MOVIES

Happiness for Clint Eastwood is a warm gun

JOHN HOFSESS September 1 1974
MOVIES

Happiness for Clint Eastwood is a warm gun

JOHN HOFSESS September 1 1974

Happiness for Clint Eastwood is a warm gun

MOVIES

JOHN HOFSESS

Someone once suggested that Clint Eastwood learned his craft at the Mount Rushmore school of acting. Given his series of subhumanly impassive performances as the “man with no name” in the spaghetti-westerns he did for Italian director Sergio Leone — A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly — it’s no wonder he relies so heavily on action and violence to get him through a movie. What other choice does he have?

Eastwood is a star, and stars don’t have to be actors. They have mysterious and unique personal qualities which no one else can emulate. What Eastwood has no one has figured out. Even he doesn’t know. But it has tremendous salability. The box office grosses of his films — Where Eagles Dare, Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter, Magnum Force, among others — climb steadily. He has frequently received a million-dollar salary (plus percentages) for a role, and such is his business acumen he has rarely chosen flop material. Magnum Force, for example, is expected to gross $40 million worldwide, with well over two million dollars of that sum coming from its earnings in Canada.

Eastwood's appeal isn’t sex appeal despite his flinty good looks and — at 44 — his lean six-foot-four physique (paradoxically maintained by eating health foods, jogging, swimming and drinking plenty of beer). What Eastwood has, is absence — the opposite,

naturally, of screen “presence.”

His characteristics, in his most famous popular films, correspond to those of Nietzsche’s notorious “blond beasts”: he portrays a lone-wolf individual contemptuous of “slave moralities”; a superman fearless because he is emotionless, dedicated to a simple set of principles (one of which seems to be, “Upon this gun I will build my law enforcement”). He needs no one and has no limitations.

Unlike Sean Connery, who believed that the public liked him and would follow him anywhere outside the role of James Bond (only to find they preferred the one-dimensional, cartoon character played by anybody to something new and different), Eastwood has been careful not to wander far from a tried and tested formula. He learned fast in making The Beguiled — a Gothic love story set in the deep south — that the public wouldn’t buy a film in which he didn’t come out on top. They like him best as a deadpan non-hero for our times, one who sticks it to others but doesn’t get shafted himself.

Previewing his latest, Thunderbolt And Light foot, at the Loews in New Orleans, it’s clear that Eastwood has created another crowd pleaser. The audience roared their approval line after line, scene after scene, even though the picture is not vintage Eastwood. (It co-stars young Jeff Bridges as a scene-stealing sidekick doing a Dustin Hoffman -Midnight Cowboy number.) The audience gasped (in dismay) when the film opened with Eastwood disguised as a preacher delivering a sermon — but that didn’t last long; they hooted and stamped their feet (in joy) during the film’s single love scene in which he lies expressionless on a couch while his female partner works on him

bored face reads, “Glad that’s over.”

The plot of Thunderbolt And Lightfoot is too rambling to relate; it doesn’t matter anyway. It has strong and pleasurable performances by Jeff Bridges and George Kennedy — as two members of a gang that Eastwood leads, staging a $500,000 heist —and it's interesting to see how hard the two actors have to work to keep up with Eastwood who holds the centre of attention simply because of his naturally breezy persona.

The film is funny, raunchy and violent. “A good mix,” Eastwood told me later, when we met at the Commander’s Palace restaurant, in the Garden District of New Orleans. It only took a few minutes for me to realize that Eastwood’s screen image is symmetrically opposed to his everyday self. He’s been faithfully married for 20 years and lives far from Hollywood’s maddening crowd, with his two children, in Carmel-by-the-sea. He favors gun control, supported George McGovern in the 1972 election and “hates to kill any living thing.” He never smokes; the black cheroots he puffed continually in the Dollar movies made him nauseous. The brouhaha over Dirty Harry as a fascist fantasy strikes him as nonsense. “People shouldn’t take movies too seriously,” he contends. “I never do.” His voice is as soft as a ripe avocado. Eastwood sounds remarkably like a professional libarían who’s been hushing people all his life.

His next project The Eiger Sanction, based on Trevanian’s best-selling novel, is a story about a hired assassin who hunts his prey in the Swiss Alps. As Jonathan Hemlock, art collector, coldly efficient lover and deadly killer, Eastwood has found another winner. “You were made for the role,” I tell him, regretting later that

heatedly; finally he mumbles someit sounded ambiguous. He beams a thing profound like “phew!” and his shy smile and shuffles in his sneakers.

Thunderbolt And Light foot isn’t an innocent piece of escapist entertainment. Like most of Eastwood’s films, it is more important than that; it is made with an uncanny knack for knowing what many current filmgoers subconsciously want to see. What these dark dreams of violence and psychopathic cool reveal is the true extent of alienation in modern societies. I can’t help wondering, as we shake hands and part, what it means that there should be a widespread human need for this clear-eyed, cheerfully innocent angel of death.

RECOMMENDED THIS MONTH

That’s Entertainment. There are (at least) 124 good reasons for seeing That’s Entertainment and every one is a star. Fred Astaire, Liza Minelli, Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Jane Powell, Esther Williams, the Barrymores, June Allyson, Douglas Fairbanks and even Lassie. The cast list goes on and on in this two-hour anthology of tonic laughs and treasured memories from the golden movies of Metro-GoldwynMayer. The movie is a smash hit in its Canadian engagements so far, so better go early or expect to stand in line.