The Film: Every Which Way But Loose, 1977
The Principals: James Fargo (Director), Clint Eastwood, Clyde the Ape, Sondra Locke, Beverly D’Angelo
A truck driving, bare knuckle boxing shit kicker whose best friend is an orangutan falls in love with a country singer and follows her to Denver where bare knuckle boxing and shit kicking ensue.
Is it Good:
Mostly. Before rewatching the film I realized I couldn’t tell you what the plots of this movie or its sequel, Any Which Way You Can, were. And that’s probably because they don’t have much of one. Every Which Way But Loose sort of shaggily shambles from fight scene to fight scene, only really getting its plot together in the last half. And even then it’s pretty easygoing about things like structure, tension or pacing.
I don’t think I had actually sat down and watched this movie from end to end since the 80s, when I was but a stripling, so there were parts of the movie that truly shocked me – such as the fact that Eastwood plays a totally emo loser in this. He’s completely hung up on some random broad to the point where he uproots his entire life to follow her after she stands him up. And then he follows her some more after she stands him up again. Clint made it through wars and Western gunfights and the mean streets of San Francisco, but it took Sondra Locke to truly beat him here.
What was very familiar, though, was every moment with Clyde. It’s like my 11 year old self only retained the monkey scenes. Clyde, who needs a trip to the dentist STAT, is a perfect counterpoint to the stoic Clint, and it must have been very strange walking into a theater in 1977 to see Dirty Harry monkeying around with that ape. Like, mind-blowingly strange. But the two have an undeniable chemistry (you really believe the scene where Clint is desperate to get poor Clyde laid. He loves that ape!), and that Clyde is adorable. He also wins fights non-violently, like the time when he defeats a maniacal biker by kissing him.
Speaking of the bikers… this is where the movie has a problem. Every Which Way But Loose simply has no idea what kind of a movie it wants to be. Is it a broad comedy with silly bikers who have so little menace they even get bested by Ruth Gordon – Maude from Harold and Maude! – or is it a wistful 70s road movie? It’s as if the ape wasn’t going to be silly enough for the movie. It’s too bad, because the monkey stuff works surprisingly well in the 70s movie portions, but it’s the goofy biker gang and the bumbling cops who deflate the film.
Oh yeah. It’s a slow, 70s paced movie for the most part, but it’s well made. It has interesting performances, especially from a handful of country stars. And it’s got a ton of gorgeous location photography. Plus Clyde is just insanely watchable, stealing all of his scenes. It’s also refreshing to see Eastwood playing someone a little less tightly wound than many of his famous characters, as well as seeing him drink beer from the tiny glasses they used to have at bars in the 70s before America discovered pints.
Anecdotes: The opening of the film is set and shot in North Hollywood, an area in Los Angeles’ Valley, and it looks very different here than it does today. Some of the landmarks are recognizable, including a Bob’s Big Boy and a car wash near Warner Bros Studios, but much else has changed drastically. One of the locations in North Hollywood is the Palomino Club, a real honky tonk that opened at 6am and had happy hour from 8 to 10am. Plenty of country stars passed through, and according to Wikipedia the bar would stay open during the afternoon sound checks, so that drinkers would get free and impromptu shows from the likes of Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris.
Cinematic Soulmates: Five Easy Pieces (with an ape), Urban Cowboy (with an ape slightly less hairy than John Travolta), Going Bananas