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The Good, the Bad & the Badass: Clint Eastwood

Aug. 4, 2014by: Chris Bumbray

Last weeks column was devoted to the late, great James Garner. This weeks edition highlights his SPACE COWBOYS director, and the icon whose likeness has graced this columns banner since it began!

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's impact on modern cinema can't be overrated. Even if he had never stepped behind a camera, he'd be known for his dozens of westerns and cop movies, all of which helped define the modern action hero. But Eastwood was far more than just an action guy. Starting with 1971's PLAY MISTY FOR ME, he took a keen interest in all facets of film production, directing more and more of his star-vehicles, as well as producing them. Eventually, Eastwood would transition into becoming a full-time director working in many genres, from straight-drama (MYSTIC RIVER) to war movies (FLAG OF OUR FATHERS, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA) and even musicals (JERSEY BOYS).

For the purposes of this retrospective, we're going to focus on Eastwood's life in front of the camera. Eastwood career began on the TV western RAWHIDE, but only really picked up steam when, in desperation, he went to Spain to star in Italian director Sergio Leone's low-budget YOJIMBO remake A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. It could have easily been regulated to the bottom half of drive-in double bills before disappearing altogether, but Eastwood quickly figured out there was more to Leone and his style of movie-making than met the eyes. Together, they created a new kind of anti-hero in their iconic Man with No Name (although he actually had names in all three movies), reaching its zenith in the spaghetti western epic THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY.

From there Eastwood's career was off-and-running. Rather than allow himself to be pigeonholed, he took control of his career through his company Malpaso, and often used his films to explore darker themes, and the psychology of his characters, making each of his creations distinct, from the borderline crazy Harry Callahan, to the nameless, perhaps supernatural drifters of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and PALE RIDER, to the sexually confused cop in TIGHTROPE (a very strange film), to the tragic hero of OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Truly, his has been a storied career, and it's a tribute to the man that when writing this article I found it impossible to only highlight five films in my top list below, so for this article only, we're doing a top ten.

His Best Performance

I'd say this one's a tie between THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and DIRTY HARRY. While A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was first, and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE was arguably more action-packed, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY remains one of the greatest westerns ever made, and Eastwood's Blondie is a perfected version of The Man With No Name character. His motivations are ambiguous, and he probably has less screen-time than the late Eli Wallach's The Ugly, but he owns every scene he's in. Here's he's easily in the same league as Sean Connery was at his best in the early Bond movies, and with this supplanted John Wayne as the default western hero.

Yet, it was DIRTY HARRY that arguably made Eastwood what he is today. While the spaghetti western delayed the decline of the genre, it was inevitable and Eastwood knew it. While not his first modern cop movie (COOGAN'S BLUFF predates it) DIRTY HARRY established him as an anti-authoritarian hero for those counter-culture times. If people thought he was going to be another conservative John Wayne-style hero, DIRTY HARRY proved they were hugely mistaken. Looking at it now, DIRTY HARRY's hardly a P.C film, but its impact cannot be denied. Harry Callahan set the mode for big-screen tough guy cops, but it's the subtle things Eastwood does with Harry that makes him interesting. Harry walks a fine line between hero and maniac, and while the latter films like SUDDEN IMPACT and THE DEAD POOL arguably make him more conventionally heroic, the earlier films, especially the first one and the hyper violent first sequel MAGNUM FORCE are the most interesting.

At the same time, I'd wager Eastwood's biggest triumph as an all-around filmmaker is UNFORGIVEN. Not only is he amazing as William Munny, a gunslinger forced out of retirement to feed his children, but as a director it's without a doubt his finest work. Eastwood dedicated this to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY) and with that movie, it's like Eastood took everything they taught him about making movies, and used it to make his opus, which remains his elegiac adieu to the Western genre. It's a masterpiece in every way.

His Most Overrated Film

GRAN TORINO was a smash hit when it hit theatres a few years ago, and I understand why. It's fun seeing the elderly Eastwood still playing an anti-hero, but the movie to me anyways is only so-so. An uneasy mix between un-P.C comedy and heavy handed melodrama, it's an OK film, but not the Oscar contender people were saying it was, or any kind of classic. To me, Eastwood should have retired from acting (but not directing) with MILLION DOLLAR BABY which I think stands as one of his best performances.

