Clint Eastwood: the good, the bad and the ones I haven’t seen

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Unforgiven lately, which leads me to think a lot of Clint Eastwood, which leads me to think of, strange as it sounds, Woody Allen. It’s hard to think of Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen as even existing on the same planet, much less as comparable artists, but they are two of my favorite living American directors, they are roughly contemporaries (Eastwood is five years older), they both get to make just about any kind of movies they want to make, and, since the mid-1960s, each has managed to get at least a movie a year into the theaters, on their own terms and following their own particular muses. Nobody gets to make movies in this manner any more.

(Thinking about Clint Eastwood also, inevitably, leads me to think about John Wayne, whose work urbaniak and I have been soaking up lately. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood movies, assuming they were some sort of "answer" to John Wayne movies. Wayne, popular imagination had it, was a reactionary crank who stood for everything Just and American, while Eastwood was a cold-hearted psychopath intent on critiquing everything that Wayne stood for. I thought all that without ever watching a John Wayne movie, and so now I’m lost, because I’m learning that John Wayne, too, was also intent on critiquing everything that John Wayne stood for. And then, of course, Eastwood has spent a good deal of his career critiquing everything that he has stood for. It’s all so confusing.)

Anyway, nobody asked, but because I’m a list-making sort of person, here is my listing of Clint Eastwood movies in order of preference:

The Outlaw Josey Wales
Pale Rider
For a Few Dollars More
A Fistful of Dollars
High Plains Drifter
Bronco Billy
Dirty Harry
Play Misty For Me

I can’t imagine anyone out there arguing against these.  I can see how people might include others from lower down the list, but I think this bunch of movies right here are movies just about anybody would be happy to have made, and constitute a firm, precise, encompassing artistic vision all on their own.

Gran Torino
Million Dollar Baby
In the Line of Fire
Escape from Alcatraz
Hang ’em High
Joe Kidd
Kelly’s Heroes
Where Eagles Dare
Mystic River
The Gauntlet
Thuderbolt and Lightfoot
The Eiger Sanction
Absolute Power

A note on The Eiger Sanction: after a draggy, silly, improbable, occasionally repellent first two acts, it suddenly blossoms into an incredible suspense thriller set on the side of a mountain and is worth watching for that alone.  Similarly, Absolute Power gets really crazy at the end but features a smashing Hitchcockian suspense sequence in the middle of the movie that’s worth hunting down.

Blood Work
Space Cowboys

A Perfect World
White Hunter, Black Heart
Heartbreak Ridge
True Crime

These are movies where Eastwood has something unique to say, or some approach to the material that’s fresh and new, or is "trying something" to stretch as a director or performer. White Hunter and Heartbreak fascinate me because Eastwood, for the first time, plays someone who is demonstrably not like himself, true "character roles." If you’ve ever wanted to watch Clint Eastwood deliver a movie-length impression of John Huston, White Hunter is the movie for you.

The Bridges of Madison County
City Heat
Letters from Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Sudden Impact
The Dead Pool

Some of the movies on this list are among Mr. Eastwood’s most highly regarded, and/or most successful. But for some reason I strongly dislike all of them.

The Rookie
Pink Cadillac
Honkytonk Man
Any Which Way You Can
Every Which Way But Loose
The Enforcer
Magnum Force
The Beguiled
Two Mules for Sister Sara
Paint Your Wagon
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
(I know, I know, what can I say?)

That seems like entirely too many movies to have missed by one of my favorite filmmakers. Some of these I just never caught for some reason, some I’ve avoided for one reason or another, and others simply haven’t been available.  Changeling is on my "to watch" stack, I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

As for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, for some reason I’ve got some weird blind spot regarding this movie — I love the first two movies in this series, and it’s everyone’s "favorite Clint Eastwood movie," and it’s one of the most well-liked movies of all time, but for some reason I’ve never watched it all the way through, only caught bits and pieces here and there.  Shoot me.



61 Responses to “Clint Eastwood: the good, the bad and the ones I haven’t seen”
  1. I’ve never really watched any Clint Eastwood or John Wayne films, but they always sort of struck me as the same kind of movies. Maybe Eastwood was just a continuation of the archetype John Wayne represented?

    • kevinm126 says:


      Not trying to be dismissive in the brevity of that response, but it’s an altogether different stereotype in my mind. While Todd correctly identifies similarities in artistic motivation and they’ve both wore the big hat and carried a six shooter, the “archetypes” they represent – whether it’s fair to label them as such is a discussion I won’t touch – are quite different.

