Clint Eastwood has been a towering part of the American movie landscape for more than 50 years. We have watched him evolve from the wide-eyed young cowboy Rowdy Yates on TV’s Rawhide to one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors.
No one has enjoyed watching Eastwood’s rise more than Richard Schickel, Time magazine movie critic since 1972 and producer, director and writer for dozens of documentaries on film history.
“Those of us who knew him from those spaghetti Westerns to where he is today,” Schickel said during a recent phone interview, “that’s one of the most interesting things about his career.”
Not surprisingly, Schickel makes some contributions to Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Brothers, a spectacular DVD set; the largest DVD collection ever devoted to one actor.
The films are housed in a thick 11 1/2-by-8 inch book with photos and pictures of movie posters showcasing Eastwood’s work. There are also studio letters and photos as well as a 24-page booklet lifted from Schickel’s new book Clint: A Retrospective (Sterling) scheduled to be released later this month or in early March.
Although Eastwood has made films for other companies, his long association with Warner Brothers began in 1975 when he signed a contract with the studio. The actor/director even moved his Malpaso Productions to the historic studio lot where the likes of Bogart and Cagney once roamed.
That doesn’t surprise Schickel. “Clint has great grasp of movie history. I think there are some who underestimate him intellectually.”
Eastwood takes Schickel on a tour of the lot in the collection’s 35th film The Eastwood Factor, a 22-minute documentary that includes clips from his movies selected by Schickel. A feature-length version of the documentary is scheduled for release during the summer.
The collection covers a 40-year span of the star’s career from Where Eagles Dare (1968), which has Eastwood teaming up with Richard Burton to take on the Nazis, to Grand Torino (2008), starring Eastwood as a bigoted Korean War veteran whose Asian neighbors gradually cause him to have a change of heart.
During those four decades, Eastwood has won dozens of awards, including a pair of best director Oscars for Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2006). Both films won the best picture Oscar and are among those included in the collection.
Schickel’s association with Eastwood goes back 35 years when the two met at “a small party” in Los Angeles. “We just seem to hit it off right away,” Schickel said. “Whenever he would come to New York, he’d call me and we’d go out to eat.”
The two became so close that Schickel even made “a small contribution” to Unforgiven. Eastwood told him if it works “it’s my idea. If it doesn’t then it’s your idea.” So whose “idea” was it? “He left it in the picture,” said Schickel, who declined to identify the scene.
Their relationship, however, convinced Schickel about 25 years ago that he shouldn’t review any more Eastwood films. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have insightful opinions about his pal’s work.
It was The Beguiled (1971), directed by one of Eastwood’s mentors Don Siegel, that caused Schickel to really take notice of the actor. The story is about a wounded Union officer (Eastwood) who is taken in by the women at a Confederate girls’ boarding school. “I always thought he was pretty good,” Schickel said, “but I was very impressed with The Beguiled. It was an interesting concept. I started paying closer attention to him.”
Not long after that came Dirty Harry, launching Eastwood into the superstar stratosphere. He portrayed a San Francisco cop who didn’t play by the rules when it came to dealing with vicious criminals. (Dirty Harry, and its four sequels all are in the collection.)
Those films sparked what Schickel calls the “phony Dirty Harry controversy.” Some critics and organizations complained about the violence and the high body count. “I like the films,” Schickel said. “I think Clint was reflecting the frustrations (over the justice system) that many Americans felt at the time.”
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) is the production that convinced Schickel that Eastwood was indeed someone special. Eastwood directed the film in which he plays farmer Josey Wales, whose family is murdered by a group of Union soldiers known as the “Red legs”. Wales hits the trail for revenge, but it his journey along the way that provides some of the film’s finest moments. “It is a terrific film,” Schickel said.
As Schickel got to know Eastwood, he was surprised at how talented the actor was when it came to music. “I knew of his love for jazz, but I didn’t realize how well he could play the piano and that he could also compose.” Eastwood has contributed numerous compositions to his films.
Eastwood’s interest in music led to his making Honkytonk Man, with him playing an alcoholic and tubercular country-and-western singer, and Bird (1988), with Forest Whitaker as jazz musician Charlie Parker. Both films look at talented men who were self-destructive and attempt to discover why. It’s a theme that interests and puzzles Eastwood. “Clint resents it when someone destroys their talent,” Schickel said.
Schickel believes jazz has played a part in Eastwood’s demeanor on a movie set. “Those who play jazz are laid back and do it for themselves. If you want to listen that’s fine. If you don’t they’re going to play anyway.
“Clint feels that way about his movies. He’s told me that he makes movies that he would like to see. Sometimes they are a commercial success and sometimes they are not. He’s not obsessed with that aspect of it.”
While directing a film, Eastwood displays that same laidback approach that’s so associated with jazz performers. “There is a relaxed atmosphere on his sets,” Schickel said. “A lot of good-natured humor.”
When it’s time to film, however, Eastwood and the others are ready to go. As Schickel points out in the booklet, Eastwood is known for being quick and frugal while working on a project. He doesn’t believe in wasting a company’s money by doing multiple takes of every scene.
That approach obviously doesn’t work for everyone, but it sure has worked for Clint Eastwood. Just ask anyone who has ever seen one of his movies.
The Eastwood collection, which is divided into sections, includes:
“Cops”: Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), The Gauntlet (1977), Sudden Impact (1983), Tightrope (1984), The Dead Pool (1988), The Rookie (1990)
“Man of Action”: Where Eagles Dare (1968), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), Firefox (1982), Heartbreak Ridge (1986), Absolute Power (1997), True Crime (1999), Space Cowboys (2000), Blood Work (2002)
“Backrooms & Barrooms”: Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Any Which Way You Can (1980), Bronco Billy (1980), Honkytonk Man (1982), City Heat (1984), Pink Cadillac (1989), A Perfect World (1993), Bridges of Madison County (1995)
“Westerns”: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985), Unforgiven (1992)
“Behind the Camera”: Bird (1988), White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Gran Torino (2008), The Eastwood Factor (2009)