Eastwood report: Every Which Way But Loose

free stats

Every Which Way But Loose is a tender, human comedy of lost love and tarnished honor, and a penetrating study of domestic turmoil, painstakingly crafted and deeply felt.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, that’s Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds. Every Which Way But Loose is the movie where Clint Eastwood knocks around with an orangutan.

In keeping with my Unified Theory of Eastwood, Every Which‘s Philo Beddoe was created to show how "Clint Eastwood," the cold-blooded killer, haunted traveler and jaded cynic of the old west, is utterly at sea in the contemporary world. There are no more frontiers for Philo to escape into, no more gun battles to fight, no more grand tales to moral conflict to tell — just dusty streets, coffee shops, dive bars and honky tonks. In the San Fernando Valley of 1978, there are no Mexican bandit gangs to outwit, no trains to derail, no outlaws to run out of town. Without a world to fit into, Philo ambles directionless through life, drinking, driving around town, hanging out with his wacky hick friends and his pet orangutan, Clyde, who serves as his familiar and alter ego. Clyde is as simple as Philo, and as innocent, if a little more even-tempered and less prone to violent outbursts. Philo, the screenplay tells us, rescued Clyde from a roadside zoo, where he couldn’t stand the thought of him locked up in a cage. Philo clearly identifies with Clyde, a creature far from his home (Philo takes pains to explain to us that orangutans come from Sumatra), lost in a world he cannot understand.

The only thing Philo really seems to enjoy, and the only echo of his past "Clint Eastwood" life available to him, is punching random strangers in the face. This he does with alarming frequency and with the slightest provocation. Look at Philo a little too long in a bar at lunchtime, and he’ll punch you in the face. Sass him and he’ll punch you in the face. Make fun of his orangutan and he’ll run your motorcycle off the road, chase you with a steamroller, then steal your bike, paint it and re-sell it.

So Philo is a fighter, but more important, Philo is, as his name suggests, a lover. Every Which Way But Loose ambles around for quite a while before an inciting incident announces itself: Philo goes to a country-western bar and is smitten by Lynn, a fragile-looking singer, who seems to be in a troublesome relationship and is in bad need of financial aid and good loving.

Philo, misplaced white-knight as he is, hands over an envelope of cash to Lynn, who promptly vanishes, apparently dragged off by her jealous, controlling boyfriend Schuyler. Philo then heads after Lynn and pursues her to Colorado, intent upon saving her and beginning the life he’s always imagined was out there somewhere.

All that makes Every Which sound straightforward and compelling, which it is anything but. It’s actually meandering and lackadaisical, much like its protagonist’s life, with a pointless subplot about Philo’s friend Orville’s Mother "Ma" and her repeated attempts to get a driver’s license, lots and lots of broad physical comedy involving a pair of dumb city cops and a passel of goofy, knucklehead bikers who look like they’ve strutted off the pages of a 1968 issue of Mad Magazine, and plenty of orangutan jokes. It takes 45 minutes to get to its second act, at which point the narrative marks time and hands itself over to its multiple antagonists while Philo wanders around, gets into fights, thinks about things and arranges a date for Clyde at the Alberquerque Zoo.

One of the interesting things about the "Clint Eastwood" character is that, in his westerns, no matter what kind of situation he finds himself in, he always knows how to get out of it and best his opponents. Unless he’s just preternaturally that wily, he must have gained that ability through a combination of luck and experience. Philo lacks both "Clint Eastwood"’s experience and luck, and is therefore guileless, instinctual and dumb as a post. He is a hick and a rube, unapologetically coarse and easily duped. (He is also, the screenplay would have us believe, completely unable to find a woman to love him, while his goofy-looking pal Orville can pluck a bird out of a tree with nothing more than a crass joke.) The audience learns way ahead of time what it takes Philo the whole movie to figure out: that Lynn, his damsel in distress, is a whore and a con artist who travels from town to town separating tarnished white knights out of their hard-earned pay. Schuyler, meanwhile, her putative pimp, is actually a wuss and a servant, wrapped around her finger.