      I’ve always thought that the difference was a societal one. Wayne in his films can be a dangerous rebel but still seems to be accessible (emotionally and otherwise_ to other characters. On the other hand I’ve always felt Eastwood’s characters, particularly early on in his career, were operating on their own plane and far more emotionally distant.

      I’ve heard arguments that the idea of the Eastwood archetype is simply the cynical evolution/maturing of the Wayne archetype. But I always found that concept to be unfair to both and a particularly condescending view to hold towards Wayne.

      • Thanks for the perspective! I really have to watch John Wayne and Dirty Harry movies sometime. Even if it turns out not to be my thing (which is my suspicion, hence why I’ve not seen them), it will give me a better understanding. An understanding, if nothing else, of their popular appeal.

  2. teamwak says:

    I am a HUUUUGGGEE Clint fan, and he and the Man With No Name were staples of my childhood. Funnily enough I watch GBU a couple of weeks ago with a friend who had never seen it. It still holds up as a masterpiece now. And the music!!!

    Just about my favourite scene in anything set to music is the scene in the cemetary set to Morricone’s The Ecstacy of Gold.

    Get watching, Todd!!!

  3. shocka says:

    The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (I know, I know, what can I say?)

    Let’s start with some kind of explanation.

  4. Woody & Clint- now there’s a buddy movie!

    I think Gran Torino has gotten short shrift- it’s a superb little movie nugget.
    And Million Dollar Baby maybe got overly praised- I think there were some real problems in the third act
    (if there are three acts…I never counted- but I’m sure you will at some point…)

    As for The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – go ahead make your day…

  5. sboydtaylor says:

    Joe Kidd?? Are you mad?? 🙂

    C’mon, I love me some Clint Eastwood. In fact I have all but two of the movies on your top list, and I agree with you on them. But Joe Kidd has to be one of the most muddled, useless, and — frankly — boring movies ever made. Ever.

    Though it is not THE worst Hollywood movie ever made. That title I still reserve for “Knock Off”. The entire concept of a JCVD – Rob Schnider buddy movie was doomed from the start.

    • Todd says:

      To be honest, I don’t remember Joe Kidd all that well, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. But since I don’t remember hating it, while I do remember hating others, I decided to elevate its stature probably more than it deserves.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Knock Off” still deserves credit for being the most honestly-titled movie ever.
      – Doctor Handsome

  6. Anonymous says:

    I actually recommend EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, which is a very fine comedy with a strange, tough ending … I quite liked it a lot, and it’s one of the few (if the only one) movies combining a movie star and a monkey that ACTUALLY WORKS …

    The sequel, not so great, but the first one, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE is a very arch, interesting and ribald comedy.

    Of the others, I think MAGNUM FORCE (which, if I remember right, has David Soul and Robert Urich) is the most interesting … and THE ENFORCER right after that.

    So if you’re into advice, that’s what I recommend, looking at those three. I really think EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE is something unique for Eastwood, and he’s never been able to match it in subsequent comedies he’s tried (though he may do it someday, I don’t ever want to underestimate him) …

    THE UNFORGIVEN is one of my all time faves …

    I think THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTRY is one of the best adaptations of a bad book I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched it just to learn how they did it so well (plus, I’m from Iowa, so … there you go).

    IMOHO, of course,

    Joshua James

  7. tawdryjones says:

    Clint Eastwood is kinda a genius. Yep. I’m pretty sure about that. I will eat up anything more you have to say about him!

  8. It’s probably awful, but since I caught the majority of Eastwood’s older films as a child, the one movie that has, from that young age on, always completely blown my friggin’ mind is Paint Your Wagon, his odd aberrant love triangle musical with Lee Marvin. I absolutely loved that movie. Which of course I haven’t seen in years and is probably horrible so I’m afraid of watching it again, but still. That movie just gleefully rocked the foundations of my nine-year-old universe. For some reason.

    Have you ever lined up Kurosawa’s movies along with the Westerns based on them for a movie marathon? I don’t know if I ever have more fun in a movie-watching sense then when I get a nice good overdose of Kurosawa and Eastwood in close proximity.

    • kevinm126 says:

      I just saw “Paint Your Wagon” for the first time a couple years ago and I loved the crap out of it. Nothing beats Lee Marvin singing “I Was Born of a Wanderin’ Star.”

      I think people have a tendency to say they like it in an ironic sense or as part of a punchline. But I thought it was an incredibly brave project that worked with an awkward sincerity that came from putting those two in the setting of a romantic musical.

    • Todd says:

      I actually saw A Fistful of Dollars the same week I saw Yojimbo. It was as mind-blowing for me as I’m sure it was for Kurosawa. Or for Dashiell Hammett, for that matter.