His Most Underrated Film

There are two Eastwood movies that rarely get discussed that I think deserve special consideration. One is his first big-time Hollywood blockbuster, WHERE EAGLES DARE. While playing second fiddle to Richard Burton's James Bond-style hero, it's a really nice vehicle for his tough guy talents. As an army ranger sent to infiltrate a German castle where an American general is behind held captive, Eastwood rakes up the highest body count of his career, dispatching a stunning seventy-three Nazis. For a movie made in 1968, it's incredibly violent, but it's a real WWII classic, in the same league as something like THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. Sadly, this one is often overlooked in retrospectives on Eastwood's career. It's a must-see, and probably the most beautifully shot film of his career, with the snow-covered mountain castle being a sight to behold in HD on the recently released Blu-ray (available on an awesome double feature disc with KELLY'S HEROES another WW2 Eastwood adventure from the same director, Brian G. Hutton).

My other underrated Eastwood pic is another spy-flick, 1982's early techno-thriller FIREFOX. This is a strange film. Clearly Eastwood was trying to reestablish himself as an action hero after taking a few years off to make movies with Clyde the Orangutan, so FIREFOX plays like a weird mix of elements that were popular in eighties action movies of the era. Like in FIRST BLOOD, he plays a psychologically damaged Vietnam vet. His mission to steal a prototype Russian super jet, which is operated telepathically, is very sci-fi James Bond, while the aerial dogfights have SFX by STAR WARS' John Dykstra. While a box office hit (it out-grossed CONAN THE BARBARIAN, BLADE RUNNER and THE ROAD WARRIOR) it's maybe a little dated, but still a really entertaining spy yarn, and surprisingly gritty considering the PG-rating Eastwood shot for. Other ones worth watching are the bonkers-crazy THE ROOKIE, A PERFECT WORLD, and the weird comedy-western TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA.

His Most Memorable Scene

All of the DIRTY HARRY movies follow a formula, and they always ( always) have a scene where Harry interrupts a robbery/hijacking, where he gets to utter his cool-ass catchphrase of the film. The do you feel lucky? scene in the first one is the best, although go ahead, make my day in SUDDEN IMPACT comes close.

His Top-Ten Films

10. MILLION DOLLAR BABY
9. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
8. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
7. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE
6. WHERE EAGLES DARE
5. IN THE LINE OF FIRE
4. UNFORGIVEN
3. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES
2. DIRTY HARRY
1. THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

Up Next

Despite being in his eighties, Eastwood isn't slowing down. While this summer's JERSEY BOYS got a mixed reaction, word has it that his Bradley Cooper action flick, AMERICAN SNIPER, is one of his all-time best. I'm even hearing rumors that despite the 2015 release date on the IMDB, it might get bumped up to compete in this year's Oscar-race.

Source: JoBlo.com

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1:45PM on 08/04/2014

Blondie!!!!!!

Kelly's Heroes is a great movie people should check out.
Nice to see a movie with comedic overtones in Eastwood's movie list.
Damn good movie to watch for popcorn entertainment, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Clint Eastwood are all on their A-game in that movie.
Kelly's Heroes is a great movie people should check out.
Nice to see a movie with comedic overtones in Eastwood's movie list.
Damn good movie to watch for popcorn entertainment, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Clint Eastwood are all on their A-game in that movie.
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1:26PM on 08/04/2014
I also liked The Rookie, High Plains Drifter, Eiger Sanction, The Gauntlet and Heartbreaqk Ridge.
I also liked The Rookie, High Plains Drifter, Eiger Sanction, The Gauntlet and Heartbreaqk Ridge.
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11:51AM on 08/04/2014
The whole Man with No Name Trilogy is great and I think For a Few Dollars More may have the best gun fight in western history at the end. Do I Feel Lucky is a great line but it's because of how it comes back at the end for probably one of the greatest finial scene's ever in a movie. That's what makes it a classic not when it's first used. Gran Torino is a great film, period and while it sounds like I need to check out Where Eagles Dare that Outlaw Josey Wales is Fucking badass and it's got a
The whole Man with No Name Trilogy is great and I think For a Few Dollars More may have the best gun fight in western history at the end. Do I Feel Lucky is a great line but it's because of how it comes back at the end for probably one of the greatest finial scene's ever in a movie. That's what makes it a classic not when it's first used. Gran Torino is a great film, period and while it sounds like I need to check out Where Eagles Dare that Outlaw Josey Wales is Fucking badass and it's got a hell of a body count.

