in spades. Magnum Force, for all its narrative merits, feels very paint-by-numbers stylistically. This isn’t wholly unexpected when considering that the bulk of Post’s directorial work had previously been for television, where a somewhat formulaic template might be seen as a necessity of continuity. The film’s major reveals will largely be guessed long before they are revealed, making their ultimate result feeling rather inevitable as well, which undermines the suspense factor.

There would be three more sequels in the Harry Callahan world, all of which would suffer from the common sequel problems. But as far as sequels go, Magnum Force isn’t bad. Eastwood even later cited it as his favorite entry in the franchise (which is interesting given that Eastwood eventually directed one of them). If you’re hoping to experience the same level of fascination and compelling storytelling that Dirty Harry brought, you’ll likely be at least slightly disappointed, but if you’re feelin’ lucky… give it a shot.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.

The Evolution of Eastwood: DIRTY HARRY

DIRTY HARRY (1971)

“Being that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?” – Harry Callahan

There are two roles for which Clint Eastwood is most prominently known: the “man with no name” from the Sergio Leone westerns and “Dirty” Harry Callahan.

It’s ironic, then, to consider that he not only wasn’t the first choice for the role, he wasn’t even among the first 10 choices. The role was offered to stars like John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, and even Frank Sinatra (who was attached to it for the longest period of time prior to Eastwood). The script (originally titled Dead Right) had been bouncing through development for several years and under several different talent packages before (rumor has it) Paul Newman recommended that Warner Brothers reach out to Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood was in post-production on Play Misty for Me when the original script was sent to him, but by that time the script in development had been in several hands (including a draft by John Milius and one from Terence Malick) and Eastwood did not like the new versions as much as the original. He also insisted that Don Siegel direct the film and even approached Universal executives to get Siegel loaned out for the director’s chair.

Dirty Harry is about a San Francisco police officer (and dedicated to officers who have died in the line of duty) whose nickname comes from the fact that he’s always handed the “dirty” jobs no one else wants to touch. He also has a reputation for using unconventional tactics – which frequently get him and the police force into trouble – to bring criminals to justice. When he begins to close in on a serial sniper wreaking havoc throughout the city, tensions escalate and the department comes under immense scrutiny to both catch the killer and abide by the procedural guidelines. Harry is caught in the crossfire of these two objectives, and you can easily guess which one of the two he cares most about achieving.

Dirty Harry is not only a landmark, signature entry in Clint Eastwood’s career, it is a landmark entry in the crime genre at large. Of the five collaborations Eastwood and Siegel had as director and star, Dirty Harry is easily Siegel’s most stylish film, exploring interesting setups of shadow and color as well as experimenting with differing suspense techniques as well (which would be mimicked by countless police thrillers that followed). The character of Harry Callahan provides an opportunity for wry moments of dark humor for Eastwood (“Well do ya, punk?”) and the violence is heavily intensified from his previous cop-drama, Coogan’s Bluff (which Siegel also directed).

The film stirred substantial controversy in its initial release due to its perceived “ends-justify-the-means” philosophy and the violence (both of which were reasons cited by offered stars for turning down the role). But the film also sparked significant conversation about victim’s rights, which was a major reason why Eastwood wanted to make the film in the first place. The social dialogue intensified around police brutality and questions of procedural responsibility as well.

And although those concerns remain vital points of conversation almost 50 years later, it’s hard not to be plainly and simply impressed by how affecting of a film Dirty Harry is. While other crime thrillers from the same era have disappeared into the status of “relic”, there is a vitality and a potency in Dirty Harry that still thrives. Much of that is owed to Eastwood’s assured and confident performance (strapping back on the gun he left behind for two films – and taking an upgrade while he’s at it), but a tremendous portion of why the film works so well is creditable to Don Siegel’s approach to the picture. By this point, he and Eastwood were such a formidable collaborative machine that it’s quite surprising that they wouldn’t make another film together for 8 years.

It is now pretty widely known that Eastwood himself directed at least one prominent scene in Dirty Harry, and he possibly stood as a secondary directorial surrogate for Siegel on other scenes as well. But whatever cocktail this pair of creatives had drank down, it was electric by this point.

1971 saw three collaborations between Siegel and Eastwood (two of which Siegel directed and Siegel also played a small, bit role in Play Misty for Me) and all three of them are fantastic. The Beguiled is disturbing and fascinating and Play Misty for Me is a nail-biting suspense thriller, but easily the most culturally iconic (and objectively best) of the three films is the indomitable Dirty Harry. It’s a standard-setting film in the cop-thriller genre and one that should not be missed by any remote fan of that brand of story.


Reed Lackey is based in Los Angeles, where he writes and podcasts about film and faith. His primary work is featured on the More Than One Lesson website and podcast, as well as his primary podcast, The Fear of God (which examines the intersection between Christianity and the horror genre). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook to receive updates on his reviews and editorials.