You Should Be Watching: May 24-30

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. This week, I’m recommending one of the most classic of Westerns, a film about the love of cinema, and Don Bluth’s magical animated directorial debut about mice and rats. Also, among the films coming and going Coco arrives on Netflix this week and I, Tonya on Hulu.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


High Noon

Year: 1952

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Genre: Western

Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian MacDonald, Eve McVeagh, Morgan Farley, Harry Shannon, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley, Jack Elam, John Doucette, Ted Stanhope, Lee Aaker, Guy Beach, Larry J. Blake, John Breen, Tex Driscoll, Herschel Graham, Paul Kruger, William H. O’Brien, Roy Bucko, Russell Custer, Nora Bush

 

<i>High Noon</i> is the epitome of the classic Western, featuring a small Old West town with a virtuous good guy lawman named Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and a formidable bad guy outlaw (and his gang) named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who is headed for town to get revenge against Kane for sending him to prison. To complicate matters even more, our hero, Marshal Kane, has just turned in his badge so he could marry his love, a pacifist Quaker named Amy (Grace Kelly), and with the news of Miller’s gang having arrived with Miller soon to follow, the newly married couple are rushed out of town in hopes of avoiding bloodshed. But Kane is torn between the love he has for his new bride and his duty to the unprotected town he was to leave behind, even though he struggles to find anyone willing to help him defend it.

This film is tightly scripted and tension-filled with the ever-present clock serving as a ongoing countdown towards the likely demise of both Kane’s life and his young marriage. And Amy’s discovery of “another woman” only makes matter worse. With each minute that passes, and with each request for help that’s refused, the desperation grows. Gary Cooper is a perfect fit for the Marshal role, stoic but heartfelt. Grace Kelly, in only her second film, delivers a wonderfully complex performance as the bride who loves her husband dearly but also has her own values to which she is fiercely loyal and refuses to sit around waiting for him to get killed.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


 

Cinema Paradiso

Year: 1988

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Agnese Nano, Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Pupella Maggio, Leopoldo Trieste, Tano Cimarosa, Nicola Di Pinto, Roberta Lena, Nino Terzo, Brigitte Fossey, Mariella Lo Giudice, Beatrice Palme, Franco Catalano, Giuseppe Tornatore, Giorgio Libassi, Mimmo Mignemi

 

If you love movies, if you love the cinema, if seeing the magical images flicker through the darkness on the screen in front of you fills you with the greatest of joys, <i>Cinema Paradiso</i> is for you. The film opens by introducing us to famous fictional film director Salvatore Di Vita receiving the news that Alfredo has died. Who is Alfredo, and what was his relationship with Salvatore? Flashing back to Salvatore at age 6, shortly after World War II, that story begins. Even at that young age, Salvatore, played with the utmost of precociousness by Salvatore Cascio, develops an intense love for the movies by practically living at his village’s local theater, the Cinema Paradiso, where we first meet Alfredo. But as the seasons of Salvatore’s young life go on, we learn he is no stranger to tragedy and must learn how to overcome. All the while, he continues to explore the world of film and develop the skills and experience that would turn him into the the master filmmaker he ultimately becomes. Over the course of the story, we experience various seasons of his young life and ultimately discover the positive and lasting impact one can have on a child’s life simply by taking the time to invest in him.


 

The Secret of N.I.M.H.

  

Year: 1982

Director: Don Bluth

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Cast: Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Hartman, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Hermione Baddeley, Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton, Jodi Hicks, Ian Fried, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar

 

Don Bluth, the animation director perhaps most famous for the prehistoric classic <i>The Land Before Time</i> came out of the gate swinging with his directorial debut <i>The Secret of N.I.M.H.</i>, a brisk adaptation of the novel <i>Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.</i>. Creatively combining science and dark fantasy with surprisingly mature themes such as the imminence of death and the ethics of animal experimentation, Bluth created a magical, vibrant, world rich in mythology and full of stunning hand-drawn animation that rivals most Disney features and will appeal to young and old alike. It’s inspiring to see the lone mother and widow Mrs. Brisby, voiced by Elizabeth Hartman, doing everything within her power to care for her children and save her sick son. While there is a tone of mystery and wonder throughout, unlike in many animated films, the audience is not spoon-fed information. Viewers are expected to pay attention, and they will be rewarded for doing so. Just for fun, listen for a very young Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s firstborn daughter Teresa and son Martin.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 27
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

May 31
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Men In Black (1997)
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Oldboy (2003)
Scarface (1983)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)
Training Day (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 30
1984 (1984)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Breakdown (1997)
Chaplin (1992)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Manhattan (1979)
Regarding Henry (1991)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)

May 31
From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 25
Brighton Rock (1948)
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)

June 8
Christopher Guest:

Best in Show (2000)
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Elia Kazan:

On the Waterfront (1954)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)

 

HULU

May 31
1984 (1984)
Breakdown (1997)
Manhattan (1979)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Cargo — NETFLIX FILM (2017)
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Small Town Crime (2017)
The Survivor’s Guide to Prison (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Death at a Funeral (2007)

 

FILMSTRUCK

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

 

HULU

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 29
Coco (2017)

May 31
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

 

HULU

May 31
I, Tonya (2017)
Rain Man (1988)

 


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.

