Contents of Issue #4 Contents of Issue #4 [Welcome] [Features] [In Focus] [Reviews] [Info]
Eastwood: Go Ahead, Punk; Go Ahead, Clint

by Greg Wahl--page 1
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5

As movie stars go, they don't get any bigger than Clint Eastwood. As an actor, he has a killer instinct that allows him to turn scenes and lines into legendary moments. As a director and producer, he is one of those rare moguls who is able to tap into and reflect the sociopolitical tenor of the times in order to impose his will on American popular consciousness. Much of this success, one could speculate, has worked reciprocally with his skill as a politician; Eastwood rode the early swells of Reagan's California neo-conservatism not only to movie popularity in his role as the reactionary vigilante Dirty Harry, but also to a real-life political position as mayor of Carmel, California, and he always publicly threw his weight around for Reagan and Bush in their campaigns.

The decidedly non-PC tenor of that political era fueled Eastwood's vision from the very beginning. In his directorial debut, 1971's proto-Fatal Attraction parable Play Misty for Me, Eastwood is Dave Garver, a playboy jazz DJ from Carmel who becomes the victim of a psychopathic female admirer. The movie is a kind of adolescent version of a psychological thriller, a frat-boy romp fueled both by the glamour of the main character's quasi-celebrity lifestyle and the paranoid analogy of commitment to a single woman as death. Although there are hints that the main character is being made to karmically atone for his previous infidelity to his girlfriend, in the end the violent disruption in his life is not his fault; rather, it is due to his own irresistibility and a general female inability to behave rationally in his presence. Along the way, there are snide portrayals of blacks and gays as local color (Garver tells his girlfriend's gay acquaintance, who disapproves of the playboy's behavior, to "go cruise some sailors," to which the friend replies cattily, "I don't eat seafood.")

Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walters
Play Misty for Me.

That same year saw the release of Dirty Harry, the hook of which is an exposition of a similarly paranoid social worldview, this time rendered transparently political. Inspector Harry Callahan is beset by a world in which the underclasses are out of control and speaking in dialect, and everyone else, especially the mayor, is too concerned about political image and bureaucratic regulations to do anything about it. That marginalized groups are equated with the prevailing social chaos is made clear by another cop's comment, in front of Harry's new Latino college-boy partner, Chico Gonzales (Reni Santoni), that he got his name by hating "niggers, dagos, kykes, and chinks." When his partner asks sarcastically, "what about spicks?" Callahan replies with a wink to the first cop, "especially spicks." In the no-brainer big hook scene, Callahan foils a bank robbery perpetrated, presumably, by Black Panthers (the robbers all wear black leather jackets, berets, and sunglasses).

Lobby card for Dirty Harry.

After killing all the suspects but one, Callahan ends up in a standoff with the one surviving robber, who is bleeding and prone. Daring the hapless perpetrator to go for his gun, Callahan asks him if he "feels lucky" enough to remember whether there were five or six shots fired from Harry's hand cannon. After backing down, the dying suspect pitifully drawls, "I gots to know." Callahan gleefully, tortuously points the gun at him and pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. It is never evident that he actually knew whether it would go off, which adds to the brilliantly thorough bad will of the scene, which is so effectively timed, filmed, and performed as to make it nearly irresistable to to cheer. It is important to note that the speech is repeated during the climactic showdown with the bad guy, "Scorpio," the flip side of Callahan's racist ideology (the main difference being that he kills "niggers and Catholics" for profit rather than order). Tellingly, Callahan's speech to Scorpio is far less memorable than the one to the Panther.

page 1 of 5



Top Welcome Features In Focus Reviews Info