Space Cowboys Ride Into the Sunset

DATELINE:  Elder Stars Shine

  Maverick and Rowdy Yates with Tommy Lee!

How did we miss this action comedy directed by Clint Eastwood with an assemblage of geriatric stars?

Space Cowboysfrom 2000 unites a few genuine TV and movie cowboys (Eastwood and James Garner), but there are ringers in the bunch:  Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland. It does not matter: it is pure golden agers.

They were old then, but it was almost twenty years ago. Yet, only one has passed away since–James Garner.

Starting with a black and white prologue, you have the distinctive voices of the stars superimposed on younger, lookalike actors, which is effective. In the pre-NASA days, they are washed out of the space program and replaced by a monkey (not a first for Clint).

Even a dated late-night show host (Jay Leno) makes an appearance.

What is ineffective is the screenplay, all rather formulaic. Clint also does the story by the numbers: there are some old feuds and fights. He must reunite the old team.

And then in a plot twist that is cruel and nasty, the NASA honchos try to wash out the oldsters by killing them with physical training. Meant to be funny, it is simply unpleasant to watch. The charm of the actors is sorely challenged by the script. But, Clint as director is, as always, pure no-nonsense.

The enemies include William Devane and James Cromwell, which is not exactly chopped liver. This is an actors’ delight. Yet, the actual space trip in the shuttle is almost anti-climactic, and also rekindles the old Cold War.

Old, broken down space shuttles never die.




Sad Hill Unearthed! Fake Cemetery

 DATELINE:  Restoring the Un-Dead to Fake Life

sad hill trio Famous Trio at Sad Hill!

In Burgos, Spain, an amateur group of archeologists located the place where the climax of the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was filmed in 1966.

You have to love the spaghetti western (and it is hilarious horse opera with Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, and Clint Eastwood). Its climactic graveyard shootout is magnificent film-making—and its restored grandeur is stunning.

It is called Sad Hill Cemetery (not real), except as reel film history.

The responsible men are descended from locals who worked as extras in the movie, and they find the place is magical. It had been lost and buried under six inches of dirt. They dug up to find the circular stone center. Around it were mounds where the fake graves once stood with crosses.

It took much work, and many volunteers. They sold gravesites, with your name painted on a wooden cross, to finance the excavations.

A few survivors of the movie:  film editor and composer Ennio Morricone gave interviews. The film documentary is enhanced with behind-the-scenes photos—and movie clips. Old interviews with Sergio Leone are also a treat.

It was backbreaking work to restore the concentric circles of Leone’s visionary shootout scene among the crosses, row on row.

When finished, the magic returned. A large crowd showed up in the rural area where an orchestra played the film score, the archeologists re-enacted the shootout. It went on for ten to fifteen minutes in the film, and Clint even sent a recorded thank you message to the assembled crowd.

restored reel cemetery Restored at Last!

If you love this classic Western, you need this companion piece to history, myth, and movie magic.


Good/Bad &/or Ugly

DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece

Ugly or Bad? Ugly or Bad?

Apart from the title being incorrectly punctuated, the Sergio Leone classic western cannot be judged by any normal standard of movie-making.

It is singular, both hilarious and horse opera bouffe. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is amazing, now restored and digitally remastered. It never looked better. It is 3 hours of utter charm.

The film starred Clint Eastwood, but he was outshone in every moment by Eli Wallach’s Tuco the Rat. It is a performance that comes once in a lifetime of great acting. It is so over-the-top and looney that it works as perfection. There is some question as to which is the Ugly one. In trailers, it is Lee Van Cleef, and in the movie the word is placed over Wallach’s image.

Scenes are historically inaccurate, overlong, and seem to be in some fantasy world that is not the real west. It does not matter one whit.

If the scenes were not epic enough (Tuco in a bubble bath with guns) or Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes shooting kids, you do have Clint’s nameless character with a nickname of “Blondie,” which Eli Wallach seems to relish.

Scene-stealing should be added to the list of crimes that Tuco commits (the litany includes murder, rape, and cheating at cards).

We have not even touched on the iconic music that dots every panorama and desert viewpoint. The plot has something to do with three mercenaries with no morality and ethics seeking a gold treasure in someone’s grave.

