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TOP TEN TUESDAY: The Best Of Clint Eastwood (The Actor)

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When J. EDGAR was released last Fall, We Are Movie Geeks published our Top Ten Tuesday article on Clint Eastwood’s best films as director. With word that Eastwood has come out of acting retirement, it’s time for another Top Ten list, this time of movies that Clint has starred in. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is currently filming and stars Clint as an ailing baseball scout in his twilight years who takes his daughter (played by Amy Adams) on the road for one last recruiting trip. This will be Clint’s first acting role since GRAN TORINO in 2008.

Super-8 CLINT EASTWOOD Movie Madness will be a great way to celebrate the life and films of this legendary American actor. It takes place February 7th at the Way Out Club in St. Louis (2525 Jefferson in South City). Condensed versions of these memorable Clint Eastwood films will be shown on a big screen on Super-8 sound film: WHERE EAGLES DARE, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, and THE EIGER SANCTION each run 18 minutes, and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER runs 35 minutes. We’re also bring our 16mm projector and showing a 16mm print of an episode of RAWHIDE, the western TV series that Clint Eastwood starred in in the 1960′s and 8-minute versions of TARANTULA and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, two ’50s sci-fi films that Clint Eastwood had small roles in early in his career. We’ll have Clint Eastwood trivia with prizes, and much more. The Way Out Club is located at 2525 Jefferson Avenue (at Gravois) in South St. Louis. Admission is only $3.00.

Clint Eastwood has appeared in 67 films in his six (!) decades as an actor, and here, according to We Are Movie Geeks, are his ten best:

Honorable Mention: HONKYTONK MAN

By the 1980s, Clint Eastwood was one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.  With his own production company, directorial skills, and economic clout, Eastwood was able to make smaller, more personal films.  A perfect example is the underrated HONKYTONK MAN, which also happens to be one of Eastwood’s finest performances.

Drawing upon Eastwood’s love of both music and period history, MAN tells the story of Red Stovall, a consumptive but hard-living country singer, set sometime during the Depression.  While on his way to Nashville for a shot at the Grand Ole Opry, Red stops to collect his nephew Hoss (charmingly played by Eastwood’s son, Kyle) from his sister’s farm in the Oklahoma dust bowl.  Also tagging along is Hoss’s grandfather (John McIntire), who wants to return to his family homestead in Tennessee.  From that setup, the film is essentially a road trip full of adventures—both comic and tragic—that will affect Hoss forever.

This fairly simple story is told with great affection by Eastwood the director.  The period detail and setpieces are wonderful, with Eastwood again showing a keen eye for both comic timing and character-driven drama.  He even throws in some suspense, as once again Eastwood the actor wields a gun—but this time with humorous results.  And a traffic stop which begins with some tension ends with an extended punchline.  Eastwood also handles his actors with ease, drawing first-class performances from a group of great character actors, including Eastwood “regulars” Verna Bloom (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) and Matt Clark (JOSEY WALES), plus Barry Corbin, Tim Thomerson, and Gary Grubbs.  As grandpa, the veteran McIntire was never better; the scene where he recalls the Land Rush of 1893 is simply perfect.  Also giving a fantastic performance was Alexa Kenin as Marlene, a young stowaway on the road trip who provides much comic relief.  A familiar face on 1970s TV, Kenin was a rising young supporting actress (PRETTY IN PINK) who was found dead in her apartment a few years later at age 23.  Her cause of death has never been disclosed.

MAN is also peppered with some of the brightest stars of country music.  Ray Price, Shelly West, David Frizzell, and Porter Wagoner all make brief appearances, and Marty Robbins, who died a short time after filming, had a Top 10 country hit with his rendition of the title song.  In addition to the country music which fills the soundtrack, there is a healthy shot of blues in the form of Linda Hopkins.  Eastwood does all his own singing for the film, and has a pleasant enough voice to make his performance entirely believable.  Relaxed and funny, Eastwood seems right at home with the period dialogue, such as “my raw-boned Okie girl,” and “double damn tarnation!”  Whether he’s on stage singing, or teaching his nephew the ways of the world, or stealing chickens (!), Eastwood dominates the film and shows just what a great screen presence he is—sometimes rough, sometimes sensitive, but always likable.

10. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ

Fact: Alcatraz is an impenetrable island fortress. Fact: No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. Fact: Clint Eastwood doesn’t care much for facts! In ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ Eastwood gave one of his best screen performances; distinctive, persuasive, and powerful. We know very little of his Frank Morris except that he has escaped from prisons before and has been sent to Alcatraz because no one gets off the Rock. Eastwood’s fifth and final film with director Don Siegel has aged well, with no sentiment or melodrama to get in the way of the details of the escape. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ doesn’t proceed at the break-neck pace of your typical action film. Siegel follows the breakout plan with meticulous detail. Even when Morris and his two comrades manage to get out of their cells, the story doesn’t focus on the suspense of the chase between escapees and guards. In fact, the prison officials are not seen until the discovery on Angel Island, and at that point, the prisoners are never seen again. Instead, the battle is between men and the physical space they have to conquer. It’s less about avoiding guards and more to do with navigating heights and depths and barriers. The prison itself, rather than those who oversee it, becomes the antagonist. When Eastwood won his first directing Oscar, he thanked Siegel (and Sergio Leone) and when watching ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, a masterful piece of storytelling in which the characters say little, letting the camera explain the action. the older director’s influence is apparent.

An 18 minute condensed version of ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ will be screened at Super-8 CLINT EASTWOOD Movie Madness February 7th at The Way Out Club

9. IN THE LINE OF FIRE

As Clint Eastwood’s movie career neared the fifty year mark, his characters eased into old age, slowed down physically, and were haunted by their ghosts of the past. This is definitely the case with Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan in Wolfgang Peterson’s IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Frank’s still on the job, and he sweats and wheezes as he joins the much younger agent s in running alongside the presidential limo. Besides his shortened stamina, he’s haunted by that Fall day in Dallas over thirty years ago, when he couldn’t shield the young Commander-in-Chief in time. As Frank puts it, ” If I had taken that bullet, it would’ve been alright with me”. Unfortunately a deranged assassin played with gusto by John Malkovich knows of Frank’s past and taunts him ( ” I see you standing over the grave of another president’ ) in several encounters. Eastwood’s registers Frank’s every emotion ( shock, disgust, fear while trying to keep him on the line long enough for a trace ) during several phone conversations with the threatening gunman. Besides these scenes with Malkovich, Eastwood shows a different side with two of the other young actors in the film. With the novice agent played by Dylan McDermott, Eastwood’s a teacher, mentor, and father figure, while with Rene Russo’s Lilly Raines, he attempts a gentle, hesitant friendship that becomes a tender romance. Peterson has crafted a gripping, edge-of-your-seat action thriller anchored by one of Eastwood’s best, mature, vulnerable performances.

8. THE BEGUILED

THE BEGUILED was a gothic tale of deception and horror from 1971 set in the time of the Civil War. Clint Eastwood played John McBurney, a wounded Union soldier who takes refuge in a Southern school for ladies whom he must keep beguiled or risk being turned over to the Confederates. Directed by Don Siegel, this gothic horror story ends with the captive paying dearly for his ingratitude towards his captors’ sick brand of Southern hospitality. In addition to the implied sexual situation, there is an explicit seduction followed by a gruesome amputation scene. Siegel (whose DIRTY HARRY would open a couple of months after this box-office failure) not only paces THE BEGUILED with a solid mix of sexual tension, eroticism and black humor, he fits the female cast perfectly to their roles – from Geraldine Page’s yearning spinster (with a very dirty secret), to Elizabeth Hartman’s naive nineteen-year-old with chaste romantic fantasies, to Jo Ann Harris’s seductive teen slut. The characters Eastwood played in his career survived Nazis, lynchings, assassins, and gangsters but John McBurney never stood a chance in a house full of scorned women.

7. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER

One of the headstones in a graveyard in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER bears the name Sergio Leone as tribute as the first western that Clint Eastwood directed exudes the mythical aura of many of Leone’s genre offerings. Basically reprising his “Man With No Name” persona from the Leone trilogy, Eastwood took the standard Western revenge story to new levels. In HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER Eastwood is “The Stranger” who wanders into the small mining town of Lago to merely have a few drinks, a quick shave, and bath. Before long, he’s killed three bad guys, raped the town tramp, forced the town to rename itself ‘Hell’ and has literally painted it red. And he’s the hero! Almost all the characters in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER are repellant and unlikeable especially the cowardly townsfolk who stood by idly and watched as three gunmen bullwhipped their sheriff to death. No wonder John Wayne, after seeing HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, wrote an angry letter of protest to Eastwood complaining about the negative depiction of Wayne’s beloved “spirit of the West”. Too bad Duke, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER is one of the greats!

