Cry Macho

Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett

Cry Macho is the latest instalment in the Clint Eastwood series of movies you could loosely call the “old guy’s last hurrah”. Like Gran Torino and The Mule, it’s a moment to be reminded of past glories as well as be entertained, all the while marvelling at at Eastwood’s remarkable career and long life.

Clint Eastwood was 90 when he was making this film and at an age when many people are being spoonfed, he is starring, directing and producing. He also writes some of the instrumental music. He appears in every scene. Like most late-period Eastwood movies starring the man himself, this is as much about the Eastwood myth behind as well as in front of the camera as any character portrayed on screen.

So scant is its plot that it comes as something of a shock to realise that it’s actually based on a book (written in the 1970s by N Richard Nash) – man (Clint) is tasked with picking up wayward kid (Eduardo Minett) in Mexico to bring him back to his estranged dad (Dwight Yoakam, barely in it) in Texas. The old guy and the kid have adventures along the way, the kid learning what it is to be a man, the old fella having a few ornery lumps knocked off his exterior.

So familiar is it, in fact, that you only need to half watch. Mike (as Clint’s ex-rodeo rider character is called) dispenses old-guy wisdom (ie insults) as well as humour (more insults). The kid Rafo is brattish in a likeable way. They stop at a roadside diner where a conchita of a certain age makes eyes at wizened old Mike (Eastwood’s insistence on his amatory allure even at an advanced age being one of those things you’re either going to feel indulgent about or not. He did something similar in The Mule.)


Clint Eastwood with Dwight Yoakam
Clint with Dwight Yoakam



Minett, as the kid, knows exactly why he’s here and gives just enough of a performance to be plausible and not block the star’s light. If Gran Torino was playing songs in the key of Dirty Harry, Cry Macho is more of a homage to Clint’s less iconic films – like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (older guy and younger guy on the road) or Bronco Billy (old cowboys never die).

A bag of clichés or a collection of mythic tropes – take your pick. I started off thinking “Oh god, what on earth has he gone and done?” and by the end of it had had my cold heart softened just by the sheer straightforwardness and likeability of it all, especially when the duo get held up in Mexico and Mike becomes a kind of Dr Dolittle to the locals’ animals and gets all misty-eyed over diner owner Marta (Natalia Traven).

Here and there things seem to veer, like when Mike says to Rafo, “You’re kind of growing on me, kid,” precisely the sort of “tell don’t show” dialogue that Eastwood’s mentor Don Siegel would have laughed at. But Ben Davis’s cinematography is clean and crisp and beautiful and the country-inflected twangy soundtrack by the versatile Mark Mancina (everything from bad-cop thriller Training Day to girl-power comedy Moana) hits the right spots and it’s interesting watching Clint extending his acting into new territory – his old guy in love thing is really rather remarkable to behold.

Everything just works. Clint might be an exception to that statement, however. I mean, 90 is old, though he’s probably playing about 70, and while a bit of digital de-ageing in post production can’t be ruled out – he looks remarkably fresh here and there – the limbs are stiff and the back is bowing.

If you’re an either/or sort of person, this film is probably going to go on the “nah” pile. But if you’re prepared to take rough with smooth, there’s plenty to enjoy here and there is something about Eastwood’s pared-back storytelling style that’s still incredibly refreshing.

Macho, by the way, is the name of the kid’s cockfighting rooster. It has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.





Cry Macho – Get the N Richard Nash novel the Clint Eastwood movie is based on at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Original art for the poster of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

9 January

 

 

Lee Van Cleef born, 1925

On this day in 1925, Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr was born, in New Jersey, USA.

Best known for his portrayal of baddies, Van Cleef served on submarine chasers in the Second World War before becoming a time and motion man after the war ended.

Not looking enough like a traditional penpusher to satisfy his colleagues, Lee was persuaded by them, and his friends, to give the stage and film world the benefit of his hawk nose and eyes, each of which was a different colour, thanks to the heterochromia iridium mutation.

Van Cleef’s career hit a high note early on when he was cast in 1952’s High Noon (he was taught to ride horses by Ron Howard’s father, Rance), after which he would regularly play black hats in a variety of film and TV offerings, generally of decreasing quality.