The Evolution of Eastwood: BRONCO BILLY

BRONCO BILLY (1980)

I’ve got a special message for you little pardners out there. I want you to finish your oatmeal at breakfast and do as your mom and pa tell you because they know best. Don’t ever tell a lie and say your prayers at night before you go to bed. And as our friends south of the border say, ‘Adios, amigos.’” – Bronco Billy McCoy

Eastwood’s filmography had begun to take a surprising turn towards lighter and more optimistic material. His gritty revisionist westerns and ultra-violent cop thrillers had yielded to the comically whimsical Every Which Way but Loose and the understated suspense of Escape from Alcatraz. While these films are by no means family-oriented, they’re unquestionably lighter than Eastwood’s typical fare.

But then he directed Bronco Billy – a modern day fable steeped in idealism and sentiment thicker than frozen maple syrup. The script was written by the team of Dennis Hackin and Neal Dobrofsky (with only Hackin receiving eventual film credit) and Eastwood was immediately drawn to the material.

Bronco Billy chronicles the struggling days of a traveling Wild West Show, featuring an assortment of ex-convicts and deadbeats who pose as cowboys and Indians to entertain local communities. Led by “Bronco” Billy McCoy (Eastwood) the troupe frequently scrape by on little to no money, driven by their familial comradery and the joy that they bring to children or the less fortunate who enjoy their show. Billy can be ornery and stubborn, but he has an open heart and a loyal spirit. When the troupe encounters the feisty Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke) – a woman who had been abandoned and left penniless by her new husband (Geoffrey Lewis) – she is initially skeptical of their benevolence and idealism, but eventually comes to genuinely admire Billy and his team. However, her disappearance has left her husband a suspected murderer and an inheritance in question. While the troupe debates about whether her presence is bad or good luck, Billy is determined to keep his Wild West Show alive and smiling for as long as humanly possible.

It is immediately evident, even without any meta-knowledge of the production, that this became a very personal work for Eastwood. He strikes a tone with Bronco Billy that we’ve yet to see from him. Even the tenderness he displayed in Breezy was offset by a heavy and mature narrative. But with Bronco Billy, Eastwood forays into outright sentiment, and delivers a surprisingly charming and good-natured film (something which does feel truly rare in his catalogue). The wackiness of Every Which Way but Loose may have set the stage for the lighter material, but that film carried a sarcastic bite with its fun. Bronco Billy, by contrast, isn’t remotely cynical. Both in the character of Billy McCoy and in the good-natured dynamic of his acting troupe, the film dares to explore something truly anomalous in Eastwood’s filmography thus far: that not only does your past not have to define you, but you can actively be whoever you set out to be.

Eastwood’s films are often mired in consequence and detriment, burdened by the weight of moral ambiguity and a painfully haunted landscape (whether the bullet-riddled west or the streets of San Francisco). But Bronco Billy never pulls the rug out from under its optimism. There are complications along the way – sometimes dire ones – but there is a firm undercurrent of hope that feels genuinely refreshing for someone like Eastwood to express. Billy’s troupe of characters are all losers according to common standards, but Billy has given them a place and a chance to move beyond those distinctions. True, he isn’t perfect (just check out the tongue-lashing he gives to his whole gang when they dare to ask about payment after six months), but he’s genuine, and that’s the real irony and charm of his character. Billy McCoy is an ex-con and a louse, but by pretending to be “Bronco Billy” his more authentic self emerges and produces something impressive and joyful (even when the bits they perform go comically wrong).

Eastwood surrounded himself with dependable performers who could authenticate the material: Geoffrey Lewis who had previously co-starred in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and – more recently – Every Which Way but Loose; the charismatic and boisterous character actor, Scatman Crothers; and in her fourth collaboration with real-life partner Eastwood – Sondra Locke. All of them deliver earnest and entertaining performances, making Bronco Billy a disarmingly enjoyable – if somewhat slower paced – piece. Eastwood himself delivers a surprisingly sensitive performance, juggling comic timing and tenderness in equal measure to his trademark tough squint.

