The Gauntlet (1977 USA)

This motion picture gets a bad rap for it’s implausible story line and outrageous shoot outs, but if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, it’s a hard one to top. For the sixth time Clint Eastwood does his civic duty as the film’s director and leading man, here sharing the screen with live-in companion Sondra Locke. (This was before a real life drama where he changed the locks on the house they shared when she was away–years after this) The pasty Locke always struck me as a good looking woman, but only if you caught her at just the right angle.

She showed a few of those here, but facial profiles didn’t do her justice. I made the mistake once of telling someone she looked like her and this individual took it as an insult so now I think of that unpleasant exchange whenever I see this actress’ face… Anyway, on with the review! The Gauntlet is about the severities confronted by Eastwood’s detective, Ben Shockley, when he tries to escort Locke from Las Vegas to Phoenix to give evidence at a mob trial. She’s a prostitute. En route the cop and the girl begin a resuscitating rapport: He’ll quit his sour mash whiskey if she quits her demeaning customers. But the movie is more interested in the mob’s labours to thwart the completion of their journey.

There are ambulance getaways, gunfights in racing sedans, a helicopter assault, a jaunt on a motorbike he steals from a dirty hippie and, for the climax, the eponymous roadblock of gunfire during the ultimate bus ride up the steps of the Hall of Justice is an extravaganza of noise and action throughout which, inconceivably, no one is hit. It’s a movie very low on freshness or inspiration, but its action sequences are so heatedly played that it’s hopeless not to be engaged most of the time. It’s not merely that the film is loud. It has a sort of violent polish, as when a car, a bus and an entire house are demolished via storms of bullets, which were apparently informed by the saturation gunfire police had used against the Symbionese Liberation Army. In other words it’s purely about the spectacle.

Characters stroll untouched from the perforated bus, but the house gently admits defeat, like an animal having been hunted for sport, and crumples into gauzy wreckage. The screenplay feigns the development of a relationship between its underdog duo, but ultimately subsists to oblige the pandemonium much in the way that the libretto for a musical is bone structure connecting the songs. Having already dismembered his cowboy image, the Dirty Harry shell already tattered from that first appearance, Eastwood is showing here all that he’d learned from his inspired work with skilled action director Don Siegel’s poised and measured style. Behind the camera, Eastwood the director is audacious and full of bravado.

Locke is not just hot, but also genuinely funny on occasion. Eastwood has such a macho image that perhaps audiences haven’t observed that his female characters have minds of their own and are never supposed to just be ornamental. In supporting roles, Pat Hingle has nothing much to do as an even remotely realistic character. Then there is Eastwood’s persnickety, worried-mother precinct pal, and William Prince sits and stands in some very well turned-out suits as the highly placed overseer of well consolidated criminal activity.

He represents the use of lawmaking command by government officials for illicit secret advantages and vice within Eastwood’s department. Maybe a more tolerable way to view the movie is as a fun satire of the police, most notable for its set pieces. But I suppose what draws me to Clint Eastwood’s work as a director, his explorations of morality and outsider themes, is more than a foolish streamline of worn-out plot and pigeonholed characters. Perhaps he felt compelled to perpetuate a certain iconic archetype he’d fashioned for himself with The Gauntlet. It certainly has the grace and confidence of a genre veteran, telling a readily, laughably ridiculous and predictable story with excellent liveliness. To many people this is Eastwood’s most embarrassing flick. But I say thousands of fired bullets can’t be wrong. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Clint Eastwood + Guns = A fun time at the movies.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice equation. Couldn’t agree more!

    Like

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