The Gauntlet (1977)
Towards the end of the
1970s, there is little doubt that Clint Eastwood got stuck up in a
screen persona and a tentative social criticism which in retrospect was
little other than exaggerated, nihilistic genre masturbation. I submit
films such as
The Enforcer and this frenzy of
'shoot first, talk never' entitled The Gauntlet as evidence.
The Gauntlet was actually the first film I ever saw starring Clint,
when I was allowed to sit up with my parents to watch it on a rented VHS
some time during the fairly early 1980s. It was a rather violent film to
let a 6-year-old watch, but what made the biggest impression on me, was
that they had to destroy that perfectly fine bus. It seemed just idiotic
(and scary), and it still does, watching the film some 25 years later.
It is strange to see how Clint, in his sixth venture in the director's
chair, alternates between going for poignant, human drama – (which he
incidentally largely succeeds at), and trying to link these passages
intelligently up to the most ridiculous police action of the 1970s. Bear
in mind that Clint probably had some anti-violence mission in mind when
making this film (seeing as he only fires two shots himself, and never
at a person), but the 'one crazy man works better than the crazy system'
thematics is first of all overdone, and second of all rather off the mark here.
Ben Shockley is not Harry Callahan – but then again he is. The only
difference is that Harry is good at what he does, whereas Ben is also
good at what he does, but no one knows it. So essentially, The
Gauntlet is a
Dirty Harry reprise, only on acid.
As for the direction, well despite all the fantasies spinning around in
Clint's head here, he does make his film look and sound unabashedly
well, with great photography and an enticing score. The Gauntlet
is probably Eastwood's muddiest picture, but Clint fans, even the
critical ones such as myself, will still enjoy it, if for nothing else
than for the atmosphere and ridicule.