  9. Anonymous says:

    please watch GBU asap and write about it, i have to know what you think about it. I have watched that movie my intire life every few years [i’m 41]
    It is the one of the greatist westerns of all time.

  10. ndgmtlcd says:

    When you said you were thinking of Eastwood at the same time as Allen I thought it might have to do with the fact that both are capable of doing comedy as well as drama.

    But no, it turns out that you haven’t seen The Beguiled
    or Two Mules for Sister Sara, both of which I consider superior (as comedy) to a farce like Kelly’s Heroes. Mind you, Kelly’s Heroes is a great farce.

    • Todd says:

      There’s a moment in Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite where Allen mentions that “Clint Eastwood doesn’t play hairdressers” and I remember having the weirdest moment of cognitive dissonance, as though two utterly different cinematic worlds had suddenly collided. It surprised me that Woody Allen ever thought about Clint Eastwood at all, but then I realized well, of course he thinks about Clint Eastwood, in a way they share many of the same concerns and approaches in moviemaking. And I’ve never been able to get the comparison out of my head since.

      • Anonymous says:

        One of Allen’s favorite movies is SHANE … I think it was in the NY Times where they did the thing that they watch a movie of his or her with a noted director and Allen chose SHANE, which surprised folks … he then did an analysis of what worked and why with the film.

        I just googled to find that thing (I’m pretty sure it was the Sunday Magazine, maybe from ten years ago, when I read it) and couldn’t find it … but that’s always been interesting to me.

        Joshua James

  11. The Unforgiven remains my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. It’s all there.

    I really enjoyed Magnum Force and The Changeling. While MF is a classic, the latter film was overlooked this year, in my opinion. The film was wrenching and disturbing, though a little on the long side, I would not think twice to put it in my top 15 movies of 2008. And I’m dumbfounded that Eastwood also wrote the score for that film. He’s such a talented person, I don’t know what Hollywood is going to ever do without him.

    • Todd says:

      I’m shocked that you were able to enjoy 15 movies in 2008.

      • Young at Heart
        Revolutionary Road
        Man on Wire
        The Dark Knight
        The Wrestler
        The Reader
        Gran Torino
        Tell No One
        The Changeling
        Iron Man
        Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist
        Zac and Miri Make a Porno
        The Incredible Hulk

        I enjoyed all of these, and though not all were pitch-perfect, many of them were fantastic.

        • Oh yeah, and there was that film that won the Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. I liked that one too, even though I think it’s overrated.

          • Todd says:

            I thought two of those were truly exceptional, I enjoyed three others, and the rest I haven’t seen.

            I’ve also heard many good things about Let the Right One In.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m seconding Every Which Way But Loose. When a man like Eastwood bothers to make two ape movies, you’ve got to see one of them.

    And I always thought Deadpool was fun, but maybe that’s because I saw it right after slogging through the Dirty Harrys 2-4.


  13. jbacardi says:

    Absolutely delighted to see you cite Bronco Billy; I thought it was a hoot, with Clint perhaps letting some of the air out of his image balloon. It’s one of my favorite Eastwood films, and people give me funny looks when I bring it up because it’s the polar opposite of what many folks (especially of my acquaintance) want to see in an Eastwood movie.

    Must you, Bronco Billy?”

    • Todd says:

      Bronco Billy is so off-beat for Eastwood that I always feel like I have to apologize for it before I show it to someone. But for a long time, it was my favorite Eastwood movie (before Pale Rider came out).

  14. greyaenigma says:

    High Plains Drifter is in great? Really? I must have missed something.

    I do love Josey Wales I have a laserdisc set with that, Unforgiven and I think Pale Rider. Really wishing that made that set for DVD.

    I also vote for you watching GB&U, or at least explain why not.

  15. laminator_x says:

    Pale Rider remains my favorite of the bunch. I have it in my head that the Preacher is the ghost of the Man with No Name condemned to ride the trails dispensing the Lord’s justice to atone for his wickedness. This is reinforced by the fact that John Russel could easily be mistaken for an older Lee Van Cleef (or could had I not seen Old Lee in The Ninja TV series as a child).

    • Todd says:

      For years, I thought it was Lee Van Cleef. Shows to go ya.

      There is definitely a progression being sought from A Fistful of Dollars to Unforgiven, and the later movies benefit from building upon what has come before, and Unforgiven has almost the feeling of a final report: “Okay, here’s everything I know about westerns.”

  16. Unforgiven: Take a shot every time Clint says “the sins of my youth,” and they’ll be pumping your stomach before the second reel.

