This unashamedly uncritical and laudatory portrait of one of Hollywood’s most enduring and intelligent entertainers offers revealing insights into what writer William Goldman describes as “one of the great careers.” Though it’s not surprising that only Eastwood supporters have been called upon to discuss his life and work, a bit more information about the man’s less attractive qualities would have made for a more rounded portrait. Solid ancillary fare contains comprehensive clips from Eastwood’s films and is a useful, though far from definitive, biography.
Scripted by critic Dave Kehr and directed by Bruce Ricker, who made a couple of outstanding jazz films, “The Last of the Blue Devils” and “Thelonius Monk — Straight No Chaser,” docu comprehensively follows the actor-producer-director’s career from his early days as a contract player at Universal right up to the current “Space Cowboys.”
Ricker includes amusing fragments from Eastwood’s early perfs for U in “Tarantula,” “Francis in the Navy,” “Away All Boats,” “Never Say Goodbye” and “Revenge of the Creature”; it was a period during which the thesp is said to have followed the examples of James Dean, Jack Kerouac and Chet Baker in expounding the “cult of the cool.”
Definitive appearances in TV series “Maverick” and “Rawhide” followed. Rip Torn, who played a Native American in an episode of the latter series that was apparently an updating of “Macbeth,” recounts the difficulty he and Eastwood had in keeping straight faces.
In an archival interview, Sergio Leone recalls that he originally wanted James Coburn to star in “A Fistful of Dollars,” his unacknowledged remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” that rocketed Eastwood to international fame in the mid-1960s. Leone waxes lyrical about Eastwood’s “indolent way of moving.”
Back in Hollywood, Eastwood founded his production company, Malpaso, to produce “Hang ’em High” after turning down the lead in “Mackenna’s Gold.” He then teamed most fruitfully with director Don Siegel on “Coogan’s Bluff,” a pic that links his Man With No Name Westerns with the later “Dirty Harry” cycle.
Some of the most perceptive comments come from director and film buff Curtis Hanson, who recalls being on the set of “Coogan’s Bluff” in 1967 and noticing that Eastwood was always around, even when not required, watching Siegel at work. In another archival interview, Richard Burton, with whom the actor worked on “Where Eagles Dare,” compares Eastwood’s “dynamic lethargy” with that of Hollywood greats Tracy and Stewart.
Revealing that Universal did not pay him to direct his first feature, “Play Misty for Me” (“I’d have paid them”), Eastwood mostly repeats familiar stories about his work, with occasional revelations including the tidbit that Frank Sinatra was originally to have starred in “Dirty Harry.”
“Bird” probably gets more attention than any other film. The underrated “White Hunter Black Heart” is skimmed over, along with some of the more seriously disappointing Eastwood efforts (“Pink Cadillac,” “The Rookie”). The multi-Oscar winner “Unforgiven” gets its due place of prominence, as does the beautiful “Bridges of Madison County,” with Eastwood’s co-star, Meryl Streep, noting that Eastwood refused to show his character crying. Ruth Woods, Eastwood’s mother, says that it was she who suggested Streep for the role.
There are no great revelations here, but a reminder that Eastwood has regularly surprised and challenged his audiences as well as, most often, given them just what they want. Brief mention is made of Eastwood’s political career as mayor of Carmel, but in general his private life is avoided.
Clips are well selected, and the production is generally polished and smoothly executed.