In 1973, Clint Eastwood cheerily stepped up to the podium at the annual Oscar telecast, a very last minute replacement for Charlton Heston, delayed by a flat tire on the Santa Monica freeway. Attempting to recite a monologue obviously scripted for Heston, with its references to Moses and Cecil B. DeMille, Eastwood paused after stumbling over the script, adding, “They replaced Chuck Heston with a guy who’s said ten lines in eight movies!”; a self-deprecating quip that brought down the house. The point, however, was well taken. For Eastwood’s screen presence has little to do with his oratorical skills. Here is an actor who can fill a room or command a scene with a mere flick of a match or the ever so slight raising of his eyebrows; for whom one steely-eyed glance registers mountains of contempt or spell foreboding disaster for the other fellow playing the scene. Time and again, Eastwood has proven (as though proof were required) he can hold court seemingly without even trying. Had he been born a century earlier, he likely could have become the greatest silent actor of his generation.
As it stands, Clint Eastwood has made (and continues to make) indelible impressions in the world of sound and fury, either as the towering ‘man with no name’ – at once the essence and antithesis of overt masculinity, or as the director calling the shots from behind the camera. The transition from Eastwood – star, to Eastwood ‘star director’ has ostensibly been as unforced as his command of the camera. Of course, it is all just an act. For no artist who has remained so utterly consistent for so long has done so without first carefully considering the variables of his self-worth, honing his craft through meticulous research and planning, and, cleverly maintained that essence of untouchable super-stardom without a lot of talent, charm and business savvy. No, Eastwood undeniably has professionalism plus; the advantage now, more so than ever, of being a beloved and iconographic figurehead straddling the chasm between old Hollywood and the new.
The awkwardly titled, Clint Eastwood: The Universal 7-Movie Collection gives us Eastwood the star; his tenure at Universal Studios including a few hits, a miss and a pair of oddities. Only 1968’s Coogan’s Bluff, 1971’s The Beguiled, Play Misty for Me and 1975’s The Eiger Sanction are new to Blu-ray; the rest of the titles, including Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), Joe Kidd (1972) and High Plains Drifter (1973) already available for over a year. The work herein spans Eastwood’s fame in modest B-budgeted westerns, cop dramas and tepid thrillers. While one can debate the consistency of this oeuvre, there’s little to deny the lesser known, and even less desirable among this lot still hold sway after nearly 40 years; mostly because of Eastwood. Without him, a few of these aforementioned titles would have long vanished from the public’s consciousness. Indeed, Eastwood was on somewhat shaky ground after dusting off his chaps and retiring his six-shooter after Sergio Leone’s ‘man with no name’ trilogy, diving headstrong into a trio of projects in 1968; Hang 'Em High, Where Eagles Dare and Coogan's Bluff. Of these, Coogan’s Bluff is perhaps the most insignificant, though it established Eastwood’s enduring run with director, Don Siegel, who would prove something of a mentor a few years later, together creating the iconic Dirty Harry (1971).
In many ways, Coogan’s Bluff now plays like a dry run for the anti-heroic Harry Callahan, its ‘hippies vs. the establishment’ scenario feeding into the anti-authoritarian strain that was all the rage – generating as much anger in the inner city lower class neighborhoods; director and star arguably testing the boundaries of screen censorship with this shockingly hard-edged detective story. The Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, Howard Rodman screenplay focuses on an Arizona cop, Coogan (Eastwood), whose unorthodox lifestyle forces his superior’s hand to punish him with a menial assignment. Coogan is to extradite a known fugitive, Ringerman (Don Stroud) from New York back to Arizona; his seemingly straight-forward task unexpectedly hitting a detour when Ringerman attempts suicide by taking an overdose of LSD, landing him in Bellevue. Caustic New York police lieutenant, McElroy (Lee J. Cobb) gives Coogan and his assignment short shrift. He’s overworked and undervalued and expects Coogan to handle the necessary paperwork before claiming the prisoner.
