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.