Bill McKinney

First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


The Gauntlet (1977, Clint Eastwood)

I think I watched The Gauntlet for masochistic reasons, namely screenwriters Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, the late 1970s, early 1980s version of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner–incompetent Hollywood writers. Even so, the film’s not wholly terrible. It’s rarely exciting, just because the action sequences are so poorly written, and Clint approaches the whole thing with a sense of boredom. His character’s real shallow and the film would barely work if it weren’t for Sondra Locke and Eastwood’s chemistry. Locke’s actually got some really good moments–which is hard, considering how bad her character is written for the first half or so–including a great monologue comparing hookers and cops. In the later half of the film, once the two of them improbably fall in love, there’s even a neat idea of a scene, but again the writing kills it.

About fifteen minutes into The Gauntlet, I realized it was not dissimilar to Clint’s earlier, Coogan’s Bluff, but the greatest difference between the two is that lack of interest I mentioned before. Clint shoots this one in lots of long shots, concentrating on the physicality of the situations and not the characters, as though if he did, the characters might have to realize the absurdity of their situation. So it isn’t just the script making the character shallow, it’s also Clint’s direction of himself–those long shots make the character empty. His performance is sort of broad. When he’s interested, he acts; when he’s not, he’s on autopilot.

The supporting cast is fantastic–William Prince, Pat Hingle, and Michael Cavanaugh are all good. The names in the movie are some of the most absurd I’ve heard: Blakelock, Feyderspiel, Shockley. The actors stumble over them with a lot of trouble–audible trouble, which sometimes makes the more boring scenes funny. An interesting, IMDb-fueled note: this film reunites Clint with Mara Corday. They both appeared in Tarantula twenty-two years earlier, though they didn’t have any scenes together (and Clint wasn’t credited). That bit of trivia–and the possibility of a story behind it–is more interesting than anything in The Gauntlet, except, I suppose, my newfound regard for Sondra Locke’s acting ability.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Rexford Metz; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Ben Shockley), Sondra Locke (Gus Mally), Pat Hingle (Josephson), William Prince (Blakelock), Bill McKinney (Constable), Michael Cavanaugh (Feyderspiel), Carole Cock (Waitress), Mara Corday (Jail matron), Douglas McGrath (Bookie) and Jeff Morris (Desk Sergeant).


The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)

There are a couple kinds of Westerns, once you break it down enough. Ones where people go places, ones where people don’t. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a going places Western. It’s about a man on a trip and what the trip does to the man on the trip. I’ve seen Josey Wales before, probably twelve or fifteen years ago, maybe more–long before I could appreciate it. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a different kind of Eastwood directorial film. Stylistically–visually–it’s more in line with his early 1970s work. There’s also a lot of visible Don Siegel influence. Story-wise, The Outlaw Josey Wales is different from just about any other Eastwood film I’ve seen and can recollect, which leaves out maybe three contenders (but I’m doubtful of The Gauntlet’s artistic import).

Eastwood, the star, gives more in this film than he does for the entire 1980s, more than since he had to back in the 1960s. The film’s about Josey Wales and people–his effect on them and their effect on him, try as he might not to let it get to him–and Eastwood’s rarely alone. The relationships are all peculiar, with none of them having any earth-shattering importance to the character, though the romance with Sondra Locke comes the closest, but there’s more revealing character moments between Eastwood and Chief Dan George’s tag-a-long Indian friend. The Outlaw Josey Wales is so good I need a long sentence like the previous one, to show off my excitement at thinking about it. Other good performances (it’s Eastwood’s best acting job in the 1970s) include Sam Bottoms and John Vernon. I recently said Vernon’s only good in small doses and, while Josey Wales is a smallish dose, it’s more than I’d usually prefer. But I couldn’t care, since he’s fantastic. The rest of the cast is all excellent and many actors seem hand-picked from previous Eastwood films.

Since I’ve already had to acknowledge my misdiagnoses of Vernon, I have to now get on to Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer. In my response to Tightrope, I said Surtees didn’t know how to compensate for 1980s film stock. The Outlaw Josey Wales is from 1976, so I have no idea whether or not Surtees’s absolute brilliance in regards to this film proves my statement true or false. After just watching two color-drained Surtees-shot films, seeing Josey Wales was a revelation. The colors are sumptuous. It’s a stunning film to see–also to hear. Jerry Fielding’s score is fantastic. Production-wise, it’s uniformly great.

I’ll come across films I should have known were great–and Josey Wales is one of those physically-affecting good films–I had a physical reaction to experiencing it (kind of a soaring thing in the chest)–but this one kind of pisses me off. I mean, I should have thought to give it a look a long time ago….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Philip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, based on a book by Forrest Carter; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Tambi Larsen; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah) and Sam Bottoms (Jamie).


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