Naturally, Coogan has other ideas, settling into his gritty cosmopolitan surroundings by falling back on his gruff charm as a lady killer, landing in hot water after a flagrante delicto with probation officer, Julie (Susan George) gets him access to Ringerman’s necessary police files. Like Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff rails against the ‘free love/let it all hang out/flower power’ generation, Coogan coming across as something of an antiquated conservative dinosaur; his bluntness, always answering a question with one of his own, inevitably incurring a lot of bureaucratic ire while wrecking his laissez faire sex romps with the more liberal-minded Julie.
Coogan’s Bluff might have come across as just another cop drama, but its gutsy cultural and philosophical ramifications add bite to our so-called antihero; his stubborn resolve destined to become entangled as he ruthlessly cuts his way through the bureaucratic red tape with a certain infectious disregard for the niceties. Eastwood brings a sense of irony to the character, more inclined to use sex than his gun as his preferred weapon of choice to get what he wants. While the running gag about Coogan being from Texas gets fairly stale fast and the general ‘throw caution to the wind’ attitude Coogan has about bedding practically anything that moves (except a hooker residing in his moth-eaten hotel) now seems grotesquely flawed from our current post-STD and AIDS savvy pop culture, the overall impact of Coogan’s Bluff is frequently engaging without actually being memorable beyond the few hours it takes to enjoy the film.
Let’s get real: Coogan is not our Dudley Do-Right. This being 1968, his tactics with the fairer sex simply reek of some carbon-dated brutality a la the Mesozoic period; pinching, pawing and ass-slapping his way into an ever-revolving series of boudoirs; his ‘me Tarzan/you Jane’ approach to love-making framed as quaintly desirable. He’s also not above bitch-slapping his gal pals when they get out of line or enjoying an off-handed remark about rape that probably had Gloria Steinem picketing the movie’s premiere in protest. Professionally speaking, if one can reference anything this guy does on the job as hallmarked by professionalism, Coogan frequently does wrong to get his way, his ‘principles’ fractured by an egotistical desire to win at all costs, no matter the odds or obstacles set before him. The screenplay occasionally loses direction, but Siegel maintains a forward trajectory and momentum, interpolating Coogan’s quieter moments as a lover with some truly outstanding examples of just how raw and uninhibited he can be as a fighter when pressed into service for a cause. Even so, Coogan’s Bluff is more a melodrama than an action flick and this infrequently is its biggest hurdle to overcome; also, its weakness.
For their second collaboration, Eastwood and Siegel elected to return to very familiar territory; a Sergio Leone-esque styled western, Two Mules for Sister Sara, pitting a stoic mercenary, Hogan (Eastwood) against a no-nonsense nun, Sara (Shirley MacLaine); shades of the ole Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957) high concept cropping up now and then. The film is something of a Leone knockoff, right down to its Ennio Morricone score and earthy Mexican locales. But the chemistry between MacLaine and Eastwood is unique and compelling. He saves her from being raped by banditos while on a mission during the French intervention and she repays him with…well…spunk – plenty of it. Here is a gal who isn’t about to let either her vows or her habit get in the way of telling her earthly savior what’s what. As a pair of mismatched drifters, Eastwood and MacLaine have great fun achieving their common goal from different perspectives; flirtations and short fuses aside.
Besides, Sara isn’t exactly Hogan idea of a nun; her external religiosity punctuated by some strange behaviors and occasionally saucy wit. As with practically every western you’ve ever seen, it’s the journey rather than the destination that counts; this Mutt and Jeff crossing some of the most unforgiving scorched earth on the planet, intermittently plagued by enemies aplenty, both human and animal, forcing the unlikely compatriots much closer together. The Albert Maltz screenplay is dependent on a revelation undisclosed until the movie’s last act to alter the tenor of this otherwise straightforward and fairly predictable western yarn. Maltz has cleverly spaced out his suggestive glimmers Sister Sara is not all she first appears, and MacLaine is, of course, her usual playful and naughty self, allowing Hogan to experience full-on awkwardness out of necessity, as he forces Sara up a tree by grabbing onto her buttocks. She enjoys it too, along with wielding her silver crucifix like a pick axe to ward off unwanted advances, while taking liberal swigs of hooch and using a few choice words that would likely set the Papacy back and bring out the Holy waters for an exorcism of her meandering soul.