  17. marcochacon says:

    Unforgiven is hot beyond hot. Just looking at the symbol of whiskey throughout it is fascinating.


  18. Anonymous says:

    Todd, nice post but I’m still waiting for that in-depth look at UNFORGIVEN.
    As for the list, I put MILLION DOLLAR BABY in second, and BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY in third place. For some reason, I hated MYSTIC RIVER–it looked too Oscar-ish to me when I saw it (and lo and behold, it was an Academy darling). As for the GOOD, BAD… not my cup of tea. I love Clint’s more recent work (especially directing-wise) and I think the world of UNFORGIVEN, but his early films don’t impress me.

  19. kevinm126 says:

    So weird since I’m on a bit of an Eastwood kick terms of wanting to re-watch certain films since watching “The Outlaw Josey Wales” for the first time the other night. God, what a great goddamn film.

    Also funny because I just watched “Changeling” last night. I thought there were certain points where it got a bit too Hollywood with its twists and character motivations (particularly late in the second act), but it’s a forgivable shortcut considering that the film was already running well over two hours. In short, I enjoyed the Hell out of it.

    And yes, Jolie’s awesome.

  20. popebuck1 says:

    Paint Your Wagon is a fascinating train-wreck of a movie. It’s notorious because (a) they cast all non-singers in the leads, Lee Marvin being the worst offender; (b) everyone on the set, up to and including director Josh Logan and screenwriter/composer Alan Jay Lerner, was drunk or stoned throughout the production; and (c) Lerner gutted his own Broadway libretto in favor of a screenplay that makes absolutely no sense.

    But Eastwood seems pretty game through the whole thing – you can almost hear him thinking “I’ve got my paycheck, I might as well have fun while I’m here.” And it’s worth it just to see him rasp out “I Talk To The Trees.”

    • Todd says:

      Cut to chase, popebuck: do they paint the wagon or not?

    • Anonymous says:

      Lee Marvin’s rendition of (I was born under a) Wandering Star cannot be topped. It is my favorite of all showtunes, and I am all about musicals.

      Todd: Paint Your Wagon is basically a remake of Camelot, just as West Side Story was an update of Romeo and Juliet — except that it was a very tongue in cheek re-imagining. However they did a better job with the central love triangle than any version of the Arthur stories.

      Lee Marvin: King Arthur
      Clint Eastwood: Lancelot
      No Name City: as the brief shining moment.

      Bill Willingham

  21. 55seddel says:

    Well, Clint is more of an agent of chaotic vengeance. He is ever the outsider.

    Wayne in the other hand, is a great source of just how powerful an established character can be when taken from different angles. Wayne in his very essence is a literary shorthand. I was just in a film class yesterday(an exploration of Violence in American Cinema) where we screened Taxi Driver. It was mentioned that Travis Bickle was based on Norman Bates and John Wayne’s Ethan Andrews from The Searchers.

    I don’t see Clint being used in such a literary means as anything but a character to be copied by rote for a lower brow movie going public. Eastwood is an archetype for the John McClains.

    John Wayne is more of a an American Shakespeare character, to be referenced by only those who have the understanding to know that.

    At least this is my take.

    Edited to move it to a non reply to another’s post status.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Magnum Force

    You’re in for a treat there — mind-blowing Lalo Schifrin soundtrack, I think that’s the best part. Then there’s a brief interlude of ‘Harry and the Terrorists’ — a bit of self-righteous ‘armed American’ fantasy. Albert Popwell’s obligatory cameo as Super Pimp. Top-notch ball-busting, brow-beating back-and-forth between Harry and Hal Holbrook. And ricochet sound fx on loan from Yosemite Sam in the climax.

    Not quite a modern action movie, not quite a ‘crime drama.’ Most characters seem human, except Harry, who just wants two things: 1) a detail that involves more direct harassment of lawbreakers, just short of murder, and 2) easier access to those deee-lish airport hamburgers and pies.

    Rockie Bee

  23. Anonymous says:

    The Eiger Sanction

    The problem with The Eiger Sanction as a film is that it adheres too closely to the novel. All of the structural faults in the film were/are there in the book, which I am rereading now, aghast at how much I loved this book way back when I first read it.

    Bill Willingham

  24. Anonymous says:

    Hang ’em High, Joe Kidd and Where Eagles Dare belong in the top slot.

    Gran Torino needs another viewing or six to percolate more, before one can reasonably determine where it belongs.

    The Gauntlet belongs at least one rung lower.

    And where is Coogan’s Bluff? It needs to be high on the list — the top slot or just below it.

    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was vastly overrated.