Also want to give some love to In The Line of Fire. I think it's one of his best films and one of the best Face Off films ever made. Malkovitch is SO GOOD as the villain.
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9:24AM on 08/04/2014
Excellent profile of one of the greatest cinematic badasses. Glad Million Dollar Baby got some love, it really is one of his most nuanced roles. I agree with you about Gran Torino being overrated, although I applaud Eastwood because I think it was supposed to be to Dirty Harry what Unforgiven was to The Man With No Name. I remember hearing that he asked Sergio Leone to give him LESS dialogue in A Fistful of Dollars. Looking back over his career, I am fascinated by the ways in which he built up
Excellent profile of one of the greatest cinematic badasses. Glad Million Dollar Baby got some love, it really is one of his most nuanced roles. I agree with you about Gran Torino being overrated, although I applaud Eastwood because I think it was supposed to be to Dirty Harry what Unforgiven was to The Man With No Name. I remember hearing that he asked Sergio Leone to give him LESS dialogue in A Fistful of Dollars. Looking back over his career, I am fascinated by the ways in which he built up his own image.

Also, while it's essentially a prequel to Gran Torino, Heartbreak Ridge has some very memorable scenes and lines with the man. Not a great movie, but a great role.
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9:02AM on 08/04/2014
The ultimate badass.
The ultimate badass.
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7:54AM on 08/04/2014

Just started on the Dirty Harry Boxset.

This article is rather timely.

Magnum Force tonight, look forward to the ultra violence. Can't remember it much to be honest.
This article is rather timely.

Magnum Force tonight, look forward to the ultra violence. Can't remember it much to be honest.
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9:00AM on 08/04/2014
I'd say Sudden Impact is the oddest Dirty Harry movie. It's not a bad movie but just odd. On that note, I LOVE The Dead Pool poster.
I'd say Sudden Impact is the oddest Dirty Harry movie. It's not a bad movie but just odd. On that note, I LOVE The Dead Pool poster.
5:36AM on 08/04/2014
I think 'Pink Cadillac' is very much underrated, but that might just be me being odd.
I think 'Pink Cadillac' is very much underrated, but that might just be me being odd.
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6:53AM on 08/04/2014
Nope. Not odd at all. I was glad to see Eastwood made Pink Cadillac and City Heat. Though they weren't as successful as other films, it's nice to see him in action comedy.
Nope. Not odd at all. I was glad to see Eastwood made Pink Cadillac and City Heat. Though they weren't as successful as other films, it's nice to see him in action comedy.
3:36AM on 08/04/2014
He's a real badass and also my favorite actor/director. His movies (both starring and directing) can be hit and miss but I can feel his energy putting it all into his movies. Honorable mention should go to The Rookie starring Eastwood himself, Charlie Sheen and the late great Raul Julia. Just that runway to conveyor belt chase alone earns Eastwood a real badass status - "There's got to be 100 reasons why I shouldn't kill you. But now I can't think of one" then BLAM! When I grow old, I want to
He's a real badass and also my favorite actor/director. His movies (both starring and directing) can be hit and miss but I can feel his energy putting it all into his movies. Honorable mention should go to The Rookie starring Eastwood himself, Charlie Sheen and the late great Raul Julia. Just that runway to conveyor belt chase alone earns Eastwood a real badass status - "There's got to be 100 reasons why I shouldn't kill you. But now I can't think of one" then BLAM! When I grow old, I want to look as cool as him now.
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2:09AM on 08/04/2014
Hard to beat Squinty Clint. I know it's not regarded as a classic and it's far from his best work but I have a soft spot for Space Cowboys. Those guys all looked like they were having fun (apart from Tommy Lee Jones, I guess) and it's actually a very decent, thrilling even, space adventure.
Hard to beat Squinty Clint. I know it's not regarded as a classic and it's far from his best work but I have a soft spot for Space Cowboys. Those guys all looked like they were having fun (apart from Tommy Lee Jones, I guess) and it's actually a very decent, thrilling even, space adventure.
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