It sounds hokey, but it works – at least, partly, the pair’s ‘getting to know you’ infrequently interrupted by their misadventures in ole Mexico; the most suspenseful vignette, their precision-planned destruction of a train trestle, interrupted when Hogan takes a Yaqui arrow in his backside, forcing the squeamish Sara to cauterize his gaping wound under his expert guidance. Because Two Mules for Sister Sara is not heavily plotted, it excels as the unlikeliest of buddy/buddy flicks; a joyously obtuse trifle that never strains the brain, even as it generally warms the heart. We quietly observe as Eastwood’s stoic loner, hardened by years of solitary travel, is forced to rediscover the pleasures – and pitfalls – of having a companion along for this journey. He’s not up to being sociable and that is part of the fun in it too; watching Hogan stumble through a burgeoning friendship with this occasionally bawdy yet businesslike nun. And MacLaine’s Sara is no Deborah Kerr. She may have put her faith in the Almighty, but she sure as hell will not be taking orders from any man, including Hogan; ‘turn the other cheek’ not part of her religious upbringing.
1971 would mark a turning point for the Eastwood/Siegel alliance with the debut of Dirty Harry. In retrospect, the shadow cast by Harry Callahan would obscure the team’s other offering from that year. The Beguiled is a darkly probative and bravely executed suspense/thriller, miraculous for its ability to compel while introducing us to a disreputable array of truly unlikeable characters; starting with Eastwood’s John McBurney; a wounded Civil War Union soldier, saved from certain death by a precocious twelve year old girl and taken into the confidences of an all-girl’s seminary outside of Louisiana. The Albert Maltz/Irene Kamp screenplay is based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel, first published in 1966. As in the book, the movie begins with the premise of a pair of chastised school marms, one – Martha (Geraldine Page) – bitterly opposed to saving John’s life except to see him hang or rot in a Southern prison, and their impressionable virginal brood of seminary students doing good; John’s recovery and obvious masculine appeal incrementally stirring the girl’s dishonorable intensions and leading to some truly disturbing sexual conquests along the way.
It doesn’t take long for repressed teacher, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) to fall for John’s charms, fancifully hoping they will lead to longstanding love. On the other end of the spectrum is student, Carol (Jo Ann Harris) who is merely interested in being deflowered; preferably with fantasies primed for some truly hot sex. Finally, there’s the slave, Hallie (Mae Mercer) who is hoping to use John as her ticket to freedom. Alas, Martha’s caustic disapproval of John will give way to more amorous pursuits after her own troubled past resurfaces. But are these women using John or has he already assessed how best to play them against each other to gain control of the seminary and its residents? From the outset, Siegel and Eastwood have set up a fairly salacious premise; the worldly scamp who has no compunction or scruples; just as ably enticing a pre-teen with a very adult kiss as using his overt masculinity like an intoxicating elixir to tempt, tease and torture these chaste seminary gals into wild distraction, leaving Martha as the only hold out to manage their frustrations with a cautious eye. While John’s intensions are undeniably wicked, the screenplay takes great pains not to present the women as entirely without sin or flaws. In fact, all endure under a poisonous cloud of raging hormones; feral creatures prodded by jealous impulses, often with disastrous results. Siegel instills the movie with a sense of genuine claustrophobia, also a hellacious intensity as John’s psychological rape of their already surrendering innocence begins to take hold. Using internal monologues, Siegel reveals each character’s truer intensions; yielding to the shocking discovery John’s tales of noble combat are absolute lies, designed to mask his more destructive impulses.
For his next outing, Eastwood elected to strike out on his own, coming up a winner with his directorial debut; Play Misty for Me (1971) drawing on a decade’s worth of acting experience to bolster what is essentially a basic stalker flick with some exquisite touches in character development and off-beat timing. Here is a bone-chillingly effective thriller with a few hokey touches that never undermine the audience’s expectations or intelligence; Eastwood delving into elements of grand guignol and a certain fascination for rarer oddities of humanity that would continue to fuel and inform his directorial work for decades yet to follow. Eastwood casts himself as Dave, a small-time Carmel-by-the-Sea radio jockey, filling the airwaves with five hours of prophetic conversation, personal requests and spinning the occasional obscure record for his biggest fan, Evelyn (Jessica Walter).