Bronco Billy wasn’t a huge success at the box office (although it was profitable), but was praised among most critics. Eastwood often spoke of that film in personal and affectionate terms. He is quoted as saying, “It was an old-fashioned theme, probably too old fashioned since the film didn’t do as well as we hoped. But if, as a film director, I ever wanted to say something, you’ll find it in Bronco Billy.” Speaking for myself, I found the film to be a refreshingly heartfelt piece of work. Not only was it not diluted by its overt sentiment, that sentiment made it all the more endearing and worth seeking out.


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.

Connecting With Classics 004: Shane

For this departing month of April, we are pleased to present you a conversation about 1953’s Shane.  Newer or younger audiences may recognize this film as the allegorical pairing made in James Mangold’s Logan, but this classic western sits at #46 on the AFI Top 100 10th Anniversary list for good reason.

One of the goals for “Connecting With Classics” is listener participation. We will be hosting prize drawings for a poster of the Connecting With Classics movie of their choice plus podcast swag and more at the end of each calendar year. Entries into the drawing can be earned for every episode by watching the film and posting your own review or thoughts about the podcast episode in the comments section of the episode announcement post in our Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group. For listeners who do not wish to be a part of the discussion group, emailing reviews to feelinfilm@gmail.com will also be accepted.

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

The Evolution of Eastwood: THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)

“Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?” – Josey Wales

Returning again to the Wild West for the first time since High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of the most ambitious (and one of the most effective) projects in which Eastwood had yet been involved. A meditation on loss and regret, and the casualties of war, both physically and spiritually.

Clint Eastwood wasn’t originally supposed to direct The Outlaw Josey Wales. Those duties were originally assigned to Philip Kaufman, who helped adapt the novel along with Sonia Chernus and Michael Cimino (who had written and directed Thunderbolt and Lightfoot). But Eastwood (who had invested some of his personal funds into obtaining the film rights to the original novel) had strong differences of opinion to Kaufman’s style of direction and even occasionally undermined some of Kaufman’s choices on set. The two of them also had fundamental interpretive differences over foundational and thematic elements of the narrative.

Eventually, Eastwood fired Kaufman (conveniently following all of the primary pre-production work Kaufman had done) and persuaded Warner Bros. to support his decision when the Directors Guild tried to challenge the termination. Eastwood himself took up directorial duties, but the scandal led to a new stipulation in the DGA (colloquially called “The Eastwood Rule”) that would prevent major stars of projects from pressuring studios to fire the project’s director and assign them the job. Despite the tumultuous production (and the potentially poor marks on Eastwood’s character), the film is a fantastic work: deeply affecting, thematically rich, and ultimately unforgettable.

Narratively, The Outlaw Josey Wales is also episodic in structure (following the pattern of Eastwood’s recent films Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Eiger Sanction). It follows the Civil-War era struggles of the titular character Josey Wales (Eastwood), who, after witnessing the brutal murder of his wife and son at the hand of Union renegades called “Redlegs”, joins a band of outlaws seeking to combat the Union army guerrilla style. After the war ends, the outlaws are offered pardon if they surrender peacefully, and all but Wales accept the offer. Unfortunately, the offer was a trap and the entire group is slaughtered. Except, of course, for Josey Wales. What follows is a series of adventures in which Wales, on the run from the Redlegs, collects and begins to lead a group of various wanderers and restless travelers who seek only peace and dignity in the Civil War’s aftermath.

Thematically, this is one of Eastwood’s most ambitious films yet. Eastwood’s presence in the western genre has always prompted a revision to the traditional “white-hat” vision of cowboys. “Good” and “bad” are not simple designations in any of Eastwood’s westerns, whether the Leone trilogy or his first directorial western, High Plains Drifter. But those films all operated in archetypes which they subverted to lesser and greater effect depending on the film, and although the Leone trilogy especially offers a lot in the way of substance, The Outlaw Josey Wales feels like the first of Eastwood’s westerns that’s attempting to seriously wrestle with the soul of war and its spiritual losses.

This is not to say that the film contains very much overt religious imagery or language, but that the tone of the film is introspective: interested far less in sequences of thrill and spectacle than of human connections and the disintegration of a peaceful landscape. There are thrilling sequences, and more than a handful of boisterous shoot-outs, but the meat of this material is in the reflections voiced by the characters before and after those more bombastic moments. This tone is also struck most directly when Josey Wales, weeping over the grave of his wife and son, quotes the biblical passage, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” The film is not making a spiritual statement so much as exploring a spiritual landscape, and it’s stronger for it.

