My Clint Eastwood box-set is split into different sections. Because I wanted to start with the Dirty Harry films, I figured I would just go ahead and polish off the entire “Cops” section first. But, since my disappointment with Sudden Impact left me cold about jumping right into The Dead Pool, I decided to take a break from Harry for the moment. I still wanted to stick with the “Cops” section, though, and having already watched Tightrope a week ago, that left only The Gauntlet or the Eastwood/Charlie Sheen buddy cop movie, The Rookie. Like most of America, I’m a little overdosed on Sheen at the moment, so The Gauntlet it is.

The Gauntlet stars Eastwood (who also directs) as an alcoholic Phoenix cop assigned to escort a seemingly unimportant prostitute from Las Vegas back to Nevada, where she is scheduled to testify in a mob trial. It’s supposed to be an easy job, except that she has been targeted for assassination by both the mob AND corrupt forces within Eastwood’s own police department. It’s now a fight for survival, as the two must overcome constant attempts on their lives as they try to make it back to Phoenix in time for the trial.

This is good, harmless ’70s trash film-making. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s one of those movies you come upon on TV on a lazy weekend afternoon, watch and enjoy, and then don’t spend one more second thinking about it until the NEXT time you come upon it on TV on another lazy weekend afternoon. There is a lot of stupid stuff in this movie that just makes no logical sense if you stop and consider it for a moment, but thankfully the story moves along fast enough that you don’t really worry about it. I suppose it might have seemed pretty violent for the time, but not surprisingly it comes across as a little tame by today’s standards (although a scene in which the prostitute offers herself up for rape to a couple bikers in order to get them to stop beating on Eastwood IS pretty grim, and definitely sticks out in a movie that is otherwise usually a lot more lighthearted and slightly comedic).

The prostitute is played by Sondra Locke, which isn’t surprising, given that she was the leading lady in almost every Eastwood movie back then. What IS surprising is that this is really her movie, as she is by far the best thing about it. Eastwood is basically playing a riff on his Dirty Harry character, albeit a more haggard, down-on-his-luck version. He can do this kind of role in his sleep. But Locke is really impressive as the abrasive, energetic witness – you can see why Eastwood’s character would fall for her…although that a romantic angle is crammed in at all kinda bothered me. I just wasn’t sure I was buying these two hooking up so quickly, given the circumstances.

One thing I really wish the movie had spent more time on is an early introduced idea that the mob is actually gambling on their chances of survival, creating a betting line for whether or not she will actually testify. It’s a cool idea, but one that is almost immediately dropped when the movie switches focus to police being used to hunt the two down rather than mob hit-men. I would have liked to have seen the action cut away every now and then to some low-life mob bookie, who is actually charting their progress and constantly adjusting their odds (and maybe actually even pulling for them, because he has money on them). Just an idea for anyone who might be thinking of a remake.

Speaking of a remake, there sort of is one. While watching the movie with my buddy Justin, I remarked how similar it seemed to the Bruce Willis/Mos Def film, 16 Blocks. Sure enough, a little online research from Justin revealed that 16 Blocks was indeed a loose remake of this movie. This is actually the second time Willis has assumed the Eastwood role in a loose remake of one of his movies, as he also starred in Last Man Standing, which was obviously modeled off of A Fistful of Dollars (although, to be fair, both films were based on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was itself based on an old Dashiell Hammett novel). ALSO, oddly enough, Bruce Willis played the role of Hartigan in Sin City, a character that creator Frank Miller had largely based on Clint Eastwood. That’s sort of interesting, huh?

I am fairly confident, however, that 16 Blocks is the only time Mos Def has played the Sondra Locke character in anything.

This review was originally posted on March 11th, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.

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