When it’s on: Thursday, 24 May (7.45 pm)
Working through the massive Clint boxset, I get the impression there was a point in the 1970s when Mr Eastwood more or less stopped trying. Secure as a box office draw and satisfied with giving the public what they wanted, his films started getting complacent and unadventurous. Perhaps the malaise started with The Gauntlet, which I quite liked in a sheer dumb way, though its biggest service was to the bullet-production industry. But then you come across something like Every Which Way but Loose, a sort of comedy road movie action adventure and it feels like the bottom of the barrel was within touching distance.
Ill advisedly eschewing his tough guy films for something altogether lighter, Clint (who played essentially the same character as usual) and Every Which Way but Loose enjoyed enormous success at the box office, ensuring a sequel – the tired Any Which Way you Can – and a potential foray into the kind of niche cinema dominated by Burt Reynolds. The story, a rambling affair if ever there was one, involves trucker and bare-knuckle boxer, Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) journeying from California to Denver in pursuit of the woman he loves (Sondra Locke). With him goes his friend, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and orang-utan, Clyde, who he once won in a wager. After him travel a raft of people he’s pissed off – a bunch of Nazi Hell’s Angels bikers, a pair of cops – who are all bent on vengeance.
The film’s dated quite severely, partly because bits of it have been copied over and over, also due to the number of impossible things that happen simply to move the action along. Philo quickly emerges as unbeatable, and I guess we are supposed to be on the side of this easy-going man with simple desires. But then how do you empathise with anyone who starts a bar-fight over a bowl of peanuts, especially when it’s clear he’ll win, which suggests a less than salacious hint of bullying? Then there’s the Locke character. Clint’s real-life squeeze plays a Country and Western singer (the film’s soundtrack is basically a compilation of C&W *shudder*) who first beds Philo and then runs away. This prompts the bulk of the story, but there’s so little about her that’s likeable and worth chasing that you wonder why he bothers. Talking of bothering, why people take the time to pursue Philo across the States is anyone’s guess.
That said, there are places where it’s a lot of fun. The film’s main charms are Lewis, who riffs off Eastwood to splendid effect, and Ruth Gordon as his foul-tempered mother. And then there’s Clyde, who Clint claimed was one of the most natural actors he ever worked with. The mutual affection between the trio is quite winning and Clyde emerges as a star. He’s especially good value in this rather than the sequel, where his role was expanded in line with audience appreciation and led to some scenes that pushed the boundaries of taste. Manis, the orang-utan who played Clyde, had a natural gift for comic timing, dutifully collapsing to the floor when Philo finger-shot him.
It’s either great screwball fare that takes itself decidedly non-seriously, or a bit of a bloated mess that carries thirty minutes of excess baggage. Perhaps somewhere in between. James Fargo, who directed Eastwood previously on The Enforcer, did a fine job of suggesting that, at some point, Jeremy Joe Kronsberg’s script was thrown out of the window and the plot simply freewheeled it to the pass. This sometimes works. The random picking up of Echo (Beverley D’Angelo) along the way adds a cute character to the team, a love interest for Orville and an all round better egg than Locke’s rather nasty piece of work. In too many places it doesn’t, most pointedly in the bikers’ scenes; the ‘Black Widows’ are in the film for comic relief and almost elicit sympathy as an obvious bunch of losers who can’t even defeat Philo when they’re massed against him.
Every Which Way but Loose: **