“Clint Eastwood is a BAMF!”
I got this text message from my buddy who went and saw Gran Torino two weeks ago. I haven’t seen the film yet, but from what I’ve been told, it’s pretty awesome. I think what’s interesting is that my friend–who’s not a movie trivia expert by any stretch–was surprised when I informed him that Eastwood directed the film as well. I also told him Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Mystic River, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were also helmed by Eastwood without the benefit of having the man act in them. He still seemed impressed, but mostly just wanted to talk about what a badass Eastwood is. They say (the proverbial “they”) that the mark of a good director is that he can put a subtle stamp on something and doesn’t need to put his name in the title (a la Shyamalan) for it to be taken seriously. Eastwood does this. But, more importantly, the mark of a great actor is that you can link one word to his career and it pretty much sums it up.
In Eastwood’s case, this word is an acronym. That acronym (as described so “comically” by Dane Cook) is BAMF.
Eastwood began his acting career in the mid-50s playing mostly military men from the Navy, Air Force, and Marines. However he got his big break playing Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide.” The first episode of “Rawhide” (“The Incident of the Tumbleweed”) aired 50 years ago today (January 9, 1959). Eastwood appeared in over 215 episodes between 1959 and 1965. This isn’t perhaps the greatest thing Eastwood’s done with his career but at least it has a killer theme song (“Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’–hit ’em up, move ’em out”).
Eastwood would also star as another corny cowboy in the musical Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin. It’s one of the few times that Eastwood has played a role where his first goal was to be charming instead of intimidating.
The success of “Rawhide” led Italian director Sergio Leone to ask Eastwood’s co-star Eric Fleming to be in a movie which would eventually be called Per Un Pugno Di Dollari. Fleming turned it down and recommended that the part go to his friend Clint. Clint agreed. We know this movie as A Fistful of Dollars, the first of 3 films Eastwood did with Leone starring as the outlaw known as The Man With No Name (followed by For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). Eastwood’s signature squint would make appearances in several other spaghetti westerns and even in westerns that he himself would direct. He played a marshall in Hang ‘Em High, a cowboy in Two Mules for Sister Sara, a bounty hunter in Joe Kidd, and an outlaw in The Outlaw Josie Wales.
In 1968, Eastwood played Deputy Sheriff Walt Coogan in Coogan’s Bluff. This was the first time Eastwood would work with Don Siegel as a hard-nosed, tough-as-titties cop. Three years later, Siegel and Eastwood would collaborate again for Dirty Harry, which would spawn four sequels from four different directors–Magnum Force (reuniting Eastwood with Hang ‘Em High director Ted Post), The Enforcer (directed by James Fargo), Sudden Impact (directed by Eastwood), and The Dead Pool (directed by Buddy Van Horn and featuring a very young Jim Carrey as rock star Johnny Squares). Eastwood would also play a renegade, loose cannon cop in The Gauntlet, City Heat (with Burt Reynolds), and The Rookie (with Charlie Sheen, directed by Eastwood).
Eastwood’s directorial debut was 1971’s Play Misty for Me where he played a radio DJ with a stalker. The studio would only agree to produce the film if Eastwood would star in it. It started a trend. Of the 30 films Eastwood has directed, he’s starred in all but seven (1973’s Breezy, 1988’s Bird, 1997’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 2003’s Mystic River, 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, and 2008’s The Changeling). Amazingly, despite that show of narcissism, Eastwood remains a pretty low-key guy. He understands how to make good movies and knows how to get the best out of actors he’s worked with. This is evidenced by the fact that Gene Hackman, Sean Penn, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank have all won Oscars acting in one of Eastwood’s films.
Eastwood has been nominated for only two acting Oscars, and they came from two films he directed (1992’s Unforgiven and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby). Despite not winning either time, both films made Eastwood a 4-time winner–for director and producer–and early buzz is that he could get another round of nominations for his work on Gran Torino, both behind and in front of the camera.
The last film Eastwood appeared in that wasn’t directed by him was 1993’s In the Line of Fire where he played a Secret Service Agent. Other achievements in Eastwood’s repertoire are for music. The Broadcast Film Critics Association has nominated him twice for composing the score to movies–once for Mystic River and another time for composing the touching score to John Cusack’s 2007 film Grace is Gone.
Few actors have had careers as long and as successful as Clint Eastwood. Others have more Oscars than he does, but I’d rather have Eastwoods filmography over two-time winner Kevin Spacey’s anyday. Take away the golden guys he’s received for his artistic genius, and your still left with a career chock-full of memorable characters and performances. As an actor he’s worked with everyone from John Malkovich to Richard Burton to Clyde the Orangutan in Every Which Way But Loose. There’s no one more iconic than Clint Eastwood, and he doesn’t need to win an Academy Award to live on in the hearts of moviegoers forever.