An 35 minute condensed version of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER will be screened at Super-8 CLINT EASTWOOD Movie Madness February 7th at The Way Out Club

6. MILLION DOLLAR BABY

For a fella that’s long past most folks’ retirement age, Clint Eastwood is full of surprises. And great performances. In 2004′s MILLION DOLLAR BABY, which he also produced, directed, and scored, Eastwood is grizzled old boxing medic Frankie Dunn. Like many of his later characters Dunn is haunted by the past. But it’s not just the memories of big fights and title bouts, it’s his estrangement from his daughter. In his golden years his only family is another former boxer Eddie ‘ Scrap-Iron’ Dupris played by Morgan Freeman who helps in running Dunn ‘s seen-better-days training gym. Just as in  UNFORGIVEN the two actors have a great relaxed rapport as they wax nostalgic about the good ole’ days ( correcting each other’s recollections ) and disparage the lack of class and grit in the new kids. And then Hilary Swank’s Maggie enters their lives. We see Eastwood act casually dismissive of the ” lady ” boxer, but he gradually responds to her spirit. Reluctantly he becomes her stern trainer and slowly becomes a surrogate father to Maggie. In one terrific sequence Maggie’s greedy, ” trashy”, relatives berate and bully them. The Eastwood of a couple of decades ago would’ve put that young ‘mouth-y’ punk through a wall, but the older, wiser man knows this thug isn’t worth the effort or abbreviation. He’s worth no more than a hard, disgusted stare. In the film’s heartbreaking final scenes we get to see a tender, loving Eastwood that he’s rarely shown on screen. The final encounter between Frankie and Maggie may have the most macho movie fan reaching for his hankie. Although Eastwood earned no acting gold , his co-stars Freeman and Swank both earned Oscars. It’s quite a testament to Eastwood’s acting ( and directing ) skills - he’s so good he pushes his fellow thespians do their best work.

5. GRAN TORINO
In 2008, Clint Eastwood made GRAN TORINO, both as a director and as an actor, but Eastwood himself pronounced this would be the last time he stars in one of his films. Whether or not that holds true is yet to be seen, given rumors about his next film TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE. What was, perhaps painfully clear however, is that Eastwood is no longer a spring chicken. Much like his character in the film, Walt Kowalski is an aging and stubborn man, set in his ways. Walk sets out to teach a teenage neighbor a thing or two after he attempts to steal Walt’s pride and joy, a sweet 1972 Gran Torino muscle car. The tension arises as Walt, a Korean War veteran, builds an unlikely friendship with the boy of Hmong ethnicity, both of whom live in a crumbling urban neighborhood. Walt sees the world around him falling apart in his eyes, but eventually comes to terms with his own prejudice through his actions in the teenage boy’s benefit. Eastwood plays the crotchety curmudgeon with a natural ease, drawing a bit from Dirty Harry’s own sense of charm and manners. It’s great to see Eastwood expanding his storytelling craft into more meaningful films, while also embracing his age as an actor in a less flattering role, giving the film a stronger resonance.

4. DIRTY HARRY

“You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” Clint Eastwood muttered his most famous line in DIRTY HARRY, starring as Harry Callahan, the hard-working San Francisco cop who can’t finish his lunch without having to stop a bank robbery with his 44 Magnum (“the most powerful handgun in the world”). Harry must take the law into his own hands when a psychotic killer is released on a technicality and the cat and mouse play between Harry and the killer ‘Scorpio’ is taut, suspenseful and horrifying but critics in 1971 attacked the movie for evading the complex legal problems and moral issues of vigilante justice. Clint’s cynical superhero is basically irresponsible in endangering the lives of innocent people in his personal crusade against criminals but that just made Harry more endearing to most audiences and the movie was a smash success, spawning four (excellent) sequels. Director Don Siegel keeps the action tightly-wound and fast-paced and Andy Robinson is one of the most vicious, warped, and complex villains in cinema. Due to Callahan’s fascist nature, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman all reportedly turned down the part. Eastwood stepped in to the role and when he’s twisting Scorpio’s broken arm (“I have a right to a lawyer!” Scorpio whines), he smiles just a little and we behold the perfect match between actor and character.

3. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

In 1976, the nation’s Bicentennial received a special gift with the release of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, arguably Clint Eastwood’s best Western film, and one of the best Westerns ever made.  There is so much about JOSEY WALES that is remarkable, compelling, and downright entertaining, that I reckon we’ll begin with the making of the film.  Based on a novel by Forrest Carter, the film follows the books’ mixture of vengeance tale, travelogue, buddy story, Old West folklore, and realistic Native American characters, with a sprinkling of actual historical figures, such as the great Comanche leader Ten Bears.  (The author himself is a fascinating story, as he was originally a segregationist speechwriter named Asa Carter, who worked for George Wallace and even ran for public office before reinventing himself as an award-winning author sympathetic to Native American causes.  For years, “Forrest” denied that he was Asa Carter and even tried to give the impression that he was Native American.)

The film’s production is also a grand tale of Hollywood lore.  Originally, Phil Kaufman (RIGHT STUFF) was hired to direct the movie with Eastwood and his company producing.  Kaufman worked on the pre-production and casting, rewrote the script, and began principal cinematography.  However, less than a month into shooting, Kaufman was unceremoniously fired from the production, and Eastwood took over as director and finished the film.  The Director’s Guild became involved and created a new rule that prohibits anyone working on a film to replace a director fired from the same film.  This rule (unofficially called the “Eastwood rule”) is still in effect today.  According to legend, Kaufman was fired because both he and Eastwood were smitten with a pretty young actress in the film named Sondra Locke.  In fact, Locke and Eastwood became a couple afterwards and worked together on five more movies before their relationship crashed and burned in a stormy public breakup 10 years later.  However, a more likely reason for the firing was Kaufman’s detail-oriented style using multiple takes.  An economy-minded Eastwood supposedly had his fill when Kaufman drove miles back to town from an isolated set to acquire a small prop he wanted to include in a scene.

Whatever its origins, JOSEY WALES has become a modern classic.  One of the few Western films to be included in the National Historic Registry, the movie succeeds on all levels.   JOSEY WALES begins as a post-Civil War revenge tale, but this plotline is soon more or less resolved in what is the first of many amazingly filmed gun battles.  The story then becomes a road movie, with Wales on the run from the evil bluecoats.  It is interesting to note that in nearly every other film treatment of the Missouri/Kansas border wars, the pro-Union Kansas abolitionists are portrayed as the good guys, while the Missouri rebels are the bad guys.  JOSEY WALES neatly flips this model so that we immediately sympathize with the outlaw.  During his flight to safety in the Indian Nations, Wales collects a ragtag group of citizens (a Native American man and woman, two Kansas women, a Mexican, etc.) who seem willing to forgive whatever crimes are in his past and follow him.  It also doesn’t hurt that Wales is mighty handy with a pistol, and has saved many of their lives.

The film is built as a series of misadventures, and Eastwood the director shows an exceptional flair for character-driven comedy, and for staging some of the coolest gunfights ever to hit the silver screen.  Eastwood the actor gives one of his best performances as Josey Wales, a man who has lost everything but finds he is not alone.  As the film progresses, we see the brittle hardness of the outlaw soften into a man with hope for a future.  The supporting roles are uniformly excellent as well.  John Vernon (POINT BLANK, ANIMAL HOUSE) is the turncoat who comes to sympathize with Wales.  Bill McKinney (DELIVERANCE) is the obsessed evil bluecoat leader.  Sam Bottoms, Woodrow Parfrey, Sheb Wooley, and Royal Dano are all great character actors who are marvelous here.  Locke is simply wonderful in her scenes and brings a sweet note of innocence to the movie.  But special mention must go to Chief Dan George (LITTLE BIG MAN), the great Native American actor as Wales’ first new friend, Lone Watie.  Part Scarecrow of Oz, part spokesman for the Native American plight, and part action hero, George steals every scene he is in.

And the classic dialogue- much of it lifted right from the novel –is simply unforgettable:   “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living.”  “Hell is coming to breakfast.”  “Endeavour to persevere!”   Most important of all, the film has a big, bold heart as Eastwood unabashedly shows both his love for this period of American history and his love of film, never shying away from softer moments, such as with Locke, or from the violence of the frontier which could happen at any moment.  In the meeting with Ten Bears, the thematic climax of the film, these elements combine beautifully in a brilliantly executed scene that contains the wonderful “There is iron in your words of death” speech delivered by actor Will Sampson.  The struggles of the modern world may not be life or death, but we as moviegoers and Americans can certainly relate to stories of friendship, adversity, and everyday human truths.

2. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

In 1964, Clint Eastwood accepted the lead role in a Western being filmed in Spain titled “The Magnificent Stranger.”  The part had been offered to many of Hollywood’s most rugged actors, including Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, and Charles Bronson.  Eastwood, on break from his TV series RAWHIDE and looking for a film project, immediately recognized the story as a remake of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO.   When the movie was finally released in the US, the title had changed to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and both a star and a new genre, the “spaghetti Western,” were born.

The “Man With No Name” series of Westerns directed by Sergio Leone and starring Eastwood came to a spectacular conclusion with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.   Set amid the turmoil of the Civil War, the story follows three men (hence the title) on a quest for gold treasure.   Leone directs with his usual dramatic flair, filling the screen with landscapes, gunfights, closeups of dangerous men, treks through the desert, prison camps, Civil War battles, and an incredibly suspenseful and satisfying conclusion.  With cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, who would later shoot films for some of Europe’s greatest directors (Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, Lina Wertmuller, etc.) and composer Ennio Morricone (who topped his previous two No Name Westerns with one of the great film scores of all time here), Leone created what some critics regard as his masterpiece.  Yes, even better than ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

Eastwood’s “No Name” character fills the good role of the title, while great character actors Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are the bad and the ugly.  Van Cleef, the co-hero of Leone’s and Eastwood’s previous Western FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, here perfectly personifies evil.  Ruthless and calculating, with his “devil eyes,” Van Cleef is a great screen villain.  Wallach gives the performance of his career as Tuco, the ugly.  Whether he’s faced with death on the hangman’s noose, or confronting his Catholic heritage, or trying to revive his “friend,” the marvelous Wallach always makes Tuco sympathetic and likable—so much so that you’re alarmed when Eastwood’s character is mean to him.

Eastwood has joked that the small cigarillos he had to smoke kept him in character as The Man With No Name because (a) he’s a non-smoker, and (b) they tasted really, really bad.  In his final Leone Western, Eastwood shows the same laconic squint that made him so famous.  But he also shows a bit of the same compassion we only glimpsed in the previous No Name Westerns, here in his relationship with Tuco, and in smaller moments, such as witnessing the carnage left after warfare.  In its final images of Eastwood riding off into the sunset, rich and invincible, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY capped an incredible trilogy in the annals of film mythology.

1. UNFORGIVEN

In the 1960′s Clint Eastwood broke free of his television work and helped redefine the movie Western ( along with film maker Sergio Leone ). Nearly thirty years later Eastwood decided to close the door on his work in the ‘oaters’ with the character of William Munny in UNFORGIVEN. While most of his Westerners were anti-heroes or rebels, Munny is a full-fledged outlaw who’s tried to change his ways. You can see the toll this life has taken on Munny’s face : exhausted by his failure at farming during the day and from sleepless nights haunted by the ghosts of his victims of his lawless years. Eastwood has great rapport with his co-stars. Morgan Freeman shares the trail ( and criminal memories ) during the trip to avenge the “working” ladies. The two old saddletramps are almost an elderly married couple who calls out the other on their B.S. without hesitation. Eastwood becomes the teacher/ mentor with Jaimz Woolvett as the full-of-bravado ‘ Schofield Kid’. After a bloody shoot-out they exchange the film’s best lines. The visibly shaken Kid : ” Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.” The weary Munny replies, ” We all got it coming, kid “. And then there’s the scenes with the town Sheriff, ” Little” Bill Daggett expertly played by Gene Hackman ( earning a well-deserved Oscar ). After Bill shows his true colors, Eastwood releases his inner beast from his younger violent days in a memorably brutal, bloody climax. His ” Man with no Name” may be his most famous Western character, but Willian Munny makes for an exceptional final act for Eastwood’s work in this genre.

Clint Eastwood has made so many great films and runner-ups for this list would have to include A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, BRONCO BILLY, TIGHTROPE, and WHERE EAGLES DARE.  Stop by the Way Out Club February 7th for more Clint mania.

4 Comments

  1. Randy Bone

    January 31, 2012 at 11:43 am

    What the hell, Stockman, did they change your medication? You just about got it right for once! I would switch the order of #1 and #2. In fact, The Good,The Bad, and The Ugly just beats out Shane as the greatest western of all time. Both are far superior to Once Upon a Time in The West.

    Obviously, by the amount of reviews you have, you’re the boss at WAMG. How about firing that rest of those hacks, and do it all by yourself?

  2. jen

    January 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    what? no FIREFOX? no ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE?

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    February 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    G’Day! Wearemoviegeeks,
    Very interesting, Two famed movie stars that could not act their way out of a paper bag. Which actor was worse?
    I look forward to your next post

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