Sudden Impact

left to right: Ronald Reagan, Sudden Impact, George W. Bush, Bring it On.

Please tell me I’m not the first person to notice this:

When Ronald Reagan wanted to talk tough, he lifted a line from a Clint Eastwood movie.  When George W. Bush wanted to talk tough, he lifted the title of a cheerleading movie. 

Makes perfect sense: Reagan (although an evil, lizard-faced moron) saw a kinship in Eastwood, a fellow conservative, cowboy and Last Good Man.  And Bush was, literally, a cheerleader.  I can actually imagine him watching Peyton Reed’s cheerleading drama (a wonderful movie in its own right) for the fifth time in the screening room at the White House, nodding his head sagely and thinking “Yes, this is how it really was.”  And then, the light bulb goes off: this is the message he will bring to the terrorists.  He sets his jaw, grits his teeth and speaks the words aloud: “Because I’m a cheerleader, dammit.”

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that there are people unfamiliar with the Reagan quote.  When standing up to somebody or other (Gadaffi, the Russians, who knows) he invoked Sudden Impact‘s catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day.”  It was as obscene then as saying “bring it on” regarding international terrorism is now.  Imho.

Clint Eastwood is a personal artistic hero of mine and one of America’s greatest living directors, but when he’s bad he’s really quite bad; tin-eared, flat-footed, careless and slipshod.  Sudden Impact is notable, at least philosophically, for the scenes involving Eastwood’s relationship with the Sondra Locke character, as  we find Dirty Harry having unexpected rapport with the target of his investigation, but in all other regards it is one of his least interesting movies (although this fan has yet to see The Rookie and Pink Cadillac).  It is mostly poorly shot, muddy and ugly, with very little of the interest in light that normally characterizes Eastwood’s work (the elegant, sublime Pale Rider was his very next movie).  The acting is serviceable at best and quite appallingly horrible at it’s worst (mostly the sneering, smirking, giggling, scowling, bellicose bad guys — okay, okay, we get it, they’re bad).  Pat Hingle, one of our most reliable of character actors, is given a stupefyingly long expository monologue late in the movie (“Let me tell you my comatose son’s side of the story”) and even an artist as great as he cannot find anything to do with it. 

The script puts two protagonists on parallel tracks; unfortunately, we’re only interested in one of them, and the one we’re interested in isn’t Dirty Harry.  Sondra Locke pursues and punishes the men who raped her and her sister while Harry beats up some people, causes an old man to have a heart attack, shoots some would-be robbers, gets shot at by some mobsters, retaliates, gets yelled at by his superiors, runs into some more bad guys, has to kill them, so on.  Harry’s action is fulsome but without dramatic impact (sudden or otherwise).  Fully half the movie passes before the two protagonists literally bump into each other (via the hoariest of cliches, the pet dog, no less) and it’s even longer before Harry has any idea who’s killing all the rapists.  It’s strange to watch a Clint Eastwood movie and to keep thinking “yeah, yeah, Harry’s interesting, but where’s Sondra Locke?” but that’s what happens here; her character is given all the dramatic thrust in the picture.  That shows both Eastwood’s generosity and weakness as a dramatist — his own character is given pointless busywork to do while his nominal antagonist runs off with the movie.

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23 Responses to “Sudden Impact”
  1. teamwak says:

    The Rookie is the one with Charlie Sheen. I think I remember it less fondly than Sudden Inpact, so your probably doing well by missing it.

    Have you seen Payton Reeds Down With Love? I love that movie, but I think I am in a minority. Its a real throwback to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedys. I think it is cute, funny, excellently acted, and endlessly quotable. “Catcher Block. Ladys man, Mans man, Man about town”. David Hyde Pearce is a comedy genius in it.

    • greyaenigma says:

      I &HEART; Down With Love. Like Bring It On, I was really not expecting to to be something I enjoyed. Movies that pleasantly surprise me are my favoritist of all.

  2. Todd says:

    I very much enjoyed Down With Love, but it’s a very strange project — a parody of a movie that almost no one watches anymore. I am probably the almost-ideal audience for it; I find the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies an unalloyed delight. They get a lot of things just perfect and have obviously lavished a great deal of love on the project. Speaking of climactic expository speeches, Renee Zellweger’s extremely long monologue at the climax of Down With Love is one for the record books. And the dance number during the credits makes one say “Hell, why wasn’t the rest of the movie like this?” Urbaniak will tell you, Hyde-Pierce is channelling Tony Randall in the picture (I think he was up for that gig); of course Randall himself shows up as well.

