Over the years, Clint Eastwood has made a name for himself in Tinseltown and around the world. He is also one of Hollywood’s famous stars. When people here his name, he is often associated to the countless western films he has starred in. This is no surprise since Clint’s international breakthrough roles were gun-slinging cowboys in “A Fistful of Dollars”, “For a Few Dollars More” and his most iconic turn, as “The Man With No Name in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” (Smith, 2003, p. 90).
Clint Eastwood was born on May 30, 1930 in San Francisco, California. He and his family moved around a lot because his father, Clinton Eastwood, couldn’t keep a permanent job. Clint studied at the Oakland Technical High School. He was not interested in becoming an actor that time. Instead, he joined the army in 1949.
After being trained in the army, Eastwood continued in educating himself. He enrolled in Los Angeles City College and majored in business administration. His friends in that course encouraged him to consider an acting career. He finally decided to try it out. He went over to Universal Studios where he was hired and was given a good salary. His first role was a bit part in the horror film “The Revenge of the Creature.” He followed this up with small roles in “Tarantula” and “Lady Godiva.”
”Everybody has to start somewhere” is a Hollywood adage and Clint is not different from the other A-Listers who were once nobodies before they became somebodies. Universal Studios dropped Clint’s contract because the studio felt as if they couldn’t give him parts. Clint then starred in B-movies such as “The First Traveling Saleslady” and :Escapade in Japan.”
The first time he tried western films was in 20th Century Fox’s “Ambush at Cimarron Pass” in 1958. It was his second attempt in a western that changed the direction of his career. He got a role in the western series “Rawhide.” The show was produced by CBD. The show had good ratings in its first season and the second season was more successful than its predecessor.
”Rawhide” was about a group of cowboys and their endless cattle drive. Clint is Rawdy Yates, the second lead character. It was this image of him as a western that convinced Italian director Sergio Leone to cast him in “The Magnificent Stranger.” It was a German-Italian-Spanish production of an American western. At first, Clint was unsure of accepting the part because he wasn’t convinced that a European studio could realistically show American westerns. He changed his mind after reading the script. ”Rawhide” was a remake of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s “Yujimbo.”
Clint didn’t have high expectations on the film so imagine his surprise when the film was later renamed “A Fistful of Dollars” and was a box office success in Europe. This led to the sequel “For a Few Dollars More.” Clint reprised his role as The Man With No Name. It was helmed by Sergio Leone. The main plot was similar to the first film. It didn’t have anything astonishing to offer. Nonetheless, the sequel was still a success in Europe.
On the other hand, as successful as Clint was in Europe, the interest in “Rawhide” was already fading. The series was cancelled in 1966. Clint was already satisfied with the fact that it successfully ran for nine years. It was an achievement in American TV.
Clint’s role as The Man With No Name seemed to be a trilogy because after “For a Few Dollars More”, there was a third and final film – “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Clint was paid $250,000. At that time, that was already a whopping paycheck. It was four times the amount he received in the first two films combined. United Artists approached the screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni who gave the studios their blessing.
”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” became the biggest success of all three. It was one of the highest-grossing films or the decade in Italy and was also an international success. The film is also said to be one of the best westerns of all time. It was made in 1966 but it already had the atmosphere that a film needed in order to become a classic – an engaging plot, talented actors, magnificent scenery and the captivating music in the background.
”The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” follows the story of The Man With No Name, Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Sotenzo (Lee van Cleef.) They all want to get the fortune but the problem is that in order for them to retrieve it, they must come together and share the piece of information they each have. The catch to this action is that they will have to share the treasure as well – which is something they do not want to do.
Leone worked on Vincenzoni’s concept of showing the absurdity of war. The three characters in the movie encountered this which the director personally viewed as stupid. Leone was an avid history buff and he conducted the appropriate research before making the film. He learned that 120,000 people died in Southern camps like Andersonville. This film was his homage to the victims.
Leone wanted the film to be comedic so he asked his comedy-writing team of Furio Scarpelli and Agenore Incrunni to contribute. Unfortunately, the personalities of the four people involved clashed. Leone also said that the three characters in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” are the reflections of the writers involved in making of the movie. There were autobiographical elements of Leone, Scarpelli and Incrunni in the characters of Blondie, Tuco and Sotenzo. The film was approved by the Franco regime. The Spanish army also assisted. There were 1500 militia members who served as extras.
It is interesting to note that the cast of “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” came from around the globe. The actors spoke their native languages. Actors Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach’s lines were in English. They were dubbed in Italian for the Rome release. For the American version of the film, their lines were left alone but the lines of the other cast members were dubbed into English.
Because of the international success this trilogy received in Europe, Universal Artists played this in the United States. “The Magnificent Stranger” and “For a Few Dollars More” were released in 1966 and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 1968.” Critics weren’t impressed because of the violence. The trilogy received negative reviews.
This was because reviewers didn’t like spaghetti westerns at that time. Nonetheless, they were loved by the American audience. United States found a new hero in Clint Eastwood.
That was when it began. Clint Eastwood was associated to the western genre. In 1972, he was in “Joe Kidd.” The following year, he appeared in “High Plains Drifter.” His other western projects include the TV Movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Clint also took on the task of director. He directed the film “Bronco Billy.” He was also the lead. Another western film under his belt is “The Pale Rider” released in 1985.
Just like the time when “Rawhide” was losing the attention of the American audience and Clint was kicked out of Universal Studios, he was going through the same phase again in the 1980s. He made a name for himself in the United States and in the international scene as a cowboy in movies, TV movies and on TV but again, the interest in the cowboy way of life was beginning to wane. Clint was active in the movie making industry during that time, working as a producer, director and actor. He decided to do all three tasks in a western called “Unforgiven.”
