Aim for the Heart
The Films of Clint Eastwood
London: I.B. Tauris, 2009
Hardback. vii-252 pages. ISBN 978 1845119027. £19.50
Reviewed by Allister Mactaggart
In this book Howard Hughes demonstrates in great detail the full range of Clint Eastwood’s long and illustrious career as an actor, director and producer. At the age of 82 he continues to produce and act in films, with his most recent film, Trouble with the Curve, being on worldwide release from the end of September 2012.
As someone who grew up aware of Eastwood’s presence in the cultural mix during those iconic Eastwood days, I have dipped into his films from time to time as my fancy took me. Howard Hughes, however, has thoroughly viewed and researched all of Eastwood’s television and film output up to 2009 and provides a detailed breakdown of each piece of work. Rather than being arranged on a purely chronological basis, Hughes has organised the book into seven main parts: ‘The Westerns’; ‘The Cops’; ‘The Lovers’; ‘The Comedies’; ‘The Dramas’; ‘The Thrillers’; and, ‘The War Movies’. This organisational structure allows the reader to gain a good sense of what Eastwood has contributed, both as an actor and later as producer and director, to these various categories of film. In one sense the categories do not wholly coincide with the industry’s genre definitions, but Hughes’s use of these terms does help to give the reader a way into a consideration of Eastwood’s contributions to the main types of film he has been engaged in throughout his career.
Prior to the main body of the book, Hughes provides a useful introduction to Eastwood’s entry into the world of acting via his early films made in the mid-1950s. However, it was Eastwood’s television break in the television series Rawhide in 1959, playing the part of Rowdy Yates, which really launched his career. As Hughes notes, ‘Eastwood’s role as Rowdy Yates both helped and hindered his career. He was happy to have regular work and exposure, but felt typecast’ [xxvii]. On the positive side, Eastwood’s role in Rawhide drew him to the attention of Sergio Leone who then cast him in his highly influential trio of spaghetti westerns: A Fistful of Dollars (1964); For a Few Dollars More (1965); and, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) which catapulted him to international stardom.
In addition to developing his acting career, armed with his ‘ “Dollars” earnings and a $119,000 Rawhide payoff, Eastwood had the foresight to set up his own production company, Malpaso (named after Malpaso Creak on his land in Monterey)’ . This gave him the opportunity to have both a personal stake in his films, and also to take greater control over his future projects so that he would not be constantly typecast, and had the power to work on a range of projects, including his later anti-war films.
In acting terms, Eastwood is probably best known for his two iconic action roles as the spaghetti western hero ‘The Man with No Name’ and Inspector ‘Dirty’ Harry Francis Callahan. The latter, as Hughes rightly points out, ‘is probably Eastwood’s most famous screen character and his most lucrative’ . Both types of role encapsulate Eastwood’s trademark acting style. Hughes argues that ‘Eastwood’s style is a rather underplayed form of acting, in which the brooding intensity of Brando meets the vulnerability of James Dean’ [xii]. I was also taken by Richard Burton’s favourable comment upon Eastwood’s acting, made whilst they were filming Where Eagles Dare (1968), as ‘dynamic lethargy’ , which, to my mind, neatly sums up his understated laconic way of working in front of the camera.
The politics of many of the films have come in for a severe critical mauling. For example, Pauline Kael called Dirty Harry (1971) a ‘right-wing fantasy’ and several critics branding Magnum Force as ‘fascist’ . However, these films were well received by audiences and are interesting case studies from the ideological superstructure to the underlying economic and political conditions at the time of these films’ production and consumption. Eastwood has stated that ‘I’m against war – period’  but some viewers may have had occasion to think differently when viewing some of his earlier war films, and indeed, his vigilante cop roles, where the glorification of violence as an answer to social problems is repeatedly offered as the fantasised solution. However, the two films he directed and shot back to back, Flags of Our Fathers (2006) / Letters to Iwo Jima (2006) did much to rectify such views, and as Hughes remarks, ‘Letters is one of the great antiwar movies. It’s also one of the best films Eastwood had directed and is fully deserving of the term “masterpiece” ’ .
In addition to his ‘tough guy’ roles, Eastwood has successfully worked in comedies, although Hughes argues that his most violent roles depict humour as well and that ‘when Eastwood “plays funny” he’s often forced’ . However, his roles in films such as Every Which Way But Loose (1978) provided another genre outlet and brought him to the attention of a wider audience.
The sexual politics of a number of his films have also come in for severe criticism. For instance, the critic Judith Crist called The Beguiled (1971) ‘a must for sadists and woman-haters’ . Hughes also concedes that the simplistic Madonna-whore synergy represented in High Planes Drifter ‘was outmoded even in 1972’ .
Hughes points out that ‘Eastwood’s directorial legacy has now equalled, if not superseded, his film stardom’  so that in his ninth decade his output over a long and varied career presents a most interesting case study of how an one-time jobbing actor on TV could become an important player in all aspects of the American film industry. What also comes across clearly is Eastwood’s love of music, both in the films he has directed about music, such as Bird (1988), and also the soundtrack work he has composed throughout his career, as well as being supported by his son in the same role.
Hughes’s book provides a very clear and cogent account of Eastwood’s lengthy career, broken down into systematic blocks of information about each film. For each entry he provides useful production information, a synopsis (although it is probably best not to read this until you’ve seen the film discussed as it provides spoiler information), together with further details / information about the film and its relationship to others in that genre / category, and, classification details and box office takings. The book is well supported by 46 black and white figures, a detailed filmography, bibliography and further sources. If you are generally interested in Eastwood’s career and would like a book to furnish you with all of the relevant facts about his wide-ranging output and to plug any gaps in your knowledge, then you will probably find this book to be a useful addition to your collection. The author has a nice line in puns which helps him to make some amusing and succinct comments about Eastwood’s output alongside the range of information he provides, to present a balanced account of his career.
Cercles © 2012
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