The supporting cast, both in performers and characters, is solid and colorful. From the comical philosopher-Indian Lone Watie (played by Chief Dan George), to the stoic and hardened Fletcher (John Vernon), and then to the lovely but strong pioneer Laura Lee (played by Sondra Locke, in what would begin a six-film professional and 14-year personal relationship with Eastwood). Various philosophies and poignant reflections are given to and delivered by each of the film’s supporting cast in turn, including an ill-fated youth, a cantankerous old woman, and a murderous Comanche chief, with whom Josey Wales has one of the most powerful and profound exchanges of the film. The result is a kaleidoscope of themes, perspectives, and possible conclusions, which would be confusing in a film of lesser focus or direction but shines brightly under Eastwood’s hand.

This also represents some of Eastwood’s finest work as an actor thus far in his career. Josey Wales as a character is melancholic and reclusive, which Eastwood has displayed countless times before. But unlike the “man with no name” or the “high plains drifter”, Josey Wales has not shifted into overt bitterness and bile. He is a character of deeply abiding compassion and, although deadly to any enemy who dares to cross him, he is a man of profound sympathy and discretion. Eastwood navigates this nuance with notable ease and delivers one of his most compelling characters as a result.

While The Outlaw Josey Wales may have been a somewhat controversial production, the final product is remarkably effective and confirms Eastwood’s standing as a storyteller of substance and merit. Fans of his grittier and more brutal westerns may find themselves somewhat disarmed by the quieter moments and more introspective tone in the film, perhaps even skirting to the very edge of boredom. But there is an undeniable maturity to this film that is worth casting aside expectations to experience.


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: HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)

“It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes them afraid.” – The Stranger

It’s highly appropriate – almost poetic – that Eastwood’s second directorial feature would be a western. What is even more bold and provocative is for it to have been High Plains Drifter, a brutally bleak and gritty story that is grim, violent, offensive, and – perhaps literally – haunted. It’s also deeply compelling and remarkably effective.

The film opens with a horizon shrouded in a blurry heat. Suddenly, not so much emerging as fading into view, a single rider makes his way into the town of Lago, with every public townsperson standing in suspicious awe as he rides through. Within minutes of his arrival, he has killed three men and raped a woman in broad daylight. The next day, this same stranger is commissioned out of desperation to protect the town from the impending threat of three former residents who will soon be released from prison and make their way back to town to enact revenge on those who imprisoned them. He accepts the offer and begins to make every use of his newfound power, rattling every complacent and corrupt citizen’s routine existence into chaos. By the time the three villains do arrive, a deeper and darker purpose behind the stranger’s presence in the town begins to fully reveal itself.

Eastwood returns to his old familiar character, this time a literal “man with no name” as his identity in the film is never confirmed (his character is even credited as “The Stranger”). His performance here is as volcanic as it has ever been, and it is surrounded by a host of equally compelling performances under Eastwood’s strikingly assured directorial hand. The script was fashioned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ernest Tidymen from a 9-page treatment pitch. It is saturated in mystery and soaked in dread: a quality mirrored in the film’s shadowy visual aesthetic and ethereal musical score. Indeed, the overall tone of the film and the feelings behind some of its individual moments are far more akin to ghost stories than to western legends.

It is difficult to discuss this film, filled as it is with such unflinching ugliness, as a recommendation. But it is also difficult not to recommend a film so confident and coherent in its vision, and so utterly effective in its impact. It should be clarified that there are no real “good guys” in this film. As a textbook example of the revisionist western, wherein good guys and bad guys blend together as shades of grey, this film makes no pretense about its foggy moral complexity and its disturbing view of human nature. Keep in mind something that I mentioned earlier: that the supposed “hero” of our story, within the first fifteen minutes of the film, commits a blatant act of sexual assault. Roy Rogers, this ain’t.

Yet, the film is also surprisingly vocal about matters of conscience, infusing scattered observations about hypocrisy and injustice into its cinematic dna. The film seems to be making sweeping statements of morality such as bystanders who do nothing are never “innocent” or that you can never fully bury your transgressions in the sand. But it does so without allowing the audience the reprieve of a saintly hero. Instead, we get almost the living embodiment of willful vengeance. The premise could be seen as analogous to, “what if a day of reckoning came to certain members of a corrupt society, but instead of a righteous avenging angel who brought justice, it was the Devil himself?” (an analogy further substantiated by the fact that in the film’s final third, The Stranger paints the town blood red and paints the word “Hell” on the entrance sign). Vengeance is at the very core of the film, although on whom and why is not revealed until nearly the film’s final act. But there are hints speckled throughout the narrative that this stranger did not arrive by accident and that every inhabitant’s desperate attempts to control their own fates have merely been the movements of pawns orchestrated by a sinister puppet master.

