CATCHING UP WITH CLINT

Published August 8, 2011

Frequent visitors to this site know of my fondness, admiration, and plain old geeky enthusiasm for Clint Eastwood.  (For more on this, check out my reviews of Clint’s American Icon Collection, The Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition, and Gran Torino.)  While I’ve got damn near 30 films in my Eastwood DVD collection, there are still quite a few titles missing from that shelf.  I caught up with three of them this weekend.

I don’t know how I went so long without seeing Clint’s redneck comedies, Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980), but I did.  While it was certainly odd seeing old long, tall, and deadly playing a truck-driving, beer-drinking, punch-throwing, orangutan-owning, good old boy, I was ultimately won over.  Yes, these movies are as lowbrow as they are low-budget, but there is a simple charm here (a rarely seen special effect if you will) that can be summed up in two words: Clint’s smile.  Seriously, how often have we ever seen Squinting Clint flash them choppers, dimples, and crow’s feet?  I don’t swing that way, but even I must admit that Clint’s got a terrific smile, and uses it here to effortless charismatic effect.

Every Which Way But Loose (a film that Clint was direly warned NOT to make, as it would ruin his career) turned out to be his biggest box office success to date, grossing over $100 million.  Say it with me: Go figure.  Yes, some of the gags are moronic (most of them involve the Black Widow biker gang), but Ruth Gordon as foul-tempered, blue-tongued “Ma,” and Clyde, as the beer-swilling, kiss-proffering ape, made me LOL more than once.  As a longtime Colorado resident, I was also pleasantly surprised to see Denver and the gorgeous mountain town of Georgetown prominently featured.  Any Which Way You Can is not quite as funny, but does provide Clint’s Philo Beddoe with a more worthy adversary (William Smith) for the climactic fight.

The third Clint film I took in for the first time this weekend was the biggest surprise of all.  I have never read The Bridges of Madison County.  Yes, I remember when it stayed on the top of the New York Times bestseller list for YEARS (ultimately selling 50 million copies worldwide), but most of the word of mouth I’d heard wrote it off as treacly schmaltz.  I had heard good things about the 1995 film that Clint directed and starred in, but again, my interest had never been so strong for me to actually watch it.  That, and the fact that I had assumed that the film was one which glamorized adultery – so I was even less interested.  Boy, was I wrong.

After watching the film, and being profoundly touched by it, I DON’T think this story romanticizes extramarital affairs.   I might even go so far as to call it pro-marriage.  Meryl Streep (in yet another astounding performance) plays Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride living in Iowa.  While her midwest existence is far from the dreams she had as a girl in Italy, she is anything but a “Desperate Housewife.”  (Clint wisely does NOT make Francesca’s husband a brute or a villain – he is a good man.)  Yet when Francesca meets National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint in his most relaxed performance) while her husband and children are away, the two instantly and easily hit it off.  What takes place over the following four days is as moving a love story as I have ever seen.

Clint’s direction is quiet, subtle, and unsentimental, as we watch two people (two adult people) come to realize that they are perfect for each other, but can never be together.  Their final solution to this star-crossed dilemma is both heartbreaking and inevitable.  In fact, if Robert and Francesca had run off together, the entire story would have been ruined.  One of the final scenes, involving Meryl, a red light, and a truck door handle, is as suspenseful as anything Hitchcock ever directed, and as moving as anything Meryl has ever done. Those who refuse to watch this film on moral grounds are not only missing the point entirely, but are missing out on one of the most powerful love stories I’ve seen in a long time.  Seek it out.

So, there it is.  When I catch up on more Eastwood films that have passed me by (there aren’t many), I will let you know.