By Marc S. Sanders

Before Fatal Attraction and countless other stalker/possessive lover thrillers that continue to monopolize all kinds of entertainment mediums, there was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty For Me.  Watching it for the first time in modern day, I can say that it pushes all the standard buttons of this kind of thriller formula.  The over enthusiasm of the mentally disturbed stalker, the uninvited appearances at inopportune times, the late night phone calls, and of course the knife wielding.  Nevertheless, I remain impressed with Eastwood’s interpretation.

Eastwood also headlines the cast as a late-night disc jockey named David.  Each night he gets a call from a devoted fan named Evelyn (Jessica Walter) requesting he play the jazzy tune, Misty by Erroll Garner.  Included in Dave’s regular programming are stanzas from poetry that he reads to his listeners and endorsements of favorite hang outs and bars that he frequents within the breezy coastal town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, California.  (Years later, Clint Eastwood would be elected Mayor of this community.)  Naturally, Evelyn shows up at one such regular hangout and the two have a one night stand under the presumption of no strings attached.  Of course, there would not be much of a film if Evelyn adhered to that policy.  Thus, the pattern begins.

Evelyn follows Dave around town.  She shows up uninvited at his house ready to prepare a steak dinner.  She’s knocking on his door in the middle of the night, naked under an overcoat.  There are phone calls along with disturbing, unexpected outbursts as well.  Complicating matters for Evelyn is that Dave is on his way to rekindling a romance with a former flame named Tobie (Donna Mills).  Then, it really gets frightening.

For a first time director, Clint Eastwood really shows some expert skill in Play Misty For Me.  The film opens with an overhead shot above the cliffs adjacent to the coastline, and then the camera circles around through the sky and finally zooms in on Eastwood standing on a veranda looking out to the sea.  It’s a glorious scenic shot and the director carries this theme throughout the course of the film.  A locale that impresses me is The Sardine Factory.  It is where Dave and Evelyn first meet, and Eastwood’s friend, mentor and often director, Don Siegel makes an appearance as a bartender.  The Sardine Factory is still there to this very day. 

Eastwood seems to offer a tourist guide and a photographic devotion for this quiet little town, and it contrasts well with the disturbing storyline.  Carmel-By-The-Sea seems like a comfortable and trusting area to live.  Therefore, it is all the more easy for an intruder to lay claim within the unguarded setting.  This film might be from 1971, over fifty years ago, but it makes me want to go visit.  We are treated to live footage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and it does not overstay its welcome.  Eastwood’s film work is gorgeous throughout the whole picture. Particularly during a midway music sequence featuring Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, playing over footage of Dave and Tobie spending time and making love together. 

Jessica Walter is especially good in her role as the menace to this man’s livelihood.  She’s alluring and relaxing with her first encounter with Dave.  Then, she’s upended by the disruption and unwelcome halt of her romantic tryst and outbursts come from out of nowhere.  Eastwood lives up to the thriller characteristics of the film by the way he shoots Walter in close ups that appear with no build up.  He includes shots of her face and brunette hair in nothing but darkness with an agonizing scream.  It’ll shiver you.  It just makes Evelyn’s appearances even more shocking. 

The film that comes to mind when I watch Play Misty For Me, is Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction from 1987.  I think that would be the go-to response for most viewers today.  However, it would be unfair for me to say I know what happens next.  Yes, I did know where everything was leading to.  However, Eastwood’s film is the pioneering installment, released years ahead of the other film.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about Fatal Attraction honestly.  I can’t take my eyes off it, especially because of the performances from Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer, but I frown heavily on the slasher ending that was pasted on to film.  Glenn Close did too.   Now that I’ve seen Eastwood’s movie, it astounds me how much Lyne’s picture lifts from the 1971 thriller.  Both films incorporate references to Madame Butterfly.  There’s a suicide attempt for attention.  There are phone calls and knocks on the door in the middle of the night.  There’s another lover who may be in harm’s way.  There’s an abundance of similarities in both films.

I have to wonder.  Should I now go back and revise my review of Adrian Lyne’s film? 


By Marc S. Sanders

I had a few reasons to watch this movie. One, a good friend, Greg Spiegel, had given this film his full endorsement on a number of occasions. Two, as some of you know, I’ve been a huge admirer of Clint Eastwood for as long as I can remember, since age 8 or 9 I imagine, when I saw his Dirty Harry films and even Fido Beddow in Every Which Way But Loose (and its sequel; those films are much better than maybe they are given credit for actually).

Eastwood matured as a filmmaker during the mid 80s and on into the present. He transitioned into films that delivered messages that sometimes even contradicted his past films as the gunslinger who never asks questions and always knew where to shoot. Films like Unforgiven and A Perfect World really showcase the tragedies of violence perfectly, and I think Gran Torino is worthy of being added to that list.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a racist Korean War veteran, who never left the war he used to fight in. The war comes home with him 50 years later to his Michigan neighborhood where he seems to be the only Caucasian American to live among a melting pot of other races; highlighted especially here are his Hmong neighbors who look past Walt’s prejudices to befriend him following his unintended gesture of protection from an intrusive gang. From there, Walt makes a bond with young Tao, a boy with no male influence in his life, and Tao’s sister.