Whether this was down to poor choices, or Cleef’s serious drinking is moot, but by the time Sergio Leone came looking for him (Lee Marvin having turned Leone down) for A Few Dollars More, Van Cleef had become a carpenter/decorator and occasional artist; his face wasn’t even listed in the actors’ directories.

Leone cast him again in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Van Cleef cashed in with a run of back-to-back productions that paid him handsomely. Once again the quality began to slide, though Van Cleef could always be relied on to deliver a “fresh from hell” performance, the distinctive eyes burning with intelligence and passion.

His last great role came in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, in 1981, as the appropriately named Hauk (hawk, geddit?), with Kurt Russell deliberately aping Clint Eastwood as the badass Snake Plissken in what is essentially a futuristic western.

After which another slide. He died in 1989, aged only 64. Who knows what great role might have come along in another few years, and then again a few years after that.

 

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, dir: Sergio Leone)

As I write this, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the number 5 film on the IMDb’s top 250 list. Not bad for a western, hardly the hippest of genres right now.

It’s one of Sergio Leone’s best remembered spaghetti westerns, thanks in no small part to its title, and the fact that it refers to its three leads – the good being Clint Eastwood, the bad being Lee Van Cleef, the ugly being Eli Wallach.

Actually, the good/bad relative righteousness of those first two is partly what the film is about (but Wallach, we can all agree, is the Ugly). Told in great big operatic slabs, with faces treated in close-up as if they were something out of Monument Valley, it’s all about three men hunting for a vast amount of Civil War gold against the backdrop of a war that’s sputtering out. Each of the three needs the other two to stay alive to find the gold – each one has a fragment of the location – but once all three are in the cemetery where the gold is hidden, the power dynamic shifts, and we are treated to one of the most gloriously drawn out Mexican stand-offs in cinema history, a sequence of narrowed eyes, sweat, stubble and one of Ennio Morricone’s most recognisable soundtracks.

This remarkable score, which spent a year on the Billboard charts, comprises standard western fare (orchestra, choir), plus Morricone’s usual unusual instrumentation (ocarina, twangy guitar, jew’s harp) along with yodelling, shouting, whistling and gunshots. It’s a fitting soundtrack for the last of Leone’s Dollars trilogy. As far as Leone was concerned this was the last western he was ever going to make (he was strongarmed into Once Upon a Time in the West). So he’s going full tilt, especially towards the end, telling a story in pictures and sounds, using few words (the incessant babbling of Eli Wallach’s Tuco delivers very little information).

And the message? Greed, guns, they don’t mix.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • One of the greatest westerns ever made
  • One of Ennio Morricone’s greatest soundtracks
  • Tonino Delli Colli’s beautiful deep focus cinematography
  • The typical Leone long, dialogue-free opening sequence

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Play Misty for Me

Jessica Walter gets busy in Play Misty for Me

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

12 December

 

 

Marconi receives the first transatlantic message, 1901

On this day in 1901, Guglielmo Marconi, one of the pioneers of long-distance radio transmission, finally proved that radio waves could travel really long distances. In 1894 he had started work on “wireless telegraphy” (sending telegrams without the need for wires, via Morse code) when only 20 years old, using his butler as a lab assistant – this was the butt end of the age of the gentleman scientist. He had soon worked out how to make a bell ring on one side of his room, wirelessly from the other. Impressed, his father had encouraged him to continue his experiments and gave him some money to do so. He did continue, though finding no take-up for his work in Italy, he travelled to London in 1896, where his fluency in English stood him in good stead, and at the Telegraph Office (now the BT Centre) in Newgate Street, London, he demonstrated the first public transmission of wireless signals. By 1897 he had transmitted Morse wirelessly over a distance of 6km. After this things moved rapidly and by 1899 Marconi was able to transmit from ocean-going ships. To turn his invention from something that obviously had huge benefit to a militaristic and maritime nation such as Britain to something that would have huge benefit for a wider public (and possibly himself), Marconi set out to transmit across the Atlantic – telegraphs at the time being transmitted via transatlantic cables running across the ocean floor. On 12 December 1901, Marconi reported that he had received the distinctive three-click Morse “S” signal in Cornwall, UK, transmitted from St John’s, Newfoundland, a distance of 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles). No one since has been able to replicate the experiment with the equipment Marconi had at the time, and it is now generally accepted that Marconi either mistakenly heard the Morse signal, or faked his findings. Either way, the announcement of the achievement lent him enough heft to allow him to continue his experiments. By the following year he was transmitting radio signals across the Atlantic, the year after that President Theodore Roosevelt of the USA was able to send a message of greeting to King Edward VII of the UK. The radio age had arrived. The Bill Gates/Steve Jobs of his time, Marconi was still not 30 years old.