But what starts out as an enthusiastic woman’s lovelorn fantasy with a disembodied voice on the radio quickly escalates into a not so cute meet, then vigorous one night stand, and finally a murderous obsession, equally threatening Dave’s sanity and safety. The more Evelyn presses in her desire to completely possess him, the more Dave strives to work out the glitches in his on again/off again relationship with ex, Tobie (Donna Mills). Eastwood brings an uncharacteristically layered performance to this otherwise straight forward thriller. His Dave is not your average suburban DJ, but a very smooth operator about to get his wings clipped. Alas, Dave simply could not leave well enough alone, casually bedding anything that writhed in his direction, using his favorite neighborhood bar (the proprietor played by Siegel) as his own private bordello. The Jo Heims/Dean Riesner screenplay is careful to suggest there are consequences to this loose lifestyle; chiefly, in Evelyn’s gradual spiral into psychotic fits of revenge. Forget about the usual tortured victim syndrome herein. Evelyn is a cold and calculating monster; a real loon too with a penchant for devouring her lovers as a praying mantis might; stalking Tobie and slashing to death Dave’s unsuspecting housekeeper, Birdie (Clarice Taylor) with unbridled and bloodthirsty relish. It all makes for great suspense and more than a few horrific frights along the way.
Play Misty for Me encounters a few narrative hiccups along the way, beginning with Dave’s handling of his own complicity in Evelyn’s psychosis. Downplaying her insanity to save his own face, Dave increasingly masks his own concerns over where it will all lead; allowing Sgt. McCallum (John Larch), who is investigating Birdie’s homicide, to toy with him. It really doesn’t add up though. Evelyn is crazy. She will kill again – and not just Dave’s career. As though unable to resolve this narrative predicament, Eastwood suddenly makes an incalculably ridiculous decision to essentially sideline his story for a leaden musical interlude at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It’s a pointless inclusion and it begins an ever-increasing dependency on Eastwood’s part to show off the resplendent California scenery to its best advantage in montage; long walks along windswept beaches, pastoral strolls through the forest or the sight of Tobie and Dave making passionate love in a shallow river. What’s the point? There isn’t one, and Play Misty for Me devolves into a not altogether successful romp about some very moneyed California real estate.
Sandwiched between Misty and Eastwood’s penultimate stab at the Hollywood western – 1973’s supremely satisfying, High Plains Drifter – is 1972’s all but forgotten gem, Joe Kidd; a disquieting ‘little picture’ that ought to have been a big success for all concerned. Not only does it star Eastwood the puckish rabble-rouser, but the cast also features heavy-hitter, Robert Duvall as Frank Harlan, a wealthy landowner out for revenge; the helmsman on this project, the impeccable action director, John Sturges. Alas, and despite the best intensions in Elmore Leonard’s tautly structured screenplay, the movie quickly settles into a sort of unimpressive ennui; a great picture chipped away to reveal a fairly okay one underneath. The story never branches out from its central premise established during its first fifteen minutes; Eastwood’s steely-eyed prankster pretty much remaining above it all. The scope of the production equally lags in any sort of consistency as Harlan hires Joe as his guide into the mountains, dead set to capture a Mexican revolutionary named Chama (John Saxton) who has disrupted the ‘natural’ order of western expansion, but who Joe has begun to admire. The rest of the characters who populate this sojourn are cardboard cutouts at best while the manhunt scenario unraveling before our eyes is less adventuresome than par for the course. To be sure, there are a few grandly executed vignettes of violent gunplay to satisfy the paying customer. Even so, Joe Kidd is a fairly enjoyable excursion, chiefly in Eastwood’s embodiment of the disreputable rake who is mildly amused by other people’s reaction to his poise under pressure.