This is the ugly emotional climax to what, up to that point, has been a genial, knockabout comedy, and gives the movie whatever "point" it’s trying to make. Stung by Lynn’s betrayal and fed up with the gnats who have been following him around (the plot gives Philo not one but two sets of woebegotten antagonists obsessed with procuring their pound of flesh from his hide), he seeks to win back his honor by fighting one Tank Murdock, a legendary bare-knuckles fighter who’s one fight shy of retirement. He goes into the fight thinking that it’s a jousting match between honorable men. His plan is to unseat Murdock, regain his honor with the only thing he knows how to do, make a decent payday off the fight and return home with something like honor.

What happens instead is that he cleans Murdock’s clock, then finds that the crowd, which consists solely of men who were, up to that point, Murdock’s supporters, are happy to watch their man go down so that they could replace him with Philo — anything to make some money. And so Philo learns that even bare-knuckle parking-lot brawling can be used as a lever to dishonor a man. He intentionally throws the fight, lets Murdock retire with his reputation intact, and heads back home with nothing but his goofy friends and his orangutan.

Every Which finds Eastwood indulging in almost all of his worst cinematic habits: a sluggish pace, broad characterizations and haphazard plotting (nothing at all would happen in the movie if characters didn’t accidentally run into each other, which I guess is partly the message, that life is one big accidental run-in). It also presents a dark view of women: of the women Philo meets, one is Orville’s scatterbrained mother, another is a college-educated harpy who sneers at the country-western lifestyle (and who is dispatched with a crude practical joke) and the third is the monstrous, manipulative Lynn. The only positive portrayals are of Echo, the woman Orville picks up at a roadside fruit stand, and a sassy coffee-shop waitress. Echo, a "good woman," is shown to be a) easy to get, b) pliant and directionless, and c) good to have at your back in a fight.

Evident is Eastwood’s fondness for certain strains of popular music — he all but states outright that Every Which is intended to be a presentation of the country-western lifestyle, booze and brawls, cheating women and luckless three-time losers. Numerous country-music stars dot the Every Which landscape and are granted full performances of songs. I think there is a superb movie to be made of this notion, but as a fan of country music I find this one grating and crass, careless and underdeveloped. Its a hick comedy that presents life as a threadbare, tumble-down disappointment and ambition and intelligence as things to be suspicious of.


8 Responses to “Eastwood report: Every Which Way But Loose”
  1. craigjclark says:

    Yeah, I get Every Which Way and Floating Weeds mixed up all the time, too. Glad to see I’m not the only one.

  2. mcbrennan says:

    I watched this about a year ago. I remember it as being a huge hit in the 70s, I’m not sure if that’s actually true, but from whatever marketing material was impressed upon my brain at the time, I expected a sort of easygoing, good-natured “Smokey and the Bandit”-lite comedy with one of those innocuous 70s-style romantic subplots and lots of music. So I was stunned at how bleak it was, and how pointless. I admired it a little bit because it was so far from what I expected, so far from the formula picture I thought it would be, but it’s definitely unpleasant and definitely not a good movie. And I like 70s country music, Ruth Gordon and anthropomorphic primates. After watching it I was doubly surprised they made a sequel, Any Which Way You Can, which I have yet to see. I guess America was just hungry for two more hours with these upbeat good-time characters.

    I will say that if Eastwood’s aim was to present a docudrama about a certain strata of American life back then, he succeeded–the characters and events of this movie (minus the Orangutan) are so similar to the people in and around my mom’s life on the horse-racing circuit in the 70s it’s uncanny (and a bit depressing). Hey, I feel another overwrought period-piece memoir screenplay coming on.

    • Todd says:

      According to Wikipedia, everyone around Eastwood hated the script, thought it would be terrible for him and advised him not to do it. It then went on to become a huge hit and the only movie of Eastwood’s (aside from Dirty Harry of course) that demanded a sequel. Considering how bad the Dirty Harry movies got by their fifth installment, I can only imagine how the fifth “Philo and Clyde” movie would be.

  3. urbaniak says:

    Can I start calling myself Tank Murdock?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Huh, interesting, I didn’t think you’d dislike it this much … It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I remember liking it (and thinking it’s the only movie a star has made with a monkey that actually worked, save for King Kong) … perhaps I’ll watch it again, it’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen it.

    I actually enjoyed the lackadasical pace, but it could just be me …

    Joshua James

  5. Anonymous says:

    I want to hear from your friend The Primatologist vis-a-vis Clyde!

    • Todd says:

      The Primatologist would be bitterly upset to learn the true story of Clyde, who was beaten to death by his trainer with an axe handle shortly after the movie was made.