Trevor Hogg profiles the career of Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood in the second of a five-part feature (read part one here)…
“After Hang ’em High , I acted in several pictures without being actively involved in their production,” recalled California filmmaker Clint Eastwood. “Then I found myself making my directorial debut directing second unit on a picture of Don Siegel’s.” The action crime thriller introduced audience members to the actor’s signature role of no nonsense Police Inspector Harry Callahan. “Don had the flu and I replaced him for the sequence where Harry tries to convince the would-be-suicide not to jump into the void. That turned out OK, because, for lack of space on the window ledge, the only place to perch me was on the crane. I shot this scene, then another one, and I began to think more seriously about directing.” The helmer of Dirty Harry (1971) had a great deal of respect for his leading man. “I found Clint to be very knowledgeable about making pictures, very good at knowing what to do with the camera,” stated Siegel. “He started to come up with ideas for camera set-ups and even if I decided not to use them, they invariably gave me another idea.” Eastwood also played the part of the student with the man behind the camera. “I learned that you have to trust your instincts. Somebody’s always going to find a flaw, and pretty soon that flaw gets magnified and you’re all back to another take.”
“In TV, I saw so much that I wouldn’t do as a director; I was prepared,” remarked Clint Eastwood who made the decision to occupy the director’s chair for a project in which he would also star. “The overall concept of a film was more important to me than just acting.” The rookie moviemaker did not have to look far to find the appropriate material. “One of my friends, Jo Heims, had written a script I was fond of, Play Misty for Me . I’d even taken out an option on it. I had just been offered Where Eagles Dare  when she called me to ask my advice. Universal was offering to buy her script and to renew the option. Of course, I encouraged her to sell it to them. It was some years later, after I’d signed a contract with Universal for three movies, I could tell them, ‘By the way, you’ve got a project on your shelf I’d like to do. I also want to direct it.’ Because it wasn’t a very costly production, I got the green light.” A brief affair with a female admirer (Jessica Walter) has fatal consequences for a small town celebrity (Eastwood). “The character played by Jessica Walter, which was suggested to Jo Heims by an acquaintance of hers, was familiar to me. It’s someone who fantasizes a love relationship. For the disc jockey, it’s a one-night stand but for her it’s a devouring passion. This misunderstanding interested me; when do you become involved in a love affair? To what extent are we responsible for the relationships we establish?”
Revisions were made to the story. “In the script, the setting was Los Angeles,” explained Clint Eastwood. “But a friend of mine, who had some features in common with my character, was a disc jockey for a Carmel radio station. In a small town like Carmel, a disc jockey has more chances to become a celebrity than in Los Angeles.” There were other alterations beyond the setting. “I brought in Dean Riesner to work on my role, which was a little soft in an earlier version…I thought the problems with his girlfriend needed some motivation, perhaps the fact he gets hung up with a fan now and then.” The screenwriter devised the method used by the disc jockey to pickup female patrons. “Riesner made up the game; it was something Dave and the bartender made up to intrigue women to come over and watch.” The crime drama features the acting talents of Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter (The Group), Donna Mills (Dangerous Intentions), John Larch (Cannon for Cordoba), Clarice Taylor (Smoke), Don Siegel, Jack Ging (Where the Red Fern Grows), James McEachin (Every Which Way But Loose) and Irene Hervey (Charlie Chan in Shanghai). “The one who was most nervous was Don Siegel. I’d cast him in the bartender’s role and he kept saying, ‘You’re making a huge mistake. You should have gotten a real character actor. I’ll never be up to it.’ To which I answered, ‘Don, you’ll be sensational. And it will give you the chance to better appreciate what actors go through. Besides, if something goes wrong, I’ll have a director on hand to get me out of it!’”
“We shot it in four and a half weeks. We had a five week schedule. We were two and half days under schedule,” said Clint Eastwood. “We rented houses, moved in and shot.” Complications arose with the studio over the selection of music. “I needed a song that was not so old that the present generation would say, ‘Gee. I never heard of that.’ It had to be something that everyone from 18 on would recognize. The studio wanted me to use Strangers in the Night, which they owned, but it’s not a classic. There’s that dooby-dooby do at the end; I just thought it wouldn’t work.” Describing the picture at the time of its release, Eastwood stated, “It’s got a lot of action and suspense, and I used a small crew and a low budget of only $800,000 but I got more than $800,000 on the screen. At least I know if it’s a failure it’s my own fault.” Looking back, the native of San Francisco recalls, “I remember that after I finished I was a wreck. I disguised myself and went and sat in a theatre. There were teenage girls right in front of me. I was sweating bullets and I thought, ‘What happens if they boo?’ and then [actress] Jessica Walter came flying out from behind a screen and everyone screamed and I thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad. It’s working.’” Domestically Play Misty for Me would gross $11 million and Jessica Walter received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Drama.