Not everyone will be on board for this level of moral ambiguity, and rightfully so (John Wayne himself penned a tasteful but derisive letter criticizing the film’s philosophy of humanity and its perspective on the western era of history). But those who can quickly acclimate to this bleak and unyielding revenge tale will likely find themselves highly rewarded, as the film is so effective it almost dares you to try to dismiss it.

As a sophomore effort by Eastwood as a director, the achievement is astounding. He has channeled the muses of both Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, whose works so clearly informed his emergence as a performer, blending both their penchant for grandeur with their haunting storytelling sensibilities. Their names can briefly be seen on the gravestones in the town into which Eastwood’s stranger rides, but it’s only two of many implied ghosts that haunt the tale of the High Plains Drifter. This is a disturbing and provocative film, not to mention powerful, and while its content is likely to distance more than a few audience members, its impact is undeniable.


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: JOE KIDD

JOE KIDD (1972)

“You get to a church right now and you pray I don’t see you again before this thing is done.” – Frank Harlan

Eastwood returns to the genre that made him a star after a 4-film gap, and this time, the pedigree of talent is significant. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the film.

The script for Joe Kidd, penned by the legendary Elmore Leonard, was given to Eastwood as a star vehicle for him. Cementing the pedigree behind the film’s production was the addition of not only Eastwood as the titular star, but Robert Duvall as a villainous landowner and director John Sturges, who had helmed such acclaimed classics as The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven.

Set in the early 1900s, the film centers around a former bounty hunter named Joe Kidd (Eastwood) who is reluctantly drawn into a land dispute between the rebellious Luis Chama (played by John Saxon) and the greedy land-peddler Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall). Loyalties are tested and sides are flipped as the contest develops, culminating in Kidd taking matters into his own hands to settle the conflict for good.

On a surface level, there’s a lot to appreciate about Joe Kidd. There is a simple, direct narrative with a crisp and steady pace. The performances are unanimously strong (which is to be expected given the interplay of Eastwood and Duvall). Overall, the film is entertaining enough, particularly for fans of standard western genre fare. The problem is that it’s largely unremarkable, which – when the pedigree of its production is this high – is no small detriment to the film’s commendation. It’s also relatively short for most of Eastwood’s catalogue, clocking in at a mere 87 minutes, which could be a compliment to its economy of storytelling if its individual elements were more compelling.

Eastwood as a performer seems a bit pedestrian this time around, lacking either the stony subtlety of the “man with no name” or the fiery passion he brought to previous westerns like Hang ‘Em High or Two Mules for Sister Sara. On-set information indicates that he was struggling with several health complications, which may have contributed to a lackluster performance, and even at his worst he delivers the appropriate gravity and charisma to be consistently watchable. Duvall is compelling, as always, but relatively under-used, with the bulk of his dramatic moments peppered through his grand introduction to the story. The characters are rather painfully underdeveloped, with stereotypical behaviors and confusing shifts in motivation.

But Joe Kidd is still pretty good. At least, it’s good enough for a Saturday afternoon diversion if you’re a fan of westerns and haven’t checked it out yet. There are some elements to enjoy and certain moments that are undeniably entertaining (like the rather outrageous climactic moment involving a train barreling through a saloon). But the film is ultimately very benign, and given the talent driving its creation, it could – and probably should – have been excellent.


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: TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA

TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970)

“Everybody’s got a right to be a sucker once.” – Hogan

The script for Two Mules for Sister Sara was shown to and discussed with Eastwood by Elizabeth Taylor while he was filming Where Eagles Dare with her husband Richard Burton. The original plan was for her to star in it, but when the time came, she was busy on another project. The role went to Shirley MacLaine (a more established star than Eastwood at the time), and it was the last time in Eastwood’s career that he would get second billing for a major role in a feature film.

Partnering up once again with director Don Siegel, who had helmed Coogan’s Bluff previously, and bringing on composer Ennio Morricone to score the film provides some familiar touchpoints for Eastwood in this film while still allowing him to flex a bit of range in his characterizations. He plays a drifting bounty hunter named Hogan (who strongly resembles his “man with no name” with the hat and cigarillo but minus the poncho) who rescues a nun (Sister Sara of the title) from a group of lecherous bandits and finds that his current mission to capture a French-occupied fort coincides with hers to rescue a group of prostitutes from the same place.

