My Favorite Clint Eastwood Films
Just for fun, in honor of one of the greatest actors and filmmakers and men of his generation, I give you my top five favorite (starring and/or directed by) Clint Eastwood films:
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly – An easy choice, would have a definite place in my top 10 favorite movies of all time for more reasons than I can name here. For starters, I’m a sucker for a great score, and this is one of the best ever. “The Ecstasy of Gold” and “The Trio” (the two pieces played back-to-back in the cemetery climax) have permanent spots in my Ipod’s Top 25 Most Played list. The action is gritty and brutal, the scope is breathtaking, the characters unforgettable. A perfect example of what a Western and an epic should be.
For a Few Dollars More – Chosen over A Fistful of Dollars for two reasons. For a Few Dollars More is more polished, and it seems to take place in more of a real world, whereas A Fistful of Dollars has always felt trapped, like the titular locale in Dark City or the village in Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life,” a town unto itself. This claustrophobic quality has always bothered me a bit.
Beyond that, while Fistful is basically a hackneyed, recycled (i.e. stolen) plot, FaFDM has some depth to it, some mystery in its characters, found not only in the motives of Lee Van Cleef’s stoic, deadly Col. Mortimer, but in the tormented misery of Gian Maria Volante’s psychotic but equally deadly El Indio.
While the film is without doubt a Clint Eastwood movie, he’s almost just along for the ride, the catalyst to ensure a “fair” climax between the two killers, one seemingly as eager to die as the other is to kill him.
Side note: The movie trivia buff in me can’t help but point out a relatively subtle but really cool inclusion. Eastwood’s character is credited and referred to as “Monco” (he’s also called “Joe,” neither of which constitutes a name, per se, in this instance both are nicknames, so he’s still “the Man with No Name”). Monco (or “manco,” in Spanish) is an Italian word that translates to “one armed” or “one handed.” Eastwood’s character earns the nickname by using only his left hand throughout the movie, always leaving his gun hand unoccupied and ready to draw. This is particularly noticeable in his opening scene, when he lights a cigar, deals poker and wins a fistfight, all with one hand, before finally employing his right hand to kill four men.
“Monco” introduced (now with some sort of Scandanavian subtitles!)
Like I said, cool. But I digress…
The Outlaw Josey Wales – In my mind, has always represented something of a transition between the Spaghetti Western portion of Eastwood’s career, and his modern era. It’s as brutal, bloody, and action-packed as the Sergio Leone films, but it also showcases the much more contemporary mentality and ideals that Eastwood would begin to inject into his own directorial efforts. The film is readily identifiable as a Clint Eastwood Movie, not just because he stars, but because the hero is flawed, single-minded and uncontrollable, yet sensitive and vulnerable.
And for someone who saw Animal House long before ever seeing this film, John “Dean Wormer” Vernon as the complex, principled bounty hunter was rather strange.
High Plains Drifter – ***Spoiler alert*** (having said that, the film came out in 1973, and airs about once a week on cable – if you haven’t seen it by now, that’s not my fault) The only Eastwood film I can come up with that contains an element of the supernatural, although it’s subtle enough that I didn’t really get it until I had seen it for about the 3rd or 4th time. Granted, I was about 12 when I first saw it, so don’t hold my ignorance against me.
Eastwood is, again, bloody, single-minded, and out for revenge, but this time, it’s…from beyond the grave!!! In the beginning, the film appears to be a twisted take on High Noon, with Eastwood playing a much, much less reluctant Will Kane, subjecting the fearful townspeople to increasingly exorbitant demands and mockery, as the price of protecting them from three criminals just released from jail.
However, as the tale unwinds, it becomes apparent (at least to those older than I was) that something more is at work. Gradually, the viewer comes to realize that this is not High Noon with a contemporary twist. This is High Noon if the bad guys won. This is High Noon if the townspeople not only refused to help their Sheriff, but actively betrayed him to his death. This is High Noon if Gary Cooper got really, really pissed off and sent Clint Eastwood as his angel of wrath to wreak vengeance upon everyone. Plus a midget.
Kelly’s Heroes – I was torn between In the Line of Fire and Kelly’s Heroes for
my guilty pleasure choice. I went with Kelly’s Heroes because it’s that much more guilty. If High Plains Drifter is High Noon from Hell, then Kelly’s Heroes is The Dirty Dozen and a dozen other WWII movies on weed. Sorry to mix my metaphors, or whatever I did there. But it’s an odd movie.
And yet, somehow, between the hijinks and the shenanigans and the WWII-era hippies(?), Eastwood manages to keep a straight face and lead his ragtag bunch of GIs through Europe to liberate a cache of Nazi gold. It’s ridiculous, it makes a mockery of any sort of history, and it’s a lot of fun, particularly on a Saturday afternoon. Come for Donald Sutherland, but be sure to stick around for the closing credits song, “Burning Bridges.” It’s amazing.
And yes, I realize it’s very odd, and perhaps somewhat blasephemous to have a Top 5 Clint Eastwood Movie without a single Dirty Harry movie on the list, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for Westerns. And WWII movies with hippies.
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