“I decided to do it on the basis of a treatment of only nine pages,” revealed Clint Eastwood as to why he chose High Plains Drifter (1973) to be his sophomore effort. “It’s the only time that’s happened to me. The starting point was, ‘What would have happened if the sheriff in High Noon  had been killed? What would have happened afterwards?’ In the treatment by Ernest Tidyman [The French Connection], the sheriff’s brother came back to avenge the sheriff, and the villagers were as contemptible and selfish as in High Noon. But [we] opted eventually for an appreciably different approach: you would never know whether the brother in question is a diabolic being or a kind of archangel. It’s up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. Tidyman wrote the script from this perspective, but he missed a certain number of elements; I rewrote it with the help of Dean Riesner who had collaborated several times with Siegel.” Comparing the Western to the classic which served as its inspiration, the director and lead actor observed, “High Plains Drifter goes further than High Noon. When the hero helps them to get organized, the townspeople believe they can control him. As soon as he leaves, they fall back into the error of their ways and their failure is obvious; their disgrace is unpardonable.”
A different narrative style was utilized compared to the unconnected vignette technique adopted by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars). “In High Plains Drifter, all the elements overlap, even though there are several subplots. Everything is related to the protagonist’s nightmare,” said Clint Eastwood who purposely minimized the exposition. “The traditional way of doing it was to just lay everything out. Using the Western as an example: as the guy rides into town he sees a man beating a horse. He interferes, punches the guy out, so you know immediately that’s the antagonist with whom the hero is going to resolve a conflict later on. Then he sees the school marm on the porch and she gives him a stare and you also know that they’re going to be romantically involved. You can almost draw the ending right there, in the first five minutes. The audience should never be able to anticipate that far ahead where it’s going, because otherwise they sit there waiting for the movie to catch up with them.” Adding to the cinematic atmosphere was the setting. “Mono Lake is a dead lake. It has some very interesting outcroppings and the colours almost change moment by moment, so it gave the film an elusive quality.”
“The visuals at the beginning set up the mood of the rider,” said Clint Eastwood. “I took a piece of the heat wave out of the corner of the shot and blew it up so it was the same texture in the whole frame. As it was initially, I couldn’t get back far enough with the lens to get the rider out of sight, so I just started with a blank screen and dissolved through it. With the heat wave you don’t notice the dissolve. Things like that set the tone for the film, but from the very beginning I saw the film clearly. It was the reason I decided to direct it.” Clint Eastwood stars along with Verna Bloom (After Hours), Marianne Hill (Medium Cool), Mitch Ryan (Lethal Weapon), Jack Ging, Stefan Gierasch (Carrie), Ted Hartly (Ice Station Zebra), and Buddy Van Horn (The Deer Hunter). “We built a little town, interiors and exteriors, and shot the picture in five weeks.” High Plains Drifter which is described by the filmmaker as being a “small morality play” earned $16 million domestically.
“It was a very inexpensive picture shot on location [in Los Angeles],” said Clint Eastwood of Breezy (1973). I liked the script by Jo Heims, her second I believe: the regeneration of the cynic, an older man, divorced, who’s a success professionally but who doesn’t have an emotional life anymore. He’s rejuvenated thanks to a naïve teenager who isn’t so naïve after all.” Cast in the leading role in the $750,000 production was Hollywood veteran William Holden (The Bridge on the River Kwai). “Technically very astute as an actor, he understood the role completely so it was easy for him to play.” The actress hired to play the title character was supported by her director and co-star. “Kay Lenz [American Graffiti] was young, so I had to work a little more with her. Holden was very gentle with her, even during the screen test.” Cast along with William Holden, and Kay Lenz are Roger C. Carmel (Gambit), Marj Dusay (Love Walked In), Joan Hotchkis (Ode to Billy Joe), Lynn Borden (Black Mamma, White Mamma), Shelley Morrison (Fools Rush In), Dennis Olivieri (The Centerfold Girls), Eugene Peterson (The Postman Always Rings Twice), Jamie Smith-Jackson (All the President’s Men), and Norman Bartold (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). “The audience follows a story by adopting the point of view of one of the protagonists, whether it’s an adult or a child. If this protagonist learns something, you’ll identify with him all the better if you have an impression that you’re maturing with him. In Breezy, I wanted to say that even a middle class man of substance has something to learn from someone who doesn’t have anything.” Despite being lauded with Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Most Promising Newcomer – Female (Kay Lenz), Breezy was a commercial disappointment. “The public stayed away from it because it wasn’t promoted enough and it was sold in an uninteresting fashion.”
