Harry Callahan is angry again, which is a good thing, but now he’s a little too angry, and his anger is a little too general — he’s not angry at anything in particular, he’s just kind of angry. Situations that used to make him squint and sneer and move on now get him hopping mad. He seethes and grimaces throughout The Enforcer, looking for a target for his free-floating rage.
Magnum Force does the respectable sequel thing and turns the original on its head, or perhaps inside-out. If Dirty Harry is about society’s need to have tarnished knights who look out for the rights of the many, Magnum Force is about society’s need to be protected from those who would circumvent due process in their zeal to punish. In other words, it’s about Harry Callahan confronting the world he helped create in the original movie.
I gotta say, The Beguiled took me by surprise. It’s an extreme rarity for Eastwood, a movie that takes his character and puts him in a situation where he’s utterly out of his depth, where his skill set doesn’t serve him, and, most importantly, he doesn’t figure a way out of his troubles.
It’s instructive, cinematically speaking, to watch Coogan’s Bluff and Dirty Harry back to back. A star/producer and a director, working in consonance, on modern-day urban police thrillers, three years apart, and yet Dirty Harry still rivets the viewer’s attention while Coogan creaks and groans.
The Rookie is known these days as "The Movie Clint Eastwood Made Just Before Unforgiven." Looking back on it now, it almost seems designed as a supreme fake-out: knowing he had his masterpiece in his hip pocket, Eastwood lowered everyone’s expectations with this formulaic, rote cop-buddy movie.
Honkytonk Man makes a nice companion piece to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Both tell stories about musicians making their way across the Depression-era South on their way to an important appointment, both are weak on plot yet high in thematically-resonant incident, both endeavor to reveal the character of a nation through an examination its music, and both feature 11th-hour graveside Negros who spontaneously burst into spirituals. The Depression-era South of Honkytonk Man is about 85% less kooky than the one in O Brother and its narrative aims to be about 75% quieter. Like many Eastwood movies, it ambles along at its unhurried pace as it scrutinizes its title character.
Pauline Kael, in her 1974 review of The Godfather Part II, remarked that the only sequels that are better than the originals are Huckleberry Finn and the New Testament. Ms. Kael, in her youthful ignorance, had of course not yet seen Any Which Way You Can, the sequel to Every Which Way But Loose that towers above its predecessor as Everest towers over Kilimanjaro.
Somehow, urbaniak has gone all these years without seeing Dirty Harry. And I guess my recent enthusiasm for Things Eastwood is catching, because we’ve set aside our recent John Ford/John Wayne kick to watch Eastwood’s breakthrough 1971 detective thriller.
Here’s the funny part: in the "special features" part of the recent DVD set (which boasts a stunning transfer, by the way), Robert Urich (an actor whose work I’m familiar with primarily through Stuntman Mike’s discussion of it in Death Proof) hosts a little documentary on the Dirty Harry series where he paces the movies’ San Francisco locations and gingerly tries to provide the viewer with some social and cinematic history so that we can place Harry Callahan in his proper perspective as we watch the movie.
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.
Whenever I watch an Elvis movie I wonder for a moment why the Elvis experiment has not been repeated. A series of movies, built around a pop-culture personality, where the performer is more or less playing the same character over and over again regardless of the situation (or even the period) and gets into wacky adventures. And the viewers’ enjoyment of the movies is based in part on their familiarity with the series, like on television, where we delight in watching Homer Simpson enter into a situation because we’ve seen him react so hilariously in similar situations. We laugh before he even acts.
Watching Two Mules For Sister Sara, it occurred to me that Clint Eastwood, a contemporary of Presley, not only took the "Elvis Movie" concept to heart but applied to it an intelligence and sensitivity that has created a corpus pretty much unparalleled in American cinema (except maybe for Chaplin, and Eastwood’s East-Coast nemesis Woody Allen) — for 45 years now, Eastwood has revisited this "Clint Eastwood" character he created, put him into this or that situation (revolutionary-era Mexico, post-Civil-War Montana, modern-day Detroit) and let the plot do its job, confident that the audience will want to check in with "Clint Eastwood" and see how he’s feeling these days. The difference between Elvis and Eastwood is that Elvis was a hapless pawn in the grip of cynical chicanery, and Eastwood is a born cinematic artist, which means that the "Elvis" character never developed, but Eastwood’s has: he’s grown, and grown older, he’s embraced and resisted change, he’s matured and mellowed, he’s become haunted and regretful. One can watch Eastwood from A Fistful of Dollars to Gran Torino and come away with a kind of cinematic biography of a character.