    • teamwak says:

      It also has the lovely Sarah Paulson in it, who is on the under rated Studio 60. I *cough cough* own the DVD of it. Tony Randall is interviewed in it (I think its the last thing he did before he died). He talks about the good old days of those sorts of movies, and how nobody hires him anymore. It took a re-imagining of this genre to show everyone how good he was. Shame really! I loved the suggestive use of split-screen, with the old press-ups over her, and eating a banana as well!

  3. mr_noy says:

    I’ve often gotten the impression that the latter Dirty Harry films (and films of a similar ilk; i.e. the risible The Rookie) were Eastwood’s way of appeasing the studio just long enough so they would let him go off and do the movie he wanted to do.

    Scanning his credits at IMDB it looks like he would make a “personal” film (Honkey Tonk Man, White Hunter, Black Heart) between the less than inspired action vehicles.

  4. themacguffin says:

    this may sound strange but are you the same Todd Alcott credited for writing ANTZ and CYBERWORLD, amongst many others? Reason being I was just sitting on the john reading page 301 of “Fiasco” book on horrific Hollywood flops and they mention Todd Alcott was brought in the beef up the Gary Shandling role in Warren Beatty’s “Town & Country.” If this is you, did you ever make a post about that experience?

    • craigjclark says:

      Not to step on Mr. Alcott’s toes, but he is and he has.

    • Todd says:

      1. I did co-write Antz.
      2. Cyberworld is an animation collection that contains scenes from Antz. I have never seen it and received no money from it.
      3. I have never read Fiasco, but when I first saw it in the store, I did check the index to see if I was mentioned as working on Town and Country. Now I see that Fiasco‘s indexing is as shoddy as the author’s reporting skills. To say that I was “brought in to beef up Garry Shandling’s role” is, to put it mildly, an uninformed statement. Whoever said that to the author of Fiasco was speaking an untruth. Why I do not know but I have my suspicions. I worked on many drafts of Town and Country over many months, covering all aspects of the narrative, and my work on the project was completed long before Garry Shandling (or anyone else, besides Warren Beatty) was even cast.

      I’m sure that Fiasco is a good read, but the notion that I was “brought in” to “beef up” someone’s role is absurd and could have easily been disproven with a simple phone call to me. But the author of Fiasco apparently thought that unnecessary.

      • themacguffin says:


        Here is the context: “With Garry now on board, the Town & Country script had to undergo further alterations to tailor the part of Beatty’s chum to the special persona and particular talents of the wry comedian. Some of these screenplay adjustments were accomplished by Todd Alcott (who had written the 1995 TV series House of Buggin and the 1998 animated feature Antz.)

        It doesn’t sound that negative, but since this was you, I thought I’d go back to the book and properly quote it.

        BTW, it isn’t that great of a read other than interesting to read about Hollywood’s excess. I tend to read every tinseltown tome that comes into the library.

        Also, post script, glad to find you and read you

        • Todd says:

          Re: Fiasco

          Well then Fiasco is even more ill-informed than I suspected. The fact is, I did most of my work on the script before anyone was cast. I wonder who told the author such a fanciful untruth, and why he thought it important to publish it without verification.

  5. dougo says:

    I’m trying to remember an Eastwood line that Reagan used but I’m coming up blank. Maybe it’s obvious from your first two images but they’re coming up blank too.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nice notice – you must be the first one. But don’t destroy “Bring it On” for me, please. I don’t want to think about Bush every time I catch it on TV. Its a good movie that actually managed to make Dunst a potential actress for me. It’s about her level and she does really well with it. More than I can say for Bush.

  7. craigjclark says:

    For some reason your first two images aren’t coming up. Even so…

    I’ve been interested in Eastwood’s directing career for some time now, but I agree with the contention that he only knocked out the occasional Dirty Harry sequel or Every Which Way But Loose so he could make something sublime like Pale Rider or A Perfect World (which I think is a highly-underrated entry in his canon).

    • Todd says:

      The first two images are Reagan’s presidential portrait and the poster for Sudden Impact.

      • craigjclark says:

        I figured as much. The problem for me is the Reagan portrait is entirely absent and the Sudden Impact poster is a black rectangle with the words IMPAWARDS.COM inside it.

  8. popebuck1 says:

    I believe Sudden Impact is also the Dirty Harry movie that has Jim Carrey in an early role, as one of the psychotic gang of killer/rapists.