1977's THE GAUNTLET has got to be one of the stranger films in Clint Eastwood's long list of action thrillers. It's completely unbelievable, but certainly entertaining in fits & starts.
Filmed in Phoenix, you get plenty of long looks at 1977 downtown and the comparatively empty pre-arena downtown days.
Eastwood is mediocre, less than sober Phoenix detective Ben Shockley. He's got just the partner you'd expect in grizzled, happy Pat Hingle (Batman, Hang Em High) and the by-the-book a-hole boss expected as well in William Prince (Network, Family Plot).
Shockley is sent to Vegas to bring back a hooker witness in a mob trial. It's a supposed nothing case with a nothing witness.
So why is the entire Las Vegas police force trying to kill them from the moment he picks up Gus Malley (Sandra Locke) from the Vegas jail?
The action scenes are terrific and absurd at the same time. An entire house is destroyed in a hail of bullets. Every cop seems to be in on the game.
Locke is a strong woman with more focus than Shockley. She's often been Eastwood's muse (Bronco Billy, Every Which Way But Loose, Sudden Impact) and their long time off-screen relationship is obvious in the comfort they show on screen.
The mid seventies sexism, physicality, and crude sexuality plays odd in these times, so you're left with the ever escalating odds as Shockley and Gus battle the impossible to get her back to Phoenix to testify.
Consider the scene in which a police helicopter and a sniper try to take out Shockley and Gus on a motorcycle. It's really well filmed, perfectly scored by jazz composer Jerry Fielding (having a field day here, especially over the lazy aerial shots of Phoenix with his Main and closing titles) and exciting as hell. But it makes no sense. The pursuit, the middle, the end, its completely illogical.
But it's fun!
That sequence is a logical bore compared to the last 20 minutes, as Eastwood and Locke barricade themselves behind steel plates on a stolen bus and drive through downtown Phoenix with every policeman in Arizona shooting at them with every bullet in the state budget.
Consider the way the police line BOTH SIDES of every street. Every rooftop, every sidewalk. It's like a fully loaded violent version of Hands Across America down Adams and Central avenue. Wouldn't those police be shooting the living crap out of each other on both sides of the street?
There are just as many holes in common sense as there are that bus by the time it rattles up the steps of City Hall.
Eastwood directs with his usual laconic style and his production team is at full tilt.
He had made this between 'Eiger Sanction", "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "The Enforcer" and "Every Which Way But Loose".
Talk about firing on all cylinders. This was his production companies most expensive film up to that time, with a million dollars invested in explosives and special effects alone. It made a HUGE profit, 7 times its budget.
THE GAUNTLET is not great Eastwood, but its a hell of an action thriller, with more spent ammunition than "Patton". I feel like I could still go down to Adams Street tonight and find a shell casing or two....
SIlly, profane and entertaining, THE GAUNTLET gets a B-.
PS, why the hell dont they just SHOOT THE BUS TIRES!!!!!????