Eastwood is probably the best director to direct himself. He knows how to position his camera and lighting, or lack thereof, to carve out the lines on his face and hide himself in haunting shadows to show a riddled history to Walt. He also adheres to similar themes that worked well in other films. A defiance to religion represented by a young minister looking to help Walt is reminiscent to the sarcastic approach Eastwood’s character used in Million Dollar Baby. The neglect of a protagonist’s family, and most especially, the connection of the pessimistic old man with the young child, barely adult, as well echos the Clint Eastwood/Hilary Swank pairing in that film. I don’t mind if it’s a repeat actually. Relationships like these are hardly shown in films these days, and I think they are important. Films like Harold & Maude and The Karate Kid show that gaps in generations are not an excuse to separate ourselves. (Heck, I even attempted it when I wrote my play, Arnie & The Itch.)

Eastwood has great, uncompromising racial affection (yes, those two words work nicely here) with his two Asian co-stars Bee Vang and Ahney Her, who are well cast in their own right.

Name calling is a method of maintaining a relationship in a film like this. The PC bandwagon is tossed out so the actors, especially the minority Asians, find something more wholesome to a prejudiced old coot.

The language is strong in Gran Torino, but I say it’s an important film to show to many kids to learn of a neighbor’s tolerance; of what goes on behind a closed door or even if that neighbor sits quietly on his porch with a dog by his side and a beer in his hand. We learn of the roads they have crossed, the battles they have fought, and the accomplishments they’ve made. Learn from these people. Learn from the humanity they carry; the honest humanity that may look offensive on the outside yet is present due to a tormented history inside.

I could say “these whipper snappers with their phones” but it’s honest frustration. It’s hard to learn what a person really is by means of a handheld device. To learn about a person, you have to eat with them, work with them, speak to them and even appreciate their 1972 restored Ford Gran Torino, automobile.

This was a great effort in performance and production from Clint Eastwood. I’m glad I watched it finally.


By Marc S. Sanders

The very first R rated picture I ever saw in theaters was the fourth installment of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry franchise, entitled Sudden Impact.  I was eleven years old and I loved it.  My brother Brian took me with his best friend Nick.  Age 11 and I’m in a crowded theater on a Saturday night watching a brutally violent and sometimes funny crime drama with the cop who carries the .44 Magnum.  Looking back, it felt like a rite of passage.  It felt rebellious.  I’d now be the coolest kid in school as I recount for them everything I was allowed to see that their parents refused to even consider.

Brian introduced me to many of what remain my favorites this very day.  He introduced me to Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners,and then at age 8 or 9 I must have watched the first of Eastwood’s series, Dirty Harry, on video tape.  At that age, you just want to get to the next shootout where Harry allows his bloodletting revolver do the talking while he finishes his hot dog.  I watched those first three films (Dirty Harry, Magnum Force and The Enforcer) over and over again.  As an adult, I more so appreciate the themes of the San Francisco cop, Harry Callahan.  He always had a low tolerance for the bureaucratic BS of court procedure and legal precedent.  He was always smart enough to know who the real bad guys were and that was enough to bring them in. If they didn’t cooperate, well then there were other means. 

The first two films in the series question Harry’s procedures and philosophies.  The third film, although entertaining to a degree, deviated from that.  The fourth film returns to test Harry’s beliefs in police enforcement and justice.  Only this time, it’s actually from the perspective of a gang rape victim, played by Sondra Locke.

Much of the first hour of Sudden Impact is episodic.  Scene after scene shows Harry’s encounters with various hoods that he has a connection too.  Harry disrupts a wedding to undo a vicious mobster.  Later, those guys try to take him down.  Some punk kids get off on a technicality in court.  They’ll have something to say to Harry as well, and just in case you need a little more action, there is that very memorable coffee shop robbery where Harry tempts all of us to “Go ahead.  Make my day.”  There’s also good laughs as Harry is gifted a bulldog he calls Meathead. 

Weaved within these various moments is a separate story focusing on a beautiful painter who has a knack for killing men with one bullet to the genitals and another to the head.  She has revenge on her mind following a gang rape of her and her sister ten years prior.  Eventually, Harry is assigned to investigate and he is on his way to a fictional neighborhood known as San Paulo (filmed in Santa Cruz).  Harry has to navigate around a difficult police captain (Pat Hingle) as the killings continue to happen out here.

I’ve always been fascinated with the Dirty Harry series.  Surprisingly, when I do internet searches on the films and character, I don’t find much that explores the measure of rights and law.  Yet, beyond the sometimes-comic book violence of the pictures there’s much to question and think about.  Is Harry right with his chosen actions?  After all, the films make clear that the bad guys are the bad guys.  The writing however, makes it a challenge when legality interferes and the rights of