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Monday, June 30, 2014

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Disclaimer: I do not own a piece of the action here. (Wish I did.)
On our recent jaunt around the rim of western United States, we made one or two forays into the interior. One was to visit the Grand Canyon, the other was to visit the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (not to imply the two are in any way equal). Having never been to Vegas, I was determined to see a first-rate, top-of-the-line, stage show. Inasmuch as the Four Seasons were one of my two favorite musical groups during my teen years (along with the Beach Boys), I insisted upon taking in Jersey Boys. It was of course, a good choice, said to be the number-one ticket on "the strip" (at the Paris Hotel, by the way). If you'd like to follow suit, and don't want to pay well over a hundred bucks per seat, or sit in the upper balcony (where we did) order your tickets early. Each show is pretty much sold out by seven. Whatever the price, it's well worth it, assuming you're over fifty. 
Eastwood and his "boys." The Broadway cast is intact for the film.
1971, directing murder and mayhem.
Just a few days ago I saw the trailer for Jersey Boys (the movie). We plan to see it tonight. I was somewhat startled to notice that it had been directed by Clint Eastwood--startled in that it doesn't seem like a natural fit. He's never directed a musical before in his life. However one of the hallmarks of Jersey Boys (apart from the songs) is the authentic, "Jersey Boys" street language and hardcore street life from which the group originated. The "F-bombs" rain down from the sky like...well...rain. Suffice to say it's not The Sound of Music; so maybe Eastwood shouldn't be such a surprising choice as director. Be that as it may, perhaps the most surprising fact noted in the movie's promo material is that this was Eastwood's thirty-third stint as a film director. That's getting right up there with Hitchcock, John Ford, Michael Curtiz, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and a few others from the "factory" days of Hollywood. Yet Eastwood was not of that era. He directed his first film, Play Misty For Me (right), in 1971. If you stretch the definition a little, you could say he came out of "present day" Hollywood, our own era, when movies no longer run off a lockstep assembly line (as TV show still do) but are produced singly, or in sets of two or three.
1955, Revenge of the Creature, Clint Eastwood--just another pretty face in a lab coat.
Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates
Rawhide, 1959.
It wouldn't be going to far to say that Clint Eastwood has become a Hollywood legend. He first came to tinsel town in 1955 at the age of twenty-five. He had a bit part in the "epic" horror film Revenge of the Creature (above) in which he played a lab technician without so much as his name in the credits. He was doing similar gigs in television as well. His first major TV role was as Joe Keeley riding "motorcycle A" in a 1956 episode of Highway Patrol. In 1959, one episode of Maverick earned him 217 episodes of Rawhide (left) in which he played Rowdy Yates. That eventually led to his first lead role in the "spaghetti western," A Fistful of Dollars (below), followed immediately by A Few Dollars More, and finally, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I saw the first one, I didn't bother with the other two. I was never a great fan of westerns, Italian or otherwise, and I must confess at this point, quite apart from his political affiliation, Clint Eastwood is far from being my favorite actor.
For Eastwood, the title was quite literal, as was that of the sequel, A Few Dollars More.
The first appearance of the "lovable" Harry Callahan.
Any movie director will tell you that the very best way to learn filmmaking is by making films, regardless of which side of the camera you're on. All through the 1960s and 70s Eastwood paid his dues, his film persona essentially set in stone--gritty, tough, strong, brave, daring, powerful, and largely silent--"Go ahead, make my day." His portrayals were intelligent, and unlike many leading men, his face aged well in keeping with his screen image. He wasn't "ageless," but close. By the time the opportunity came to direct himself in Play Misty For Me, Eastwood had appeared in a total of 22 of the more than fifty films he has to his credit today.

Dirty Harry with an attitude.
A good director becomes great.
Although Eastwood did not direct his most famous role, in Dirty Harry (and only one of the four sequels). His western directorial jobs, especially his highly memorable The Outlaw Josey Wales (above), proved that he knew his craft and was capable of growing as a director. Though most of Eastwood's mounting list of movies during the 1980s, more and more of which he also directed, could best be considered "good" if not "great, they mostly did well at the box office. Then, in 1986, he hit the jackpot, producing, directing, and starring in the Korean War combat film, Heartbreak Ridge. The film opened to rave reviews among critics. Better still, it was made at the miniscule cost of $15-million, yet scored an astounding $271-million at the box office. It even won an Oscar for best sound.
A dark western...also his last.
Then, in 1992, Eastwood received the highest honor Hollywood can bestow upon a director, an Academy Award for The Unforgiven, which he'd also produced and starred in. The film won three other Oscars as well. It was his final western. Bridges of Madison County with Meryl Streep (bottom) played well in 1992 as have the more than a dozen films he'd directed since. During the past few years, Eastwood has almost (but not quite) given up acting (just four films in the last ten years). He is, after all, 84 years old. Will this year's Jersey Boys be another jewel in his director's crown? If not, he's got another film, waiting in the wings for release in 2015 titled, American Sniper.

A box office success, but Eastwood couldn't
compete with Streep. Eastwood was first choice
for the male lead, but producer Steven
Spielberg's last choice as director.


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