This guy’s filmography is too diverse to list just five or six movies, and so I’m quite sure I’ll skip your favorite. Based upon his iconic image and representation among various genres, it’s probably a safe bet that his epitaph will read, “You made my day.” Clint Eastwood is another whose film roles have allowed him to be self-referential, as was the case for previous TWTW profile subject Robert DeNiro. So diverse and prolific has Eastwood’s career been that I haven’t really given due respect to his efforts and influence as a director through this column’s recap of his life as an actor.
That said, let’s get started, yes?
Eastwood’s road to film stardom begin for me with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. A natural for the flinty, squinty windswept Wild West, Eastwood took to westerns like a duck to water. Eastwood would star in many “spaghetti westerns” throughout the next few years, almost becoming a figurehead of the genre. This fable of a triple crossing band of desperados each reliant upon the other in order to find a hidden treasure of gold has as its theme a pop culture reference in itself. Synonymous with a standoff of any sort, all one has to do is whistle a few bars of the theme song and someone else will probably counter with the “whah whah whaaaaaah.”
1971 brought two different roles for Eastwood: Play Misty For Me and Dirty Harry – the movie
for which he will always be known. Technically, I included “Misty” based upon a Cheers/Cliff Clavin reference, which is probably a peek into the cerebellum you really don’t care about. Also, even though it plays on the small screen, it represents the first foray for Eastwood into the realm of directing.
However, Dirty Harry is epically, iconically, and in all other ways pop culturally significant. Even among those not even zygotes when first screened, the phrase from the film, “…you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?… Well, do ya, punk?’” says volumes. Lampooned and reused by literally thousands of filmmakers, cartoonists, student filmmakers and moms through the ages, this phrase is the choice of standoffs everywhere. Also of pop culture note is the subsequent phrase, “Make my day,” from Dirty Harry sequel Sudden Impact. I don’t know if it was the delivery, the time of release, the actor or the sentiment, but these two phrases apparently resonate so far along the DNA sequencing of upright bipeds everywhere that they are officially part of our collective psyche. Forever.
High Plains Drifter marks Eastwood’s big screen directorial debut and his experience in front of the camera pays off in this supernatural, inverted morality tale of ethics, revenge and frontier justice. With a distinct nod to Sergio Leone, this “western” also reminds me a bit of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini when the Stranger literally paints the town red and renames it “Hell.”
In Every Which Way but Loose, I think Eastwood chose to portray Philo Beddoe at this point in his career because he could. Maybe he wanted to lighten up; maybe he wanted to play opposite an orangutang. Whatever the reason, for a long time after its release, wannabe witty drivers could be heard saying, “Right turn, Clyde,” as if it was the funniest thing, EVER. I blame this Eastwood film for television’s BJ and the Bear, by the way.
One of the best westerns ever: Unforgiven, and it could only be made because of Eastwood’s filmography. If I taught a survey of film class, this film would be in the syllabus. The layers here intersect, overlap, dovetail back upon one another in their unspooling of a tale – of a man; of an actor; of an era, of the growth of the United States (IMO – it’s a stretch, but it would be interesting to talk Manifest Destiny and the rise of the country through westward expansion and frontier justice). But I digress. Unforgiven is a decontstruction of Clint Eastwood, celebrity, viewed through the lens of Clint Eastwood, human.
I’ve only scratched the surface. Let me know your favorites!
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY – BLONDIE (1966)
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (TV) – DAVE (1971)
DIRTY HARRY – HARRY CALLAHAN (1971)
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER – THE STRANGER (1973)
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE – PHILO BEDDO (1978)
UNFORGIVEN – BILL MUNNY (1992)