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#151. Clint Eastwood

Few actors have been able to successfully pull off the “gritty, tough guy” motif as successfully as Clint Eastwood. Not to be confused with the muscle-bound men who populate The Expendables films, this type of character is usually emotionally hardened, but smart enough to survive in tough situations. The way Eastwood generally portrayed this character is with squinted eyes and a gravelly voice pushed through gritted teeth. Not only did Eastwood’s portrayal work, but it also worked in multiple formats. In fact, it worked so well that both of this week’s films were part of a series of films highlighting Eastwood’s character. Most actors would be lucky to be the main character in a film series, let alone two of them in subsequent decades. Even though he’s won most of his awards for directing, Clint Eastwood is best known for two acting roles.

Dirty HarryDirty Harry
Year: 1971
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

The first role Eastwood is known for is that of Detective Harry Callahan, a San Francisco cop who plays by his own rules, thus earning him the nickname of “Dirty Harry.” This main character was the titular character of four more films: Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988). Some of cinema’s most well-known, and oft-repeated quotes have come from Eastwood’s clenched jaw when he portrays Detective Callahan. Lines like, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” and “Go ahead, make my day,” show this character’s confidence in tight situations. In fact, the American Film Institute has named Harry Callahan as the 17th greatest movie hero, thus highlighting the importance this character has had in shaping American cinema.

Loosely based on the Zodiac killer, a San Francisco serial sniper just killed a girl in a rooftop swimming pool and has sent a ransom note to the city under the name of “Scorpio.” The inspector who found the letter, Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), is assigned to the case, despite some hesitance on the part of his superiors. After thwarting a robbery, Callahan is given a rookie partner, Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni). After killing two more people designated in the ransom note, the mayor of San Francisco finally decides to pay the ransom to save a girl who was buried alive by Scorpio. Harry and Chico are sent to deliver the money, but the deal goes south, and Gonzalez is shot, giving him reason to leave the force. As Scorpio increases his ransom and his innocent victims, Harry decides to do things his way, eventually settling the score with a guessing game of bullets.

The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Year: 1966
Rating: R
Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours

Just like John Wayne had cemented his role as one of the founding actors of the Western genre, Clint Eastwood’s characters in the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s made his name inexorably linked to images of the old west. Much like Dirty Harry started Eastwood in a series of films about a gritty detective, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) concluded a trilogy of films in which Eastwood portrayed “the man with no name.” Preceded by A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), this film was not the end of Eastwood’s Western roles, as seen by his starring in Hang ‘Em High (1968), High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992), the latter of which earned him his first Oscars, albeit not for acting, but instead for Best Director and Best Picture.

Part of what makes Eastwood’s character of “the man with no name” so intense is his lack of dialogue. The less we know about a skilled gunslinger, the more mysterious he becomes, especially if he’s the only one with any information on his background. Of the titular trio, Eastwood’s character is the “Good,” not necessarily because he is a force of justice, but rather that he doesn’t intentionally kill people without reason. Even if that reason is a buried Confederate treasure, he’s still considerate enough to split it with his partner, the “Ugly” Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach). Of course, both men have to outsmart the “Bad” Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) as they all have a piece of information that would make the discovery of the hidden gold much easier. After a trek across the desert, burning (or blowing up) bridges along the way, all three find themselves in a standoff for the horde of riches.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 excellent Eastwood personas

Bacon #: 2 (The Bridges of Madison County / Meryl Streep -> The River Wild / Kevin Bacon)

15 responses to “#151. Clint Eastwood

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