Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Unseen #28: Joe Kidd

Well as more or less every blog except mine has taken the time to note. Clint Eastwood turned 80 this year, continuing his reign as this world’s leading source of awesomeness. I love Clint something fierce so I thought I’d throw in my belated appreciation by writing up one of Clint’s lesser known films, while knocking out another Unseen while I’m at it. (If you really want to see how its done take your spurs over to Agitation Of The Mind.)

Why’d I Buy It? Given to me during the great Insomniac closing of Aught 8.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Its one of those movies I’ve caught in bits and pieces over the years without seeing it all the way through. Take that lack of urgency as you will.

How Was It?: Fine.

Joe Kidd is the toughest kind of film to write about as its neither bad enough to get someone real worked up, nor good enough to warrant any kind of defense. Its competent. And that’s about it. Like Two Mules For Sister Sarah (which is a markedly superior film) it just kind of goes through the paces, adding only some vague socialist leanings its afraid to commit to.

The real problem at the heart of Joe Kidd is that it wants to be Bullet For The General and doesn’t have the balls. It’s a film unabashedly on the side of a bunch of poor Mexican immigrants who are being forced off their land by an imperialist American government and total asshole Robert Duvall. Eastwood’s Kidd is introduced as an anti authoritarian bad ass currently in jail for threatening to piss on the courthouse.

So naturally Kidd’s sympathies are with the oppressed natives, and it seems fairly clear that he’ll join up with them, until it turns out that their leader Louis Chamas (John Saxon in brown face with a Frito Bandito accent), is kind of an asshole as well. Torturing one of Kidd’s men and killing his livestock in retaliation for Kidd murdering one of his men. This kind of ambivilance could be confused for depth, but really its just the movie hedging its bets in a very craven way. Not wanting to commit itself to anything that could be construed as anti American. Eastwood joins up with a deliciously evil Robert Duvall, playing just an irredeemable prick, and goes to hunt Chamas down.

The movie has the confused focus and tone of a script that has under gone plenty of rewrites (It should be noted that this script comes before this was endemic so it could just be poor writing). It feels uncannily like the first and third act were written by a different person then the second. Of course Elmore Leonard is the only credited writer on the picture, and as evidenced by Valdez Is Coming, one of my favorite Westerns of all time, he knows how to write a great western. I can't help but be suspicious that someone might have been brought in to reign in some of Leonard's more incendiary stuff .

Of course any film with Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, and John Saxon chewing the same scenery, is not fully devoid of pleasure. And the film does have one legimently great scene. The aforementioned killing of Chalma’s man, which is played out at leisure in a bar, with Clint idly pouring himself a beer whilst propping up a mean looking shotgun in between standoffs. Old hand John Sturges milks it for all it is worth. But there’s a paucity to the rest of the film that’s surprising from Sturges.

Like I said, Joe Kidd isn’t a bad movie. It has its moments and some great lines from auto pilot Clint. Why its down right decent. But its just a modest B movie, which has nothing particular to distinguish it. A film that befits its semi forgotten reputation.


AK said...

This is one I've missed, but if it was on TCM or some other channel, I'd probably give it a shot. Eastwood is something else-he's sort of a hero of mine for so many reasons, he not only does it HIS way, he mostly does it right! There aren't too many like him left...

Bryce Wilson said...

Damn straight Rob.

I think you summed it up, catch it if its easy, otherwise...