Film Review: The Gauntlet (1977)

Release Date: December 17th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“You cheap shot, gutless bastard! You really get off roughing up girls, don’t you? Big man! Big 45 caliber fruit!” – Gus Mally

People often confuse this movie as a Dirty Harry film. It’s not but it is damn similar to that series and it fits well within its style and tone. I actually think of it as Dirty Harry 3.5 and often times mix it in when watching some Dirty Harry flicks.

While they actually played with the idea of making it a Dirty Harry picture, the film wasn’t originally made to star Clint Eastwood. In fact, Marlon Brando and Barbara Streisand were original cast for the film. Brando had some issues and was replaced by Steve McQueen. McQueen and Streisand pretty much hated each other and then both left the production. Clint Eastwood and his then significant other, Sandra Locke, were cast in their place. Eastwood’s production company then got involved and Eastwood ended up directing the film, as well.

The film’s plot is pretty simple. A tough-as-nails cop has to escort a prostitute from Las Vegas to Phoenix. However, the mob and someone on the inside of the police force wants her to die before she can make it to Phoenix. So Eastwood must protect her and get her to the finish line while dealing with an army of cops, criminals and a biker gang. Everything comes to a head in one of the greatest action movie finales of all-time, which sees Eastwood drive a bus into downtown Phoenix where he is met by the entire police force, who are armed to the teeth and dead set on preventing the bus from reaching its final destination.

That finale is so damn good and iconic that I think that people fixate on it when thinking about this film and forget about how good the movie is as a total package. In fact, this is my favorite non-western Eastwood film after the original Dirty Harry. And honestly, it’s pretty close in quality to Dirty Harry and I’d even say it has better replay value.

The action in the film is incredible, especially for the time. I don’t know if the movie holds the record for squibs used but it’s got to be pretty close to the top.

Also, it’s a picture that has aged tremendously well and plays much better than most modern action films that are created for the ADHD generation that needs constant engagement and for every stunt and action sequence to be bigger than anything they’ve seen before it. The Gauntlet is a very grounded film that feels real and seems plausible unlike one of the thirty-nine Fast & Furious movies.

If you’ve never seen The Gauntlet or just haven’t seen it in a long time, you should probably check it out. Eastwood is an absolute badass, Locke is tremendous and the greatness of that finale will outlive us all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the Dirty Harry film series, as well as the Death Wish movies.

Film Review: Willard (1971)

Also known as: Ratman’s Notebooks (working title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1971 (Scranton, Pennsylvania)
Directed by: Daniel Mann
Written by: Gilbert Ralston
Based on: Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine, Sondra Locke

Bing Crosby Productions, Rysher Entertainment, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Tear him up!” – Willard Stiles

Back in 2003, a remake of Willard came out. I had never known about the original film but the remake intrigued me so much that I had always wanted to see its predecessor.

I was glad to discover that from a story standpoint, the two films are almost identical, minus a few tweaks that made the remake darker and slightly more unhinged.

While this isn’t a comedy film, it almost has an innocent charm about it with a few comedic moments thrown in, specifically in how this incarnation of Willard Stiles deals with certain people in his life.

Bruce Davison plays the title character and while he’s not as amazing as Crispin Glover was in the 2003 version, he’s much more likable and you sympathize with him on a deeper level.

Davison is also surrounded by an interesting cast with Elsa Lanchester, the original Bride of Frankenstein, as his overbearing mother and the great Ernest Borgnine as his shithead, borderline evil boss. We also get a very young Sondra Locke as a love interest for Willard.

For those unfamiliar with these movies, the story follows a sort of weak mama’s boy that is bossed around by everyone in his life, all of whom tell him to be more of a man and to be more assertive. He ends up resenting just about everyone and all the while, he befriends some rats that he learns to train to essentially do his bidding. One thing leads to another, the plot and the tension escalates and this turns into a real horror movie.

Ultimately, it’s a cool flick and probably deserving of its cult status but from memory, I actually liked how much darker the remake was. Granted, it’s also the first version of the story that I saw and I could be affected by that. But it’s hard to top what Crispin Glover brought to the table in that picture, notwithstanding how much I also enjoyed Davison, here.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Ben, as well as the 2003 Willard remake with Crispin Glover.

Film Review: Sudden Impact (1983)

Also known as: Dirty Harry IV (working title)
Release Date: December 8th, 1983 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Joseph Stinson, Earl E. Smith, Charles B. Pierce
Based on: characters by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Albert Popwell, Jack Thibeau

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 117 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, punk. To me you’re nothin’ but dogshit, you understand? And a lot of things can happen to dogshit. It can be scraped up with a shovel off the ground. It can dry up and blow away in the wind. Or it can be stepped on and squashed. So take my advice and be careful where the dog shits ya!” – ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan

So how does Dirty Harry hold up four films deep?

Not so well.

I feel that it’s pretty obvious that the franchise waited too long between the third and fourth films and maybe they should’ve just left the series a trilogy. Coming out in the ’80s, this movie loses its gritty ’70s vibe. Now that didn’t necessarily have to happen, as the Death Wish sequels were pretty solid, especially the second and third films.

This one just took some missteps.

To start, the opening credits have more of an ’80s poppy jazzy tune, which immediately changes the series’ aesthetic.

Additionally, the bulk of the film takes place outside of San Francisco. Seeing Harry fight scumbags in a small California coastal town just isn’t as cool or exciting.

I also didn’t like the story. I mean, it was okay in that it followed a woman trying to get revenge on the pieces of shit that raped her and her sister but the film was really dragged out for too long and the story just couldn’t pick up the momentum it needed.

As far of as the positives, this film does have my favorite scene in the series that doesn’t involve Harry using a gun. It’s the same scene that I quoted to kick off this review.

Also, I really liked Harry’s gun in this film: an AMP Auto Mag Model 180. Ever since seeing this film, as a kid, I wanted to one day own one of these just because of how cool, gigantic and badass it looked. Although, it falls behind the ridiculous Wildey Hunter .475 Magnum that Charles Bronson used in the incredible Death Wish 3.

Apart from those two things, the only other real positive takeaway is the finale. It’s a bit underwhelming, if I’m being honest, but that moment where Harry appears in silhouette on the carnival boardwalk still gives me chills. It’s absolutely one of the best “I just came here to fuck shit up” moments in motion picture history.

Sadly, though, this film doesn’t live up to the Dirty Harry name and feels more like an Eastwood picture that could’ve just existed on its own.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Dirty Harry movies, as well as the Death Wish series.