Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bell at the End of His String

Honkytonk Man (1982)
directed by Clint Eastwood
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

What do you do with a director like Clint Eastwood, whose tastes run so superficially close to your own – country music, Westerns, the great dream of America – but who skews into such strange territory as to make you question every one of them? With Clyde the orangutan, Eastwood imagined that he liked nothing better than never taking himself too seriously. His ensuing career suggests just the opposite, but in Honkytonk Man, in the midst of a grandfather’s * genuinely moving Dust Bowl reminiscences, Clint – sitting in a big wooden tub - faces off with an angry bull. The romance is true, but the scene is corny, irreverent, and funny: classic Clint.

But then there’s the underage female runaway who Clint’s character may or may not sleep with somewhere along the road. He admires her “brass” and then dies of TB. In the movie’s closing seconds, we learn that, yes, that girl is pregnant after all, and maybe that’s just how people did things back then, because that’s America. Or something. Which is why Eastwood’s brand of conservatism has never been as forgivable to me as Charlton Heston's was, or even John Wayne's. It's just too sleazy.

* "James Stewart was first choice for the role of Grandpa but he was reportedly too ill to perform." In other words, you were 4 years past Gentleman Jim's sell-by date, Clint. The General had already left the building.