Clint did triple duties in “Unforgiven.” He was actor-director-producer. He took on the lead role of William Munny, a former gun fighter whose new life is to cattle pigs and to take care of his two children. The movie is about Munny and his partners out on a mission to avenge a hooker.
Like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Unforgiven” became one of the most successful western movies of all time. It was loved by the American audience as well. As a matter of fact, it won four Academy Awards including best director, best picture and best supporting actor. This was the first time Clint received an Oscar.
Like most of its western predecessors, “Unforgiven” retains the themes that were first scene in previous films. For one, violence and the discrepancy between what is really happening to what was added in order to make the scene more engaging is apparent. Some critics view western films as a way to glorify violence and that the characters believe the end justify the means. “Unforgiven” was criticized for its depiction of harm. Some claim that Munny is glamorized as a vicious and dangerous killer.
However, the saving grace of the film is that Munny is a classic Western hero-type who defeats the villains in the traditional shoot-out scene that most western films have. The difference in “Unforgiven” is that it depicts violence as complex and not just simply wrong. Furthermore, the portrayals of violence in the western town depart on a classic note in “Unforgiven.” We see Munny shouting out that he would kill any man out there to kill him. He would also kill his loved ones and their friends. His departure was realistic. Violent but accurate of what the western culture is.
Western films also often have the hero worship toward the gunslinger. Let’s look at the recent example “3:10 to Yuma” with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Just like the other western films before it, audience is captivated by the concept of the heroes riding horses and slinging their guns in the Wild West.
Often, violence in western films is attributed to masculinity. “Unforgiven” starts with a prostitute being slashed because she mocked a man’s private parts. Another part in the film has one of the cowboys comparing his penis and the gun. One can also watch other western films and see that there is often a machismo air among the cowboys.
What sets “Unforgiven” different is that the violence in terms of masculinity is not depicted in the conventional manner – which is either glorious or heroic. Instead, masculinity is represented as the root of insecurity. This can be seen when Munny mentioned how his wife helped him become more gentle and stable. He was also a gentleman whenever he deals with prostitutes who were attacked. He might have been a cowboy, but unlike those around him, he was sensitive and respectful towards women. (Cohan, 2003, p. 186)
In western films, audience can contrast the violent and vengeful nature of men to the gentler and more soft-spoken sensibilities of the women. These qualities often go head-to-head and the influence of the women on their men is not really clear because in most western movies, the cowboys still go out and engage in violence.
Another common theme in western films is alcohol and how it triggers the violent nature of the characters in the movies. For one, Munny pointed out that he was a different person ever since his wife convinced him to stop drinking. He often mentioned that he couldn’t remember what his life was life before. Munny is sober when he killed the first cowboy and realized that he did the act because he was angry. He saw it as a normal reaction.
Perhaps, one can claim that Clint’s approach on movie-making and the roles he play is inspired by his political beliefs. In his movies, Clint can be quoted countless times. He immortalized the lines “Do I feel lucky” from “Dirty Harry”, “Go ahead, make my day” from “Sudden Impact” and the most recent one, “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.” From “Million Dollar Baby” (Stein, 2004, p. 90)
But Clint was quoted of saying, “I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone.” This makes him America’s highest profile libertarian. He believes that “Abuse of power isn’t limited to bad guys in other nations. It happens in our own country if we’re not vigilant. Those in power get jaded, deluded and seduced by power itself.” He is a proud Libertarian who prefers to leave everyone else alone.
He believes in total equality. He wants people to do whatever they want and to be whoever they want to be – “as long as they’re not harming people.” Clint was also quoted in saying, “There’s a rebel lying deep in my soul. Anytime anybody tells me the trend is such and such, I go the opposite direction. I have a reverence for individuality. I’ve always considered myself to be either right-wing or left-wing.” (Meroney)
Just like the cowboys he played on the big screen and which made him leave his mark on cinemas all over the globe, Clint has an individualist approach. He believed in reinvention and this was also seen in the later part of his career where he concentrated on directing films instead. Recently, Clint has been receiving acclaim under the director’s chair for his movies “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters to Iwo Jima.” Of course, the critics would anticipate whatever films come from the man behind “Unforgiven.”
Western films defined the American film industry. Looking back, they give the nostalgic appeal of the early days of filmmaking before American studios entered the blockbuster trend of blue screen and CGI effects. Western films are one of the most enduring and flexible genre. Its popularity may have waxed and waned throughout the years but once in a while movies such as “3:10 To Yuma” and “Bandidas” are released which serve as the resurgence of the genre. (Slotkins)
Western films often capture the wilderness and the interaction of man amidst nature and civilization. The old western films tackle the territorial rights of the inhabitants. Specific settings play a part in the movie. The plot is often the law and order set alongside a fast-paced and action backdrop. There is the conflict between the good and the bad, the white hat and the black hat, the new arrivals and those who have long been there, humanity and nature, lawlessness and wilderness and the like. (Slotkins)
Western heroes, such as Clint Eastwood, are masculine persons that represent integrity and the traits of being courageous, moral, brave, tough and self-sufficient. They are maverick characters who posses an honorable and independent attitude. They can stand alone and face whatever danged on their own despite the forces that surround them.
Slotkins, Richard, The Magnificent Seven
Smith, Paul, Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production, UCL Press, 2003
Cohan, Steven, Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema,
Stein, Atara, The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction and Television, Southern Illinois
University Press, 2004
Meroney, John, “Clint Eastwood: The Most Successful Star in Hollywood Talks About
His Films, 67 Years of Life in America and Politics, Politics, Politics”, The American Enterprise, Vol 9, January 1998