A burned-out cop, Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood, Play Misty for Me), is assigned to escort a seemingly unimportant witness to a crime, a high-priced call girl Augustina “Gus” Mally (Sondra Locke, Heart is Lonely Hunter), from Nevada to Arizona. After many attempts to kill them, Shockley begins to suspect that he has been set up by his superiors.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I can just walk right in here anytime I feel like it, because I got this badge, I got this gun, and I got the love of Jesus right here in my pretty green eyes.”
Ever since he made Unforgiven (1992), Clint Eastwood has been getting better press than Jesus Christ. It’s as if a light bulb went off in people’s heads and “Squinty Clint” was officially canonized as a great artist. Why did it take so long? Snobbery. Unfortunately, genre actors and/or filmmakers never get much appreciation.
Although more revered today for his award-winning films, I will always remember Eastwood as one of cinema’s greatest action stars. The Gauntlet wasn’t Eastwood’s first action movie, but it was the first one he directed — as expected, Eastwood crafted an effective and entertaining slam-bang action-thriller.
The Gauntlet is purposely mindless. There are no hidden meanings. Aside from Eastwood’s expected jabs at government officials, The Gauntlet pretty much sticks to its simple storyline. This is the definition of a “popcorn movie.” The film starts with a believably strong premise, but somehow along the way manages to disintegrate into an absurd mess. Yet it’s a tremendously entertaining mess!
While admittedly cartoonish in places, The Gauntlet offers plenty of goodies, especially Sondra Locke’s ferocious, no-holds-barred performance. Eastwood hands the film to then girlfriend Locke on a silver platter. Did Eastwood allow his personal feelings for Locke to cloud his judgement? Maybe, maybe not. The truth is that Eastwood is a rare movie star who is okay with his co-stars stealing scenes from him.
Locke is not the only one stealing scenes left and right — The Gauntlet sports an outstanding supporting cast. Pat Hingle (Splendor in the Grass) is wonderful as Clint’s best friend. William Prince (The Cat from Outer Space) is deliciously creepy as Clint’s boss. Michael Cavanaugh (The Enforcer) is a heartless D.A. and Carole Cook (The Incredible Mr. Limpet) has a funny cameo as a talkative waitress. However, my favorite was Bill McKinney (The Outlaw Josey Wales) as a piggish local cop.
Despite being a great showcase for Locke et al., The Gauntlet also provided an interesting change-of-pace for actor Eastwood. I liked the fact that Eastwood isn’t playing a big macho-man who has all the answers. Eastwood’s Shockley is a loser with capital “L.” He is unsure of himself and constantly makes mistakes. Shockley is the exact opposite of Harry Callahan — there is nothing cool or heroic about the character.
Finally, I want to praise Eastwood for staging some memorable action set-pieces. Eastwood’s confrontation with a bike gang is hilarious! The motorcycle vs. helicopter chase is crazy-fun. Especially memorable are the last scenes of the film, which don’t really make a whole lot of sense. As illogical and unrealistic as these over-the-top scenes are, they do add a touch of genuine excitement to an otherwise dumb action film. The throbbing music score is by Jerry Fielding (The Outlaw Josey Wales).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Gauntlet, Clint Eastwood’s sixth film as a director, shows the actor-director’s willingness to try something new. After directing a psychological thriller, a touching romantic melodrama, a spy film and two gritty westerns, this time around Eastwood seems to be paying tribute to old pulp magazines. Although not my favorite Eastwood movie, I can’t deny that I had a great time revisiting it. For fans of action movies, The Gauntlet is at least worth a rental. Color, 109 min, Rated R.