Eastwood plays to the strengths of his well-ensconced public persona; the solitary and friendless man of personal convictions and God be damned if any man tries asserting his own authority in their place. This includes Harlan, whose bloodlust to see Chama swing from the gallows supersedes any sort of stabilizing logic. There are lots of opportunities herein for Eastwood to do his archetype proud. But unlike many of the mysterious frontiersman he has so often played, Joe Kidd is really more of a schemer than a foreboding man of mystery. There’s no arc or progression to his character either; Joe, merely one tough hombre with a devilish mean streak lurking just beneath the surface. Nevertheless, its Joe’s ability to keep a cool head in matters of crisis that wins the audience; sneaking kisses from Harlan’s Spanish tart, Helen Sanchez (Stella Garcia) or relishing new ways to outfox his bubble-headed ‘enforcer’, Lamarr (Don Stroud, clearly having a good time playing the fool).
As no movie ever directed by Sturges is a total waste of time, Joe Kidd is imbued with some gorgeous location work lensed by Bruce Surtees; Sturges occupying his run time with some expertly parceled out action sequences, distracting and married to breathtaking vistas of natural splendor, punctuated by Lalo Schifrin’s Morricone-inspired underscore. Elmore Leonard’s screenplay approaches the crisis of land reform from a different perspective, siding with Chama’s view of Americans as greedy, scheming usurpers decimating Mexico’s native lands for their own purpose of conquest. But our story runs into trouble with the character of Chama; emasculated between his initial foray as the fiery foe with all the impassioned desire to regain control over territories rightfully belonging to his peoples, and his penultimate acquiescence to debate the lawmakers intellectually in the hopes of triggering a more open and progressive dialogue. The movie’s ending is also problematic – somehow escalating to its climax without ever making the audience aware the end is at hand, then fading to black while still leaving a curious aftertaste of ‘now what?’ in the back of their minds.
By 1973, Eastwood was ready to get back in the saddle again with High Plains Drifter; arguably, the last great western made in America until Eastwood’s own Unforgiven resurrected the flipside of this genre in 1992. Taking his cue from personal experiences accrued under Sergio Leone’s expert tutelage, and perhaps borrowing a page from Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch (1969), working from an original screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, High Plains Drifter is as merciless as it remains raw and fierce. Eastwood channels the revisionist precepts of the classic Hollywood western and its newfound deification of the antihero into a thrilling and uncanny spectacle with unanticipated viciousness running through its revenge scenario. Tidyman’s screenplay is not particularly interested in the revenge per say; rather, the machinations that go into its intricate plotting and ultimate implosion; perhaps, feeding off the old Chinese proverb that suggests before embarking on any form of vengeance one should dig ‘two’ graves. There is an ethereal, yet haunted characteristic to Eastwood’s nameless ‘stranger’ – materializing from the early morning fog like one of the four horsemen from the apocalypse and just as lethal to the inhabitants of Lago; a desolate mining village plagued by violence.
Making short shrift of some baddies, the Stranger is clearly up to no good as he accepts a commission to act as the town’s enforcer against a trio of advancing gunslingers. Why any man, though predominantly one as clever and skilled as ‘the stranger’, should care what happens to this nearly forgotten outpost remains a mystery undisclosed. The inhabitants are mostly ungrateful and bitter, frequently resenting the stranger’s interventions and eventually stirring chaos forth from the calm. An equal dread is generated by Mordecai (Billy Curtis), the absolute worst of these demoralized peoples, whom the stranger elects as his sheriff and mayor. Although running true to the form and traditions of the western genre, High Plains Drifter never succumbs to the anticipated ennui of ‘been there/done that’; Eastwood’s direction/performance and Tidyman’s screenplay gradually revealing a deeper, almost Biblical, and far more sinister malaise afflicting Lago’s vial populace. The Stranger’s modus operandi is fairly bleak, though relatively unclear, except to say he has committed himself to training the disparate townsfolk to become cold-blooded murderers.
What’s in it for ‘the stranger’? Free reign for one; also, absolute dominion over the town and their endless supply of sex-starved females, presumably meant to satisfy his less than honorable intentions. This latter commodity is dealt with heartlessly; Eastwood’s tatty ruffian embroiled in a ferocious rape, the victim suddenly transformed by its orgasmic nirvana into his love-sick rag doll, seemingly not only surrendering, but thoroughly having relished his vigorous penetration. The unflattering complexity of this episode is never bravely addressed, either by Eastwood’s performance or Tidyman’s screenplay. Essentially, it is par for the course of any frontier woman’s lot in life. After all, what did she expect, placing herself as the buxom object of temptation in a wilderness populated by unsavory and testosterone-driven beasts, primed for a raucous bump and grind?