“I took a book Universal owned – a bestseller – and I couldn’t figure out what to do,’ confessed Clint Eastwood who chose to cinematically adapt The Eiger Sanction (1975), an action thriller by author Dr. Rodney William Whitaker; a retired professional assassin (Eastwood) seeks to avenge the murder of an old friend. “The book has no ties. In other words, the character who is killed at the beginning has no relationship with anybody else. I just took it and tried to make the guy relate to the hero, so the hero had some other motivations. The way the book was written, he had no motivations for anything. He just went there [to the Eiger], strictly for monetary gain. At the end, he’s not with any of the people he started with – including the girl.” The production presented numerous challenges. “There were three stories in one and it was a difficult picture to make. A good thing our gadgets were limited in number; we were running the risk of heading in the direction of the James Bond movies. The mountaineering sequences posed enormous problems. We had to shoot with two crews, one crew of technicians and one crew of mountain climbers. Every morning, we had to decide, according to the weather report, which one to send up the mountain. The three actors and I had to undergo intensive training. On the seventh day of filming we lost one of our mountaineers, and, believe me, I asked myself repeatedly if it was worth it.” Grossing $14 million domestically The Eiger Sanction features Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Vonetta McGee (Repo Man), Jack Cassidy (The Andersonville Trial), Heidi Bruhl (Captain Sinbad), Thayer David (Rocky), Reiner Schöne (Priest), and Michael Grimm (Heavyweights). “The humour was frankly sardonic but I believe it was inherent in the story. I couldn’t have considered handling it otherwise.”
A hard cover book titled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished as Gone to Texas) about a Missouri farmer who seeks revenge for the murder of his family during the American Civil War, was sent to Clint Eastwood by its author Forrest Carter. “It was written by a Cherokee Indian who had never written a book but was a well-known poet in Indian circles,” explained Eastwood. “My associate, Bob Daley, was so taken by his cover letter that he took the book to read and couldn’t put it down. It was written in a very honest fashion.” The filmmaker bought the screen rights and decided to rename the tale The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). “I didn’t like Gone to Texas [as a title] because it put it into a specific region. Rebel Outlaw I didn’t like because there were so many AIP pictures about motorcycle gangs.” Another change involved the star of the Western replacing the original director Phil Kauffman (The Right Stuff) with himself. “He shot a week of it and did marvelous work on the script.” Eastwood readily admitted, “I should have prepared and done it myself, but after Eiger, I was kind of weak, mentally and wanted to get somebody else to do it. Then, as I got into it, I began to visualize it differently.”
The Outlaw Josey Wales cost $4 million to make and it took eight and half weeks to complete the principle photography. “Josey was difficult in the sense that we shot in Utah, two different locations in Arizona, and in California – we had to move a lot on that one because it’s a saga – you have to feel the travelling in the land.” The filmmaker was forewarned by the locals about the unpredictable weather conditions. “People there told us that the year before, a film crew had to suspend operations for 17 days, because it rained continuously. I still remember how we examined the sky every day.” The natural elements turned out to be agreeable. “For the opening montage of the war, I didn’t want any sunlight. It gives it a much more somber effect. The first part of the film showed an idyllic light; then all of a sudden it goes to a very somber tone. It gradually gets to a nicer tone as his life gets better when he gets to the ranch and starts winning – going from loser to a winner. That was the way it was planned and fortunately ‘The Head Gaffer Up Above’ stayed with us.”