Despite much grumbling and numerous frustrations (not to mention her nunnery vows), Hogan finds himself drawn into romance with Sister Sara which deepens even further after he is badly wounded by a group of Indians along their quest and nursed back to health by her. Her impetuous boldness and his stubborn attitude provide much of the flavor and enjoyable drama in the film, and the broader setting of their mission raises the stakes to a very effective and engrossing level.

Eastwood is more talkative and expressive in this film than in any of his previous works thus far, frequently casting out sarcastic arguments and displaying exaggerated reactions to the absurdity of his character’s predicament. It is no small degree of fun to see him flex his characterization this way, and MacLaine’s fiery, assured portrayal as Sister Sara is an excellent counter to him. The story itself isn’t the strongest, but its functionality as a vehicle for its stars is well-suited and Siegel handles the pacing and tone extremely well. There is even a soft third-act twist that makes for a fitting resolution to both the narrative and the characters (I call it a “soft” twist because it is a twist of character rather than of plot).

I enjoyed Two Mules for Sister Sara quite a bit. It finds Eastwood playing to some of his strengths without feeling too familiar and finds him stretching his talents without drifting too far upstream from his core appeal (like what happened with the poorly crafted Paint Your Wagon). There are rumors that things on set were tense with MacLaine, not necessarily between her and Eastwood but between her and Siegel, and the film certainly feels as if her character is the more crucial one driving the overall production forward. This is not to say that she overshadows Eastwood, but it is telling that not only did Eastwood never take secondary billing again, he also wouldn’t work with a female co-star of his same celebrity status again until Bridges of Madison County.

But for fans of Eastwood westerns, this is a must-see. I’d even say it’s a must-see for fans of westerns in general. And even for the broader general audience, it’s an enjoyable comedy-action-western that’s likely to bring several smiles to your face and an ultimately satisfied feeling when the credits roll.


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: PAINT YOUR WAGON

PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969)

Take this in: Clint Eastwood. Lee Marvin. Western… Musical.

If that general concept strikes you as somewhat odd, you’re in the precise mindset to encounter 1969’s Paint Your Wagon. Directed by Joshua Logan based on the Broadway play by Alan Jay Lerner, Paint Your Wagon is an odd and apparently misguided venture from conception all the way to execution.

Adapted by the legendary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, the production became troubled even from earliest developments. The location was remote, forcing the cast and crew to be helicoptered in every day. The original playwright micro-managed Logan’s direction, forcing frustrations and production delays. Lee Marvin, while regarded by everyone as a consummate southern gentleman, was also unfortunately drunk for nearly every scene of the film. Locals were used as extras who eventually became a coercive union, forcing the budget to bloat even further with unreasonable demands that had to be met rather than further delay production.

These complications don’t automatically shine through in the finished film, but something beneath the surface certainly feels strained. The result is a film that’s overlong, unfocused, and largely thematically confused. There are a couple of memorable songs, but even they feel somewhat forced amidst an ambling and disjointed narrative.

The story, in brief, centers around Ben Rumson (Marvin) who, after finding the wreckage of a wagon that left one man dead and the man’s brother (Eastwood) severely wounded, discovers gold dust and stakes a claim there. Eventually a town builds up around that claim, and into that town drifts a Mormon man with two wives (one of whom he rather casually sells off to the highest bidder – which, of course, winds up being Rumson). As the town continues to boom, a love triangle forms between Rumson, his “Pardner” (Eastwood), and the bride (Jean Seberg) which is set against the backdrop of the wild and fickle gold rush in California. Eventually the triangle (and the town) collapses, leaving our characters to decide for themselves how to tackle whatever comes next.

Eastwood again takes a supporting role here, following his strong presence in Where Eagles Dare. His acting is a bit less steady, and it is disarming on a fundamental level to hear him sing (he and Marvin both perform all of their own songs), but his character in this is far too aimless and reactionary to really anchor any of his performance choices. Where he had previously seemed to bring the full power of his expertise to the strong, silent type role of Lieutenant Schaffer, he now seems to feel out of sorts and confused, wondering both on and off screen (apparently) just where the hell everything is going.

Fans of large-scale movie musicals may find a handful of diamonds in the rough to cherish, but not being in that company myself, I found little to admire and even less to enjoy. The narrative is tedious, the comedy is too ham-fisted, the drama is too self-important. And the theme of the piece seems to confuse whether it wants us to be on board with our protagonists’ philosophies or not (it spends 2 hours bringing us on board with their frontier ways of thinking and living only to monumentally dismantle all of them in the last 30 minutes and ultimately justify the stark-raving preacher who condemned it all).

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I did not enjoy Paint Your Wagon. However, it is a vital entry in Eastwood’s catalogue for one gigantic reason: this is the film that made Eastwood want to become a director.

