It’s Clint Eastwood’s birthday today - how old do you think he is?
- Credit: WARNER BROS/IMDB
Hollywood legend Clint marks a major milestone this weekend. Our arts editor takes a look at a rather remarkable life.
If, in the early 1960s, you were to declare that Clint Eastwood, the very wooden actor who played the taciturn Rowdy Yates in TV’s Rawhide, would be one of the most iconic and influential figures in Hollywood, you would have probably been carted off to the funny farm quicker than Rowdy could say ‘Yup’.
But, as is so often the case, truth is stranger than fiction. Production line TV may not have been very taxing or inspiring but it proved to be a valuable training ground and Clint Eastwood (90 on May 31) emerged from his six years on Rawhide a much better actor and he also gained a thorough knowledge of film technique and camera work.
Clint Eastwood also discovered that stillness can be a very powerful tool when everyone else around you is losing their head. The eyes of the audience are drawn to the man in the middle, the tall, silent stranger with the narrow eyes and the grim look on his face. Silence is golden.
He also discovered that his ‘silent’ acting worked best on the big screen where he could command attention. On the small, cramped fuzzy black and white television sets of the early 1960s, he simply got lost in the crowd.
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What crystallised this realisation was the arrival of Eastwood’s big movie break A Fistful of Dollars, the first Euro ‘spaghetti’ western shot in Italy and Spain by the then unknown Italian director Sergio Leone. Eastwood was offered the lead role after Rawhide co-star Eric Fleming turned the part down.
Eastwood worked closely with Leone to create the persona of The Man With No Name, bringing in many of the ambivalent, anti-hero traits that had either been lost or rejected in his portrayal of Rowdy Yates in the simplistic ‘black hat/white hat’ world of mainstream TV.
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As the film became a worldwide hit, it established Eastwood, at the age of 33, as an overnight star and although the spaghetti western would remain close to his heart, and he would go on to appear in two further sequels and a host of other ‘spaghetti’-like westerns including High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, it was very quickly clear that Clint Eastwood had a lot to offer audiences and here was a man who, now he was a name’ wanted to take control of his career.
This meant going behind the camera and only making films that he felt was worth his time and energy. By and large, his taste and judgement have been spot on. Films that he has directed have clocked up an impressive 13 Oscars in the various categories including Best Picture and Best Director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.
Here are the highlights of Clint Eastwood’s 65 years in Hollywood
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; dir: Sergio Leone (1966)
The final film in Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy and thanks to its box office success is credited with establishing Eastwood as a true global superstar. Although, it was a huge public success, critically it received a mixed reception at the time but now academics quite rightly regard it as one of the greatest and most influential Western movies ever made. What makes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly marginally the best film of an amazing trio pf movies is the supporting cast led by charismatic performances by Lee Van Cleef and Magnificent Seven baddie Eli Wallach. The plot revolving around three gunfighters trying to lay their hands on a large cache of Confederate gold is merely a device to allow these great actors to square up to one another.
Play Misty For Me; dir: Clint Eastwood (1971)
This was the game changer. Produced by Eastwood’s own Malpaso production company, this saw Eastwood’s debut as a director and taking himself away from westerns like Two Mules for Sister Sara or action-packed war films like Where Eagles Dare or Kelly’s Heroes. Play Misty For Me saw Eastwood living his own musical dream, playing a jazz-DJ at a Monterey radio station. Eastwood’s Dave the DJ has an affair with a listener who calls in late at night to request her favourite song Misty. But, when the affair comes to an end his former lover becomes a dangerous stalker.
Dirty Harry; dir: Don Siegel (1972)
The movie that launched a thousand sequels and a thousand quoteable lines “Do you feel lucky punk? Well do you?”. This was the era of the renegade cop while Al Pacino was hitting the mean streets of New York in Serpico, Eastwood’s Harry Callahan was clearing up the bay area of San Francisco. Dirty Harry was portrayed by its star as a real loose cannon who, it could be argued, was little different from the psychotic killer he was chasing. Nevertheless, it made great, edge-of-the-seat, viewing and would provide Eastwood with a reoccurring role that would see him into the late 1980s.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; dir: Michael Cimino (1974)
Not wanting to get typecast as either a western star or a tough guy detective, Clint Eastwood spent much of the 1970s and early 1980s, supporting surprising ‘passion projects’ which would ensure that no-one took him for granted. Sandwiched between Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force and highclass westerns The Outlaw Josey Wales, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a freewheelin’ action-comedy, road movie with Jeff Bridges and George Kennedy, written and helmed by Deerhunter director Michael Cimino. It was a fast-paced comedy which also doubled as a tense thriller. It proved that Eastwood’s silent, immovable screen persona could also be funny.