Interestingly, the last act of High Plains Drifter is not about protecting Lago from an external threat from these advancing angels of death who have adopted a scorched earth policy as they make their way across the plains; rather, a standoff between the stranger and the town’s undisciplined pessimists, watching rather helplessly as he is unable to prevent this community’s descend into a purgatory of chaos and paralyzing fear. To face the enemy they must first conquer and set aside their contempt for each other. Is that even possible? High Plains Drifter teems with subtext; whether analyzing the dystopian breakdown of a community into authoritarianism met with divisive mob rule or the societal devolution of a presumably once God-fearing conclave into godless, inhumane chaos, the film has much more going for it than the deceptively transparent central narrative about a solitary reaper passing through town.
As a director/star, Eastwood would have his least successful venture to date with The Eiger Sanction (1975); a fairly transparent, turgidly scripted and not altogether efficacious homage to the James Bond franchise after reportedly being offered, but turning down, the opportunity to replace Sean Connery as agent 007. The plot can be summarized in a sentence: classical art professor and collector, Jonathan Hemlock (Eastwood) doubles as a professional assassin to avenge the murder of an old friend. It’s an impossibly fanciful yarn at best; California college prof/ex-military/black market art junkie meets positively weird vindictive albino of spurious means, the leader of secretive organization C-2, appropriately nicknamed Dragon (Thayer David), who offers a king’s ransom for something Jon – on a good day - would do for free: get the man who killed his buddy. The catch: he has to join a climbing party of which the murderer is a part of, preparing to scale the Eiger Mountain in the Alps. Is it Freytag (Reiner Schone), Meyer (Michael Grimm), or Montaigne (Jean-Pierre Bernard)? Hmmm. A lot of ‘training’ follows, Hemlock turning to fellow ex-military, Ben Bowman (George Kennedy, whom I really couldn’t take seriously as the go-to guy for health and fitness). Pressure mounts as a tempestuous lover, Jemima Brown (Vonette McGee), and rival, Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy, playing bisexual? while owning a dog named ‘Faggot’), press Jon into a dangerous game of cat and mouse as he embarks to scale this craterous peak, forcing Jon to place his faith and trust in a fellow hunter of men.
Although beautifully photographed by Frank Stanley, The Eiger Sanction lumbers along with a screenplay by Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy and Rod Whitaker, cribbing from Whitaker’s best-selling novel of the same name, written under the nom de plume, Trevanian. Eastwood is a classics prof like I’m Noam Chomsky, almost immediate recognizing his noblesse oblige approach to crime-solving will have to take a backseat to his more readily ensconced persona as a rough n’ tumble brute, belting baddies and giving every disposable gal pal he encounters a light crack on the butt with equal contempt. This multilayered tale of misfiring intrigues gets bogged down by Eastwood’s rather laid back directorial style, diffusing the elemental quality of suspense essential for any superspy thriller.
Instead, we get a lot of travelogue footage cobbled together with flashes of mystery and intervallic fits of violence. The Eiger Sanction definitely suffers from James Bond penis-envy; making the not altogether challenge to squeeze Eastwood’s particular brand of big screen brawn into the more cultured shoes of the elegant spy awkward at best and severely trying at times. Wrong size. Bad fit. There is a disconnect between the movie’s opening scenes, where Eastwood is still amiably endeavoring to do the whole jaunty academic thing, and the latter half of the picture, where he simply discards this Ricco Suave façade in favor of the more familiar ‘Go ahead…make my day’ earthy brand of male machismo he obviously is much more comfortable at playing.