Featured in the Western are Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George (Little Big Man), Sondra Locke (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), Bill McKinney (Deliverance), John Vernon (Topaz), Paula Trueman (Dirty Dancing), Sam Bottoms (Apocalypse Now), Geraldine Keams (Faster), Woodrow Parfrey (Planet of the Apes), and Joyce Jameson (The Apartment). “When I read the book, I knew Chief Dan George was the only person to play that character. He’s got a face you never get tired of looking at.” The director did not regret his casting choice. “I love the last scene where he comes up to Josey; all he says is, ‘You’re up kind of early,’ but he knows Josey is leaving, he reads the whole situation. A lot of pro actors can’t move you that way. He says the simplest thing and it sounds like an important statement; everything has importance.” Eastwood stated, “My favourite line in the movie is when one of the bounty hunters says, ‘Man’s got to do something for a living these days,’ and Josey answers, ‘Dyin’ ain’t much of a living.’ He [Forrest Carter, the novelist] understands the guy completely. A lot of guys have done the Quantrill and the Missouri guerrillas on film, but nobody has ever done the Kansas Redlegs, who were a lot like carpetbaggers. When the winning side of the war came, they were always seen as heroic, even though they were just as much renegades as Quantrill.” Reflecting on the main character, the Californian added, “The irony is that Josey Wales inherits a family. After everything he ever loved has been destroyed, he finds himself picking up these outcasts along his way: the Indian, the grandmother and her granddaughter, some Mexicans and even a dog. This heterogeneous group becomes a community.” The Outlaw Josey Wales grossed $32 million domestically and received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score; in 1996 the Western was inducted into the National Film Registry.
“It was written by Dennis Shryack [Turner and Hooch] and Michael Butler [Flashpoint],” remarked Clint Eastwood of the action thriller The Gauntlet (1977). “It was in good shape. There was a minor amount of rewriting, a lot of it deletions.” Summarizing the story, the director stated, “A cop starts out to fly an extradited witness from Vegas back to Phoenix for trial. Everything goes wrong – there’s this group of people who don’t want him to get back. She’s a hooker and he’s a cop who hates hookers, but they grow together as they go – via car, foot, motorcycle, train, bus, you name it.” Reflecting on the character of Ben Shockley, who lacks the slickness and decisiveness of his signature character of Dirty Harry, Eastwood remarked, “The cop of The Gauntlet is a guy who just follows routine, not very sharp, easy to manipulate. All he expects from life are simple things: to do his job well, find a wife, settle down. When he confesses his longings, it happens that he’s talking to a woman he would ordinarily have treated like a whore but who’s much more clever than he is. She’s the one who opens his eyes because he’s too regimented to understand what’s going on; he can’t imagine that his superiors could deceive him deliberately.”
Starring in the $6 million production are Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle (Batman), William Prince (Network), Bill McKinney (Deliverance), Michael Cavanaugh (Red Dragon), Carole Cook (Sixteen Candles), and Mara Corday (The Black Scorpion). “The girl’s part is a terrific role, not just token window-dressing like in so many action films,” observed Clint Eastwood. “Her part is equal to the male part. It’s in The African Queen  tradition: a love-hate thing that turns out to be a love story. It’s a bawdy adventure, too.” The director purposely avoided going for the predictable. “He never goes to bed with her even though she plays a hooker; that would have been the obvious thing to do. It’s a relationship built on another plane. For a cop who’s had a lot of disappointments, never had a personal life that reached any heights – it becomes a pure love affair, with great friendship, and great regard for one another. “
“They run the gauntlet at the end. Their bus travels down through town and is ripped to shreds, hence the title,” stated Clint Eastwood of the over-the-top conclusion which was based on a infamous real life incident. “I had seen on television the barrage of gunfire that followed the abduction of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army – a tremendous barrage, in the middle of the city. Bullets flew in all directions and at least three buildings caught fire. I imagined what would occur in a city of middling importance like Las Vegas; a city where almost nothing happens, where the police don’t have anything to do but arrest a drunk from time to time. If it were suddenly announced that Public Enemy Number One had seized a bus and taken a police officer hostage all the cops in town would want to be in on the strike and it’s predictable that their reaction would be excessive.” The Gauntlet earned $26 million domestically and was given a loose remake with Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks (2006).
Clint Eastwood returned to Western genre to play a gunfighter who struggles to remain part of a quickly fading era.
Continue to part three.
Five Essential Films of Clint Eastwood
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.