He would later reference Paint Your Wagon specifically as an impetus for him to move more firmly behind the camera. He said that being a part of this production taught him “how not to make a movie.” And it would only be a couple short years later before he would indeed step behind the camera for the first time, beginning a lifelong legacy that expanded beyond performance into the realm of Hollywood storyteller. If only for the push in that impressive direction, perhaps Paint Your Wagon should be thanked after all.


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: COOGAN’S BLUFF

COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968)

“You better drop that blade, or you won’t believe what happens next, even while it’s happening.” – Coogan

Work began on Coogan’s Bluff (the second of three Eastwood films released in 1968) even before Hang ‘Em High had been released. The original script had appealed to him and offered a welcome chance to move away from the westerns for which he was known without really moving away from them. Essentially, the film is a western in tone, style, and characterization, but set in 1960s New York City.

The plot involves a womanizing and reckless Chief Deputy from Arizona named Walt Coogan (Eastwood, of course) who is given orders to extradite a prisoner he’d previously captured from New York City. While in the city, he finds himself in conflict with the bureaucracy standing between him and his prisoner and a stubborn Chief of Police (played by Lee J. Cobb). He bypasses the process with lies and exaggerations to get his hands on his prisoner, but he is then tricked and ambushed and the prisoner escapes. What follows is a vigilante manhunt through the city, against the will of both the city police and his own chief back in Arizona, wherein Coogan attempts to bring his escaped convict to justice.

The film was a decent hit in 1968, so I was excited to see it (it’s the first one in this year-long challenge that was new to me). It is most notable for being the first partnership between Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel (who would go on to direct Eastwood four more times, most notably in Dirty Harry). Prior to their pairing for this film, neither of the two men had even heard of each other, but they worked well together and became good friends off-set as well.

As for this first outing for them, Coogan’s Bluff is very “of its time”, which isn’t entirely a compliment. The sensibilities of late-60s/early-70s cop thrillers aren’t terribly appealing to me and some of them border on distasteful, particularly in their treatment of women (of which Coogan’s Bluff has a handful of transgressions). The script is often painfully utilitarian, the direction is straightforward and pedestrian, and the general resolution feels too tidy given some of the narrative’s general complications. In short, it’s easy to see why contemporary audiences enjoyed it, but it doesn’t hold up very well.

What works about it is Eastwood’s steady – if unremarkable – performance, two genuinely thrilling action sequences (one of them a motorcycle chase and the other an out all brawl in a pool room), and an even, simplistic narrative. Unfortunately, these merits don’t quite elevate the material beyond the status of a Saturday afternoon cable matinee. It’s worth noting that the script was a matter of some frustration for Eastwood. He had originally been drawn to the simplicity of the original script, penned by Rawhide veterans Herman Miller and Jack Laird as a possible TV pilot. But upon hiring writers to make the script more cinematic (and watching it go through several unlikable drafts), Eastwood rejected any further rewrites in favor of going back to the original concept. Dean Reisner was finally hired and, with considerable input from Eastwood himself, a new script was finished. This overall experience would start a long-standing distaste in Eastwood’s work for extensive revisions to scripts.

I can’t speak to the quality of the scripts that didn’t make it to the screen, but the one we finally get isn’t very good. It isn’t surprising that it was originally conceived as a TV pilot (the overall production has a decisively small-screen feel), but the script has three major problems:

First, the character of Coogan isn’t very likable (or effective). His treatment of women seems inconsistent (he slaps a man for groping a woman without permission, but frequently makes unwanted advances himself and even roughs up a woman late in the film to obtain information). It’s also his own impatience which causes the primary problem in the first place. His “bluff” subverts due process and enables the prisoner to escape. It’s difficult to root for a hero so fundamentally impetuous and arrogant. Eastwood plays Coogan with an appropriate blend of machismo confidence and gruff rebellion. It’s a steady and assured performance, but ultimately unremarkable and made even less so by how unlikable the character is.

Second, the film’s treatment of women is – at times – painfully offensive. In the character of Julie Roth (played by Susan Clark), the film seems to be attempting to present an independent and self-sufficient working woman, but her inevitable swooning over Coogan and her passivity towards moments of objectification are troubling at best and offensive at worse. All other female characters are reduced to objects of either Coogan’s affections or the villain’s (including the one Coogan eventually starts tossing around a room). It may not be uncommon given the times in which the film was made, but it’s uncomfortable and potentially upsetting to current sensibilities.