All of the films featured in Universal’s Blu-ray compendium are given competent 1080p transfers. Framed in 1.85:1, Coogan’s Bluff offers up some solid color saturation, naturalistic flesh tones and a good solid smattering of film grain looking fairly indigenous to its source. Fine detail pops as expected with textures in hair, clothing and facial features in close-up exceptionally pleasing. There is some light speckling and a hint of built-in flicker, but otherwise, this is a good hi-def presentation. The results are slightly less pleasing on Two Mules for Sister Sara, chiefly because I suspect some undue DNR scrubbing has been applied to soften and remove the grain from this otherwise generally satisfying 2.35:1 hi-def image. Minor hints of black crush do not distract, though they are present. Nevertheless, color saturation is good. The Beguiled is the most problematic transfer; its 1.85:1 image full of untoward filtering, making fine details waxy and soft. Vontrast levels are weak; colors, severely muted. Although the print shows signs of speckling and a few minor scratches, it’s the overall wan quality that I cannot abide.
To a lesser degree, similar issues afflict Play Misty for Me, its’ 1.85:1 hi-def presentation suffering from heavy filtering at the expense of more robust textures and fine detail. Film grain is a virtual non-issue. There is none! The overall characteristic herein is soft – period! Flesh tones are accurately rendered, while other colors favored in this palette of psychedelic swing look appropriately bright and pop from the screen. No speckling to speak of, but again – I consider this transfer subpar for what it might have been. Much more satisfactory results on Joe Kidd and High Plains Drifter, each appearing to have been sourced from revitalized film elements having undergone at least a partial restoration and concerted preservation effort. After the initial disappointments, prepare to be dazzled by crisp and very clean images on both films, while visually rich and varied, the ‘wow’ factor evident in everything from deeply satisfying primaries to some truly stunning and varied flesh tones. Lots to admire here, from fine detail popping as it should to zero age-related artifacts. Even during darkly lit scenes detail is extraordinarily realized and clearly delineated. Top marks on both transfers.
The Eiger Sanction falls a few notches from such perfection, its 2.35:1 image again suffering from DNR liberally applied and all but wiping out fine detail and grain for a smooth, but video-based presentation. Honestly, Universal has one of the spottiest records with this sort of misguided ‘clean-up’. Close-ups are fairly impressive, but detail gets lost in establishing shots, a residual softness creeping in after the main titles and never entirely leaving thereafter. Colors are pleasing, benefiting from the outdoorsy photography and flesh looks natural and appealing. But delineation is just awful, black levels transforming scene after dimly lit scene into a murky mess of shadows with some haloing also factored in. Badly done!
With the exception of High Plains Drifter, which has received an impressive and newly remastered 5.1 DTS soundtrack, all of the movies herein sport a DTS 2.0 audio mix. The results are fairly predictable; a lot of crisp sounding dialogue and accurately integrated SFX, generally lacking bass tonality, but otherwise mostly acceptable with minor stridency detected and owing more to its source elements than any lack in the mastering process itself. The only title in this set to receive any consideration by way of extras is Play Misty for Me; offering up the 2001 documentary, ‘Play It Again’. At just under 50 min. it is well worth the price of admission alone. We also get a rather superfluous 6-minute overview of the Siegel/Eastwood collaboration, framed by Richard Schickel’s glib repartee, an almost 4-minute montage of publicity junkets, and another montage running less than 3-minutes. There’s also ‘Evolution of a Poster’ that provides a backstage pass into how movies are promoted via marketing, plus the original theatrical trailer; the only commodity included on every other release in this set.
Parting thoughts: it’s rather obvious Universal has slapped together this set, blending the impeccable work done earlier on some of these independently released films with less than progressively minded work done on the MIA titles now made a part of the Eastwood film franchise in hi-def. I’m not a proponent of this sort of slapdash compendium; preferring the studios take their time to remaster every movie they release in 1080p as though it were their very best – or very last. Still, it’s Eastwood we’ve come to see and the man, in spite of some spottier quality issues herein, delivers the goods as few stars of his generation can or have. Bottom line: recommended, but with caveats.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Two Mules for Sister Sara 3
Joe Kidd 3
High Plains Drifter 4.5
Coogan’s Bluff 3
The Beguiled 3.5
Play Misty For Me 4
The Eiger Sanction 3
Two Mules for Sister Sara 3.5
Joe Kidd 4
High Plains Drifter 4
Coogan’s Bluff 3
The Beguiled 2.5
Play Misty For Me 3
The Eiger Sanction 3