Every Which Way But Loose; dir: James Fargo (1978)
Following from the hard-bitten spy drama The Eiger Sanction and disturbingly violent Las Vegas prostitute vs the mob drama The Gauntlet, came the strangest film of Eastwood’s career – a feelgood road movie about… well nothing really. The biggest talking point was the fact that Eastwood’s co-star was an orangutan called Clyde. Eastwood played a trucker Philo Beddoe who is searching America’s highways and byeways for his long lost love Lynn Halsey-Taylor, played by Eastwood’s regular 1970s love interest (both off screen and on) Sondra Locke. This was a huge hit around the world and Eastwood, who would normally be compared with tough guys like Pacino and James Caan, suddenly found himself being touted as the heir to the automotive comic crown of Burt Reynolds.
Bronco Billy; dir: Clint Eastwood (1980)
A rare mis-step by Eastwood, proof that he learned the wrong lessons from Every Which Way But Loose, the result was a Burt Reynolds-style comedy about a travelling Wild West show which played up the relaxed nature of the laughs without offering anything much in the way of plot, drama or character. This was immediately followed by Every Which Way You Can which was a better box office draw but neither film offered Clint Eastwood much in the way of career development.
White Hunter, Black Heart; dir Clint Eastwood (1990)
By and large the 1980s were largely a lost decade for Eastwood. His films were either increasingly derivative Dirty Harry sequels (Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool), Dirty Harry clones (Tightrope) or ill-considered comedies (Honytonk Man and Pink Cadillac). However, as a new decade dawned Eastwood put Harry Callahan behind him and rediscovered his mojo. On the surface White Hunter, Black Heart is the story of the making of The African Queen but is really a fictionalised character study of director John Huston (re-named John Wilson for the film) and his obsessional desire to go elephant hunting. Is the creation of a classic film just an excuse to bag a bull elephant?
Unforgiven; dir: Clint Eastwood (1992)
Eastwood’s first Best Picture/Best Director Oscar double. His first western since Pale Rider in 1985, it was also Eastwood western to stray from his reliable, sparse, spaghetti western look. It was a good move because it made Unforgiven feel different from what had gone before. This tale of an aging gunfighter on his last legs mixed influences from John Wayne’s The Shootist to High Noon to The Searchers and True Grit. It made for compelling viewing.
In The Line of Fire; dir: Wolfgang Petersen (1993)
Eastwood was on a roll now. Clearly happy playing someone his own age in Unforgiven, he repeats the trick to great effect in a modern thriller. Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, a Presidential close-protection agent haunted by his inability to prevent JFK’s assassination in Dallas in 1963. Now psychopath John Malkovich is taunting him boasting of his ability to take out the current commander-in-chief. Eastwood, huffing and puffing alongside rookie agent Rene Russo has to find the faceless assassin before he can make good his threat.
Million Dollar Baby; dir: Clint Eastwood (2004)
Eastwood’s biggest Oscar winner, taking away four big prizes (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor). This boxing film reunited him with Morgan Freeman as an aged trainer and Hilary Swank as the restless waitress with dreams of making it big in the ring. Again it’s the unusual (for Hollywood) subject matter and Eastwood’s complete belief in his characters that make this movie such a compelling watch.
The Changeling; dir: Clint Eastwood (2008)
Based on a true story, set during the Great Depression, it provided Angelina Jolie with the opportunity to deliver one of her greatest performances as the single mother whose child is abducted while she is at work and when the police eventually recover the child, it is clear that it’s not her son. The only problem is no-one believes her and she has to provide proof while also fighting attempts to put her in a mental hospital. A stunning, gripping watch and a rare film in which Eastwood does not appear.