    And one of the reasons I wish they’d hurry along with the digital recreation of actual people for the screen, is so we can finally have that Clint Eastwood, John Wayne western we never got. I’d have to write it of course. That’s non negotiable.

    Bit of trivia: John Wayne passed on doing Dirty Harry before they gave it to Eastwood. When he realized he may have made a mistake by passing it up, that’s how we got the less than stellar McQ.

    Willingham (again)

    • Todd says:

      Damn, I forgot Coogan’s Bluff. Mea culpa.

      Then again, I actually haven’t seen it. Mea culpa again.

      • curt_holman says:


        The brand new ‘Clint Eastwood American Icon DVD Collection’ has ‘Play Misty For Me,’ ‘The Eiger Sanction, ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ and ‘The Beguiled.’ Don Siegel directs ‘Bluff’ and ‘Beguiled.’ I’ve got it but have seen none of them (except ‘Eiger’ sanction when I was a teen who’d read the book, and all of Trevanian’s other stuff).

        Apparently ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ was the inspiration for the Dennis Weaver series ‘McCloud.’

  25. mimitabu says:

    this doesn’t relate to clint eastwood (directly), but since you mentioned woody allen, i’m going to tell myself it’s appropriate to post.

    i recently watched a movie called expired [no real spoilers coming, but if you’re dying to see said movie, here’s a mild warning about reading ahead]. it seemed to be a take on “the romantic comedy”, using a very formulaic romantic comedy skeleton and grafting onto it a misanthropic vision of ennui, human incompatibility, suffering, etc. i hated it. it was one of the most boring, repetitive movies i’ve seen in a while, and even when its “comments” on romantic comedies approached being interesting, the action of the movie itself was just so unremarkable (or remarkably bad) that i couldn’t find any enjoyment.

    i thought of this blog after watching the film. for one, the movie seems to have no protagonist. [spoilerishness coming] the main character has no friends, is a meter maid, and is depressed. she bumps into an asshole coworker, and they act out a “twisted” romantic comedy where both characters seem to be just taking what comes. when my friends and i were discussing why we hated the movie so much, i brought up this aspect of the movie, and pointed out that, early on, the main character sees a really nice car and gets very interested in it. i commented that it was a shining point in the movie where the viewer is like, “hey, this character is actually interested in something. maybe i’m interested in this situation!” and then neither cars nor her interest in them are mentioned again.

    anyway, the movie got me thinking about romantic comedies in general. do they usually have a protagonist? what does s/he usually want? “get back into a family”? “find happiness”? “get over my ex”? “become a better person so i can be a better father/mother”? then i thought about the best romantic comedy, annie hall. i thiiiink you once wrote here that it has brilliant script, but i don’t believe you’ve ever posted an in-depth analysis of it. does it have a protagonist? is it alvy? what does he want? “to get the eggs”? is he just living out some sort of narcissistic pathology (like stardust memories only funnier and more generally palatable)? are there rules that annie hall follows that other successful romantic comedies also follow? if so, do they do away with the idea of a protagonist altogether?

  26. curt_holman says:

    Paint Your Wagon — with BLOOD, I’ll bet!

    What’s not to like about Letters From Iwo Jima? It’s a Japanese All Quiet on the Western Front starring Ras Al Ghul!

    You really must see ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.’ Because it involves traveling through a war-ravaged country on a mission that doesn’t have much to do with the war, it reminded me of Apocalypse Now, even though they have nothing in common.

    I’ve never seen ‘Paint Your Wagon,’ but I have seen this:

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Paint Your Wagon — with BLOOD, I’ll bet!

      I was wondering who would post that first, afraid I’d have to do it.

  27. You know, what’s weird to me is that it’s been months since I’ve checked out your blog (computer down) and the first time I see this, your latest installment is the day after I’ve watched The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly for the first time. . . (and most of Fistful of Dollars)

    Just saying…

  28. teamwak says:

    Hey Boss

    Will we be getting a Watchmen review? I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  29. r_sikoryak says:

    Your mention of Woody Allen reminded me a recent Esquire interview with Eastwood. Clint says, “I don’t know if I can tell you exactly when the pussy generation started. Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life.”

    Which, unfortunately, may be why they haven’t worked together. At least not yet…

  30. greyaenigma says:

    Just noticed something funny in Pale Rider. When the thug is about to torch Ben Stone Barret’s stuff, he gets a big bucket of water tossed on him — he gets complete soaked, even starts steaming, but the match stays full lit throughout the rest of the shot.

    I can see I’m going to have trouble with the rest of the movie trying to figure out what a New York DA is doing in California.