Lastly, the stakes in the script are simply too small. The reason for Coogan’s inability to extradite the prisoner is described in only the broadest of terms (which might support the character’s reason for bypassing it entirely). But even after Coogan’s “bluff” to get his hands on the prisoner lands him in deep trouble with both the local and his own direct authorities, his continued vigilante tactics are eventually dismissed with impunity simply because they are ultimately successful (yes, I know I just spoiled the ending of the film, but with a film like this you’ll already see the ending coming from an hour away).

Coogan’s Bluff is, in many ways, a very natural next step in Eastwood’s filmography. Coogan wears a cowboy hat (and is often referred to as “cowboy” by other characters). He carries himself very much the way Jed Cooper from Hang ‘Em High carried himself, with simple drives and simple goals. He’s the same basic character we’ve already come to know him as playing, just in the city instead of the west. Fans of this genre’s period will likely find this to be a perfectly acceptable entry, if not an impressive one. But for the casual film viewer, Coogan’s Bluff is little more than mild, diversionary fare.


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: HANG ‘EM HIGH

HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968)

“All right, now that makes three mistakes we’ve made. The money, we hung an innocent man, and we didn’t finish the job.” – Captain Wilson

Clint Eastwood spent three years in the 1960s filming the “man with no name” trilogy under the direction of Sergio Leone, then another two years after that recording his dialogue for the English language releases. The whole process left him frustrated and stalled, but it also made him an almost immediate superstar. Following the consecutive American releases of the Leone films (which all hit the states in 1967), Eastwood would release no less than three films in the following year.

Amidst the release of the Leone trilogy, Eastwood was given two scripts almost simultaneously. One was a larger scale western adventure starring Gregory Peck called Mackenna’s Gold. The other was a lower-scale revenge piece (also a western) called Hang ‘Em High. Eastwood preferred the latter script, and even launched his own production studio to see it made. Sergio Leone was approached to direct, but he was already deep into production of Once Upon a Time in the West (with which he finally got the chance to work with Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson). So Eastwood called on an old friend of his, Ted Post, who had directed him in more than 20 episodes of Rawhide.

Hang ‘Em High begins when Jed Cooper (Eastwood) is taking a newly purchased herd of cattle across the plains. He is suddenly accosted by a posse of nine bloodthirsty vigilantes who, mistaking Cooper for a murderous cattle rustler, lynch him without trial on the basis of flimsy circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately for them, they do a sloppy job of it and Cooper survives. Later deputized as a US Marshal, Cooper sets out on a legally sanctioned quest to bring his nine assailants to justice.

For the majority of its runtime, the film treats its elements very directly. The narrative, the conflict, and the character’s motivations and morals are all very simple, almost superficial. Adding some thematic flavor to the whole piece is a hanging-hungry town judge (played by Pat Hingle) and a beautiful owner of the local general store (played by Inger Stevens). While these two characters influence the plot in ways you’d easily predict, each of them also hides a painful darkness that provides some unexpected momentary thematic exploration. For example, Judge Fenton is so protective of the ideal of just punishment that he is willing to hang two younger boys caught up over the heads in associative crime than provide them the opportunity for rehabilitation (a decision that puts him in direct odds with Cooper). Likewise, Rachel Warren (the store owner), who is openly benevolent and sympathetic to hanging victims, is secretly waiting for the opportunity to watch the man who assaulted her years earlier hang for it.

Eastwood’s acting is solid, of course, but there is a bluntness to his performance that feels almost amateurish at times. After three straight films under a decidedly different visionary director than his Rawhide days, working under a Rawhide veteran for this film may have reverted some comfortable habits. The mystique of the “man with no name” is replaced by an only slightly modified version of the heroic “white hat” character that Eastwood had taken on the Leone roles to flex away from in the first place. Perhaps Eastwood saw this film as a blend of comfort and challenge, by playing a more familiar and safer role to which he was more accustomed but obtaining more creative control by sending the film through his newly formed production studio.

But this is not to say that Hang ‘Em High is by any means a low-quality film. It’s skillfully structured, has a frequently gripping and suspenseful script, and features a collection of high-caliber performers (including Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, and a cameo appearance by the then-unknown Dennis Hopper). If you pay attention, you’ll locate Jonathan Goldsmith – the “most interesting man alive” from the Dos Equis commercials – as one of the nine vigilantes. It definitely lacks the flourish and grandeur of the spaghetti westerns, but still serves up an entertaining, well-told story.

Hang ‘Em High does not by any means reinvent the western wheel (and rabid fans of the Leone trilogy may not immediately acclimate to the more blunt, direct tone of its style), but it is a solidly entertaining western classic well worth the time of even a moderate fan of the genre.


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.