 

 

 

Play Misty for Me (1971, dir: Clint Eastwood)

Made just before Clint Eastwood would re-invent himself as Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s directorial debut is one of a select few about a radio DJ. It being an Eastwood film, starring the man himself, Dave Garver turns out to be a laconic kind of late-night DJ, the sort who plays romantic songs for lonely people and almost whispers between the tracks. Very intimate. The sort of DJ you could imagine the Man with No Name becoming, if you could get the cigar stub out of his mouth. And already playing, as he has repeatedly since in his career, with the Eastwood movie image, it’s this very quiet, dialled down, hushed aspect of the character of Dave that gets him into trouble, when one of the callers to his phone-in request slot starts to ask him for the track Misty by pianist Errol Garner (also one of Eastwood’s personal faves). Evelyn (Jessica Walter) phones often, always asking for Misty, and one night, after meeting her “accidentally” in a bar after work, he takes her home and does to her what she probably had been hoping he’d do all along. This is the big “you really should not have done that” moment in a film that then dives into territory more famously explored by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, as Evelyn proves herself to be a psycho bitch who pushes and pushes and pushes against this quietly spoken Californian in an age of peaceniks while the film faces the audience and asks us to guess when Dave’s going to snap. Lean as you like, perfectly cast and played, it was an auspicious start for Eastwood, a thriller with a brilliant sting in the tale which is so very wrong and yet so right.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Eastwood’s brilliant directorial debut
  • Great music including Roberta Flack singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
  • Eastwood’s director-mentor Don Siegel cameos as a barman
  • Jessica Walter is one of the great female psycho nutjobs of cinema

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Play Misty for Me – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Gran Torino

Old grizzled Clint Eastwood plays Shirty Harry in a film about redemption, ageing, learning to live with others, sacrifice but most of all about the myth of Clint himself.

The skimpy plot concerns a grumpy Korean war veteran whose neighbourhood has gone to the dogs, evidence of which he sees in his immigrant neighbours, who are Hmong people. A view reinforced when the young son tries to steal his 1972 Gran Torino and underlined later on when he sets about “teaching the youngster a lesson”, which of course teaches him a few things he didn’t know.

Like Unforgiven the tensions comes from the question “when is Clint going to strap the guns back on”? But being a film about an old man the outcome is less certain than it was in the 1992 western.

You could describe the Dirty Harry films as the driest of dry comedies – “make my day” and all that – and Gran Torino certainly knows it’s in the comedy arena, has to be if a film about a 70-something dude putting the fear of god into local tearaway mobsters is going to be believed.

Basically, it’s great to watch old Clint reheating some of young Clint’s moves and raising a quizzical eyebrow towards the audience – a “some shred of life in the old fuck, hey?” look on his face. And one suspects that all this stuff has been added by Clint’s production team, or at its behest, to the original story by Dave Johannson. Certainly the sequence leading up to the big showdown – Clint has a bubble bath, smoking a cigarette in the bath, then heads off for a haircut and a straight razor shave, all very Fistful.

What’s noticeable about the film is how much fun this stuff is but how clanking the film is otherwise – dialogue, acting, the seeming necessity to insert gallons of exposition where little is necessary. None of the relationships feels that believable either.

It survives, really, on Clint and the myth of Clint. Even the 1972 Gran Torino after which the film is named, is clearly the sort of car Harry Callahan would have driven.



Gran Torino – watch it/buy it at Amazon



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© Steve Morrissey 2009