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The Gauntlet (1977)

“A nothing witness for a nothing trial.”

If only things were that simple for Clint Eastwood in this non Dirty Harry cop film where Clint directs himself and brings along frequent costar Sondra Locke for the bus ride of a life time. It’s a release through Warner Brothers via Clint’s own production company, Malpaso. Should you be familiar with Eastwood’s stock company of players then you’ll be sure to recognize the names or faces of Bill McKinney, Mara Corday, Roy Jenson and Dan Vadis. All of whom would turn up in smaller roles in a number of Eastwood productions. Adding Pat Hingle to the mix is always a good idea, no matter what the final outcome might look like when the finished product hits the big screen.

Clint is the burned out cop of countless film productions for this go around minus the .44. He’s drinking heavy, needs a shave and looks as if he’s just crawled out of that famous drunk tank we’ve all heard about at one time or another. Good old boy Pat Hingle is his pal on the force who keeps begging him to straighten up and mind his manners around the brass. Kind of like Harry Guardino would do in the Dirty Harry films.

Clint’s been pegged to head over to Las Vegas and pick up “Gus” and return the witness to Phoenix for that nothing trial. “Gus” is of course Sondra Locke. A Vegas call girl who claims that as soon as Clint pulls her out of her cell for extradition, their both dead. She sounds mighty convincing and when Clint plays it safe just in case, a car bomb goes off leaving one man dead in his prearranged rental. There might be something to her story after all and like most cop films, someone’s dirty higher on up the chain of command back in Phoenix.

Attempting to get out of Vegas alive, Clint has to hijack patrolman Bill McKinney and his cop car after reports have been spread throughout the local police force that Eastwood and Locke are armed and dangerous and not to be taken alive. McKinney might be playing a cop but he’s nothing more than distant kin to the roles he’s played previously in flicks like Deliverance and Outlaw Josie Wales. Surely Clint’s cop isn’t going to shoot a fellow officer of the law? Though McKinney might deserve to be put down once again, I’ll not spoil it here. You’ll have to see for yourself if Clint takes out McKinney once again as he did the previous year in Josie Wales.

What this film really becomes is a road trip movie with Clint and Sondra on the run from pretty much everyone they come in contact with. This includes gun happy police crews and a gang of bikers that Clint rousts before a pair of them, Dan Vadis and Roy Jenson beat the hell out of Eastwood. Something Clint likes to include in most of his films. A good beating directed at himself before he rises from the edge of defeat to vanquish his enemies. Both Jenson and Vadis would turn up as part of the comical biker gang out to get Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe in Every Which Way But Loose and the subsequent sequel before the end of the decade.

This is one of the many films directed by Clint before he became a darling of the Academy and critics alike. Sure this might not be all that high up the list of Clint’s accomplishments but look closely at the directing job. The helicopter sequence is dynamic and sure handed. Have a look at Josie Wales, it’s Oscar worthy before Clint was even discussed in such terms. Music by Jerry Fielding, the clichéd hooker with a heart of gold falling for the big guy and he in turn her. It’s all in here and as for the action sequences. They’re over the top and I can’t rightly say I enjoyed them all but look at the stuff action films give us today. With CGI added in they’re mostly ridiculous. At least Clint did it the old fashioned way. He shot the hell out of stuff on set minus the Sam Peckinpah slow motion attributes.

While I can’t say for sure where the Gauntlet expression came from during my hockey playing days, I think we attributed it to this movie. We would have to skate along the boards and allow the other 17 players on the team to body check you as you went along. Thus you had to skate the gauntlet at the end of each practice. Hard hitting but at least no one was wielding a shotgun like they did at Clint and his lady love during the unbelievable finale here.

Not bad, watchable I guess but nowhere near as memorable as I sometimes remember it to be. But that original movie poster…….. that’s to die for.

14 Comments »

  1. I remember this film. It like Omaha Beach on D Day but here it was that bus attack coming into town in the ending. My vote, however, for my all time favorite Eastwood movie goes hands down to Kelly’s Hero’s. It’s just terrific for me on all levels. Yes the location shooting took 7 months, Sutherland was very ill…..but I look at the finished product and the wonderful theme of “Burning Bridges.” The lines in this film are simply classic. The cast chemistry is fabulous. The Gauntlet is fun to watch but hold out for Kelly’s Hero’s.

    • There are plenty of films I like with Clint and I’m not sure I have an outright favorite. He has so many that are just plain enjoyable and then stuff Like Dirty Harry. It’s been a fun ride growing up during the Clint era.

  2. I remember seeing this when I was young and wondering why Clint wasn’t Dirty Harry in it. Then seeing it again as an adult and realising just how dumb his character is in this film. It’s like TIGHTROPE, but for different reasons. Cop films that are Clint Eastwood but really wouldn’t work with Harry Callaghan in the lead.

    • Good way to look at it. Even Blood Work is an extension of these films where he played a cop on the mend after a heart attack looking for the one criminal that got away years ago while he’s recuperating. I need to revisit Tightrope, been a while.

  3. I never realised Clint directed The Outlaw Josey Wales. Such a fantastic film, a real classic. I should’ve known that and I do now.

    That poster is crazy brilliant. Amazing artwork. I haven’t seen it in years but that bus scene is forever etched into the brain. That was one helluva set piece and one awesome way to end a film.
    Back in the late 80’s we used to occasionally drink down at a local town Poole which had a string of pubs along a half mile stretch of high street back to the bus station. We always said at home time “shit it’s time to run the gauntlet” as you would weaved in and out of hundreds of pissed up nutters emitting from various drinking establishments. Actually it was more like getting back to Coney Island lol.

    Like you say in a comment above, I second “It’s been a fun ride growing up during the Clint era.”

  4. Finally, the shutout streak is over! Not only have I seen this one, but I own it! Not the best of Eastwood, but a watchable Eastwood…and contrary to what my Dad says, not the worst movie ever made. The year before this one came out, I’d seen my first two Eastwood movies at the theater, but for some reason, my Dad didn’t take me to this one…I wonder if he saw it without me, then decided he didn’t want to see it again. Some decent moments, and Eastwood in his prime (the 1970s), but like you mention, not all that memorable overall.

    • Maybe Dad had already seen the film as you say and didn’t want to expose you to that Locke nude scene in the train car. Wouldn’t be the best film either to show someone if you were trying to convince them that Eastwood is a cinema icon. Still it has it’s moments I suppose.

  5. I actually prefer Eastwood’s pre-Oscar-darling days. He lost “something” after Unforgiven (I think Spielberg also “lost something” after Schindler’s List). Anyhow, I think Gauntlet is a terrific action film. A much grittier version of Harrison n Ford’s Witness. And I think Sondra Locke was an underrated actor (too bad her relationship with Eastwood ended badly). Locke is also a good filmmaker — I really liked her thriller Impulse (1990).

    • Impulse was good and whatever happened to Theresa Russell? I did like Clint’s next film after Unforgiven, In the line of Fire and while he did carry on for a long time, the 70’s and 80’s are the way to go when pointing someone to Clint’s films.

      • Very sad about Theresa Russell. I quite like her. I think she never had that one star-making role. She’s tremendously talented. Anyhow, I completely forgot about In the Line of Fire — Eastwood was terrific! Still, I think he was wonderful in Josey Wales, Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, and my favorite, Tightrope. 🙂

        • Great selection of titles there. I kind of liked Clint’s Country Music period. Found them honest and down to earth. Honkytonk Man a fave with me, Bronco, and the Clyde movies are funny so they work for me. Right turn Clyde. Josey a beautifully shot film.

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