The Gauntlet (1977)

CLINT EASTWOOD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1977. , . Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

Director and star Clint Eastwood attempts a character who is the inverse of his immortal Dirty Harry, a man whose wide-eyed optimism about his heroic profession keeps putting him in the position to get killed. He plays a Phoenix cop who is assigned to fly to Las Vegas and bring back a witness who is scheduled to testify in court, but things go awry from the moment he steps off the plane. The witness in question is actually a tough-talking hooker (played by Eastwood’s frequent collaborator and, at the time, real-life paramour ) and the both of them are shot at before he has even escorted her out of her holding cell.

Barely evading the bullets flying at them, the twosome head to her house where he calls in for help from his boss back home, only to then find the place surrounded by police officers ready to gun them down. He and Locke head out to the desert and have a nasty run-in with bikers before figuring out that the case she is testifying at involves a mob boss with dirty connections to the police. After hitching a ride on a train, Eastwood comes up with a plan for bringing Locke in to court safely but it involves stealing a bus and letting it get riddled with bullets in the film’s most famous climactic scene.

Shades of Coogan’s Bluff haunt the premise but the execution has none of the style or characterization of Don Siegel’s marvelous precursor, it’s barely more than the sum of its action bits and Eastwood is surprisingly unimpressive both in front of and behind the camera. His attempt to lighten up and show himself as more than a grizzly cynic doesn’t pan out, most of his line readings feel rushed and lack confidence, and while Locke fares much better and delights the viewer with that wonderfully oaky voice of hers, there are times when she doesn’t quite know to assemble the compilation of cliches from which her character is sloppily built.

It’s not an embarrassing film but it is a weak one, involving a group of artists who have worked together with much better results since.

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