Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Tonight's Movie: The Gauntlet (1977) and Book: Another Run Through the Gauntlet

Over the last few years I've been gradually working my way through the filmography of actor-director Clint Eastwood.

It's a rich list, and I was inspired to check off another title, THE GAUNTLET (1977), thanks to a brand-new book by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s and The Hannibal 8, ANOTHER RUN THROUGH THE GAUNTLET. More on the book below.

THE GAUNTLET came out in December of 1977, which for me will always be the year of STAR WARS (1977) and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). I remember the distinctive posters for THE GAUNTLET, but with its R rating it wasn't something I would have seen in my early teens.

It's the story of Ben Shockley (Eastwood), a hard-drinking Phoenix cop tasked with retrieving a witness, a prostitute named "Gus" Mally (Sondra Locke), from Las Vegas and bringing her to testify in a mob trial on Phoenix.

The problem, Shockley quickly realizes, is that his boss, Commissioner Blakelock (William Prince), is in cahoots with the mob and doesn't actually want the cop and the witness to make it back to Phoenix.

Blakelock tries to have them killed on numerous occasions, leading to Shockley and Mally's final brazen armored bus run to the courthouse through an army of cops and a barrage of bullets.

THE GAUNTLET is the classic story of a couple on the run from evil forces, a theme which reaches back decades to movies like Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935) or SABOTEUR (1942).

In particular, the movie struck me as a brash updating of THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), a favorite film with an identical theme which I just revisited a few days ago at the Noir City Hollywood Festival. In both cases a tough cop is ordered to transport a woman to testify against the mob while unknown forces attempt to kill them.

This being an "R" film from the '70s, I did have trouble with a couple aspects, namely the extremely graphic dialogue in the first half of the movie and an attack on Shockley and Mally by vagrants on a train later in the film.

Otherwise, I found this 109-minute film grand fun. Is it a bit predictable? Yes, I could see some of the situations coming a mile away, but I actually liked that aspect; it made the film relaxing "comfort viewing" instead of something more stressful. The film having some enjoyable humor at various points also added to it being a fun watch.

Is it silly at times, with insane numbers of bullets aimed at our hero and heroine? Yes to that also -- although Eastwood pointed out those scenes were partly inspired by an actual event I recall from my Southern California childhood, the SLA shootout with police in May 1974.

Amidst some of the over-the-top action scenes, the movie works as well as it does partly because of the believable development of the relationship between Shockley and Mally; cop and witness gradually come to admire one another and build a friendship. That turns into something more, leading to a marvelous scene when Mally phones her mother and announces she's met the man she wants to marry. It's an unexpected, unusual moment which is a highlight of the film.

From today's standpoint, the movie is also enjoyable as a love letter to the '70s, with terrific visuals reminding me of my childhood, including Hughes Airwest and Tab soda.

The Arizona locations, filmed by Rexford Metz, are distinctively different. The opening sunrise shots of Phoenix, scored by Jerry Fielding, are absolutely terrific. I didn't realize until reading the book that saxophonist Art Pepper solos on the soundtrack, with Jon Faddis on trumpet.

I also appreciated a couple familiar faces popping up in the movie: The jail matron is played by Mara Corday, who knew Clint at Universal Pictures in the '50s, and a Vegas waitress is amusingly played by Carole Cook. I had the pleasure of seeing Cook, who passed on last year, a couple of times in person, at the debut of a Warner Bros. studio tour in 2018 and at a tribute to Robert Osborne in 2019.

The cast also includes Pat Hingle, Bill McKinney, and Michael Cavanaugh.

I watched THE GAUNTLET on a very nice-looking Blu-ray which sadly has zero extras.

Toby Roan's book, ANOTHER RUN THROUGH THE GAUNTLET, is a small paperback about the size of the books in the BFI Film Classics series.

In a brisk 111 pages, Toby covers every aspect of the movie: The film's development, background on the cast and crew, production history, music, critical reception, poster art, and more, along with his personal thoughts on why he appreciates -- indeed, loves -- the movie.

The book has some fun information, such as Eastwood's "passive-aggressive" maneuvers to make sure his costar was Locke rather than Barbra Streisand (!), for which I'm grateful.

Mara Corday had been widowed when her husband, Richard Long, died in 1974. I loved reading that Eastwood hired her for THE GAUNTLET to help her with health insurance, later casting her in SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) for the same reason. I noted looking at her filmography that her last four films, in fact, were all Eastwood projects. As I write this review, Corday is now 94, as is Eastwood.

ANOTHER RUN THROUGH THE GAUNTLET is a breezy read which was the perfect companion for my first viewing of this very enjoyable film, and I'd love to see Toby do similar books in the future.

Previous reviews of films starring or directed by Clint Eastwood: FRANCIS IN THE NAVY (1955), STAR IN THE DUST (1956), AWAY ALL BOATS (1956), AMBUSH AT CIMARRON PASS (1958), COOGAN'S BLUFF (1968), BREEZY (1973), EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978), BRONCO BILLY (1980), MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997), SULLY (2016).

Although not reviewed, I've also seen ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) (at the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival) and IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993).

There may be another Eastwood film on the horizon for me in the near future, as I hope to see DIRTY HARRY (1971) at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Sincere thanks to Toby Roan for providing a copy of ANOTHER RUN THROUGH THE GAUNTLET.


Blogger J-Dub said...

"I could see some of the situations coming a mile away, but I actually liked that aspect; it made the film relaxing "comfort viewing" instead of something more stressful."

This is a 100% true statement. I always felt Eastwood made films like this and Play Misty for Me so as not to be typecast as the rugged cowboy and or hard-ass cop character.

But the best part of this post was the mention of the 1974 SLA shootout with LAPD. I was a kid in California. Almost 25 years later in St. Paul, Minnesota, the FBI raided a house just down the street from me. Turns out it was where Sara Jane Olson (a fugitive from the SLA shootout) had gone into deep cover. She was known back in the day as Kathleen Ann Soliah and was involved in the Patty Hearst "kidnapping." She was living a very upper middle-class lifestyle married to an ER doctor. Then she got to go to prison.

2:35 PM  
Blogger JeffZanker said...

Will you be reviewing Escape From Alcatraz and Bambi at some point?

8:49 AM  

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