The climax may be the longest stand-off shoot-out in the history of movies with three gunslingers facing off for six minutes.

There may well be deep messages conveyed here, but all that is secondary to the delight and mirth of showing the American Civil War as a dirty business. Indeed, all the major actors have flies on them.  We do learn how Clint took that iconic serape off a dying young blond man who looks like a younger version of him.

This film is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

The Beguiled: Clint in Hothouse Drama

DATELINE: Back to the Original


With a remake of The Beguiled (to be reviewed separately soon), the 1970 Thomas Cullinane (a distant relative of ours) novel directed by Sofia Coppola, no one mentions the classic Don Siegel version. It was an unusual role for Clint, under his mentor director Siegel. It was a strange movie under any conditions.

A Civil War Yankee is given refuge at an odd girls’ school in the South where the genteel women are as gothic and grotesque as you’d find in a Bronte novel. Led by Geraldine Page as the head mistress and Elizabeth Hartman as her right-hand man, as it were, you have more sexual tension than suspense. Page’s character may be more than a victim of incest and more than a friend to other women.

In an age of heightened mistreatment of women in Hollywood, this film starts with Eastwood’s character telling a 12-year old girl she is old enough to kiss, and he promptly lays one smooch on her.

The women who give him sanctuary are hardly saints. Their menagerie of captured creatures includes a broken winged crow and a turtle, kept in restraints, like Clint’s Union corporal.

Siegel taught Clint something about character-driven movies, which have become better accepted than Siegel’s efforts over 40 years ago.

Now a new version ignores his ground-breaking efforts, though Stephen King was likely inspired by the plot.

When you cross Charlotte Bronte, Tennessee Williams, and Stephen King, you surely have something bizarre.

Nearly 50 years later, The Beguiled qualifies as an exhibit in the hothouse collection.

Hurricane Clint Eastwood Downgraded to Breezy

DATELINE: Better to Stay Lost


In his third directorial effort, back in 1973, Clint Eastwood took up the challenge of a romantic comedy.  It probably sounded easier than he expected because he had William Holden, even aging and falling apart, as his charming, cynical leading man.

This atrocity is called Breezy, rhymes with easy, named after the hippie free spirit who haunts William Holden. It might have been more hilarious if Breezy was a teenage boy. But Clint doesn’t eat sweets.

However, the moribund script features one fantasy hippie girl who believed in free love of the era. Perhaps it was realistic back in the early 1970s in L.A., but Kay Lenz presents one of the most annoying, anachronistic versions of a promiscuous teenager we have seen in decades.

We cannot figure out why Holden’s well-to-do businessman didn’t toss this annoying and cloying girl out on her keester when she first appears to panhandle and try to con him. Are all men victims of their sex drive?

That Holden falls in love with her seems to stretch credulity for a character who never has fallen in love with any woman.

On top of all this, we are then faced with the embarrassments of May-December romance being denigrated by every other character Holden knows in the movie script. Really, Clint?

We almost hoped Holden would turn into Dirty Sex Harry and shoot the whole lot of slut hustlers. Of course, it’s not that kind of film, alas.

If the saccharine hippie girl isn’t enough to rot the script, you have an overlay of Michel Legrand music. Apparently, Clint gave himself plenty of challenges to overcome. You may drown in movie sweetness, not typical Eastwood.

Clint fans knew better than the novice director—and ran away from this clinkeroo. This was not even a good character-driven story, though you can see how Eastwood wants to develop it. The film wastes William Holden– and Eastwood too.

Many critics in hindsight think this was Clint’s most “personal” film. We doubt it. He was still learning his craft by directing in an unusual setting and genre.

Destroying the film negative might be a better challenge to undertake. Clint likely chose to ignore the movie as time passed as an experiment in directing. This movie is a freak of his oeuvre.

Eastwood as Sully; Hanks as Eastwood

DATELINE:  High & Mighty


This film is not Airport, nor Airplane.  It’s a true story, ripped from the headlines, as they say, that dumbfounded a national watching on television. The pilot was a white-haired gentleman named Sully.

Sully is no John Wayne flying through hell and back. He is more like Tom Hanks. Twenty years ago, he would have been played by Clint Eastwood. Now Eastwood only directs the scenes. Eastwood would have given us laconic and stoical heroism, and now he can only direct it.

This film does not soar, and its wings have been clipped to 90 odd minutes, which suits us fine. Clint appears to have selected this project to deal with the irritating issue of the difference between connotation and denotation.

He grapples with terms like “hero,” that the NTSB dismisses, or “timing” that seems to indicate the wrong man and the moment mean catastrophe, or the difference between crash landing and “water landing,” as Captain Chesley Sullenberg calls it.

Tom Hanks is not John Wayne. The heroics here are from a white-haired man at the end of his career, cool and professional. Another actor might have used the swagger of an earlier generation of actors. That would not have worked. A lesser man would have tried to land at an airport—and New York would have another nightmare of a passenger jet smashing into skyscrapers

Re-living the event a half-dozen times is standard in the media dominated age when overkill coverage of tragedy and heroism comes in endless replays.

What we have here is old-fashioned values in modern dress.

Jersey Boys Walk Like Men

DATELINE: Movie Mashup

Rawhide Meets Jersey


The ghost of Frank Sinatra is invoked multiple times, a motif that we lost track of counting somewhere around the halfway point of Jersey Boys.

The movie version of the stage hit about the rise of Frankie Valli and his Four Seasons seems a strange choice for director Clint Eastwood, despite his interest in good jazz and musicians.

Anyone around in the 1960s would have found Frankie Valli’s falsetto odd voice all over the AM musical dial. He was ubiquitous, and now his story has been staged across America for aging Baby Boomer women.

As in the days of the big studios, this is not strictly a musical and not strictly a biographical movie. It’s on the lines of those old Warner Brothers bios of George M. Cohan or Cole Porter. You never know how much truth you have not swallowed.

Try as the screenplay does, Frankie Valli is not Frankie Sinatra. They are both from New Jersey, but Old Blue Eyes actually was a movie star and a constant. No one did a road show of his life because he was doing it himself until the end.

This movie is watchable because of performers and a Roshomon style of narrative that breaks through the camera to talk directly to the audience.

Clint’s stories as director as always compelling tales of human nature, and this is sort of compelling if you followed music groups that weren’t British in the 1960s. To our way of thinking, the highlight moment of the picture is when one of the singers is watching young Clint Eastwood on TV—and promptly shuts him off.

We always thought Clint, a Rawhide kind of guy, preferred Frankie Laine to Valli or Sinatra.

John Lloyd Young is the not too handsome Valli, which may be the same reason he never made it to Sinatra level. Otherwise, the actors are workmanlike and solid with the ubiquitous Christopher Walken showing up as a mobster.

Those bubblegum hits of “Sherry Baby” and “Walk Like a Man” may end up in your noodle for a few days, but that was always the problem with the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli.

Clint Eastwood Meets Tom Brady: Man with NO Name

DATELINE: The Nameless & The Ugly

Man with No Name or TB12?

Man with No Name or Tom Brady?

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs is an idiot. It comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed his hostile reaction to New England Patriot Tom Brady.

He refused to name Tom Brady during his press conference to discuss the upcoming NFL football opponent. This is some dopey way to motivate himself into a better game.

However, let us look at what Idiot Suggs is actually doing.

He has now christened Tom Brady as the Man with No Name.

As we recall, the previous occasion that someone was dubbed a man without a name, it was Clint Eastwood in his famous spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s.

If you recall, with a bitten off cigar and a serape to match, Clint laconically took the heat from a bunch of thugs during A Few Dollars More and for a Fistful of Dollars.

Then he donned the body armor and went out and shot down every one of the nameless thugs. Great casting, Suggs. You have now named your poison: the Man with No Name, aka Tom Brady. And, Suggs, you certainly would manage to fit in with the Bad and the Ugly.

When fourth quarter rolls around, Brady may seem like Superman to you when he dispatches, one by one in rapid, no huddle format, your entire team.

We would not have matched clean cut Tom with scratchy cheeked Clint, but lately Tom has grown some peach-fuzz to better play the role of the nemesis of Suggs.

What better name could there be for the Man with No Name’s antagonist: Suggs. In our movie version, he will be called Suxx. It just has a better ring to it.