The Film: The Gauntlet

The Principles: Clint Eastwood (who also directed), Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle

The Premise:  Ben Shockley is a washed-up, drunk, and angry Arizona cop. But he gets the job done, even if it takes a slug (or two, or three, or twenty) of Jack Daniels to do it. The suits assign him to pick up a “nothing witness” for a “nothing trial,” and ship him off to Las Vegas.

The “nothing witness” turns out to be a foul tempered prostitute named Gus Mally (Locke) who insists “they” are trying to kill her, the game is “fixed” and  “the odds” are against them getting out of Vegas. Shockey thinks this is all a lot of hysteric nonsense from a woman who doesn’t want to go to jail.  After he slaps her a few times,  he realizes there’s something to her babbling. There are odds being placed on their survival, and whatever she knows is tied up with the Mob. Wherever they go, they are pursued and shot at, and Shockley begins to wonder if he was set up.  If so, he isn’t going down without a fight!

Is It Good: I’ve avoided doing another Eastwood movie as a MOD, because my bias is silly and well-known.  But today is the kind of day when I can only recommend a movie where approximately 30,000 bullets fly.

And yes, I think it’s good. It combines my biggest guilty pleasures — Eastwood and road trip movies — and crafts a ridiculous and badass movie.

Today’s Eastwood favors elegant and lean topics like the upcoming J. Edgar, and scoops up nominations and accolades almost every award year.  In the 1970s, Eastwood went for crowd-pleasing schlock.  (It’s this mad side of him that suddenly makes sense of his decision to do A Star Is Born.)   He just wanted to give people a good time at the movies, class and style be damned.  There was bad language, boobs, violence, and booze.  It’s funny to think he’s now a bit reticent on shooting sex scenes because this film lets a lot hang out, particularly in the dialogue.

The biggest flaw is Locke.   This was their second film together, before their “shrill bitch / grumpy gus” schtick got old. Frankly, it was old halfway through this film, but at least it works better than it did in Bronco Billy.   It’s no wonder he doesn’t really dwell on his 70s films whenever they do retrospectives.  There’s weird stuff lurking here. Just how many times was Locke violently disrobed under his direction? Or hit?  Or raped? There’s a field day of analysis here.

Nevertheless, I have to just give a slow and horrified clap to any film who uses “Come and have a piece of this!” as a way to save a man from being beaten to death.  You have to love the grim and exploitation of the 70s, when a boob flash solved any plot problem.

Is It Worth A Look: Yes, because it is the only film I know of that has an insane bullet count (8,000 rounds were used in the finale) and only two dead bodies.  Can you believe that? Only two people die in this film, but the violence claims a house, a cop car, and a bus.

And how about that finale?  Not until Speed would your average and dumpy public bus be something to salute.   Who needs a tank? Just find yourself a bus and make that run for truth, justice, and the American way.

Random Anecdotes: It once existed as a Steve McQueen and Barbra  Striesand vehicle.  They dropped out, and Eastwood stepped in.  Sam Peckinpah also dreamed of directing this with Kris Kristofferson. Instead, he made Convoy.  The fact that it too got a MOD from me is completely unrelated.

Oh and you probably already knew this, but Frank Frazetta is responsible for the glorious poster. It alone justifies the movie:

All screen caps come from DVD Beaver, who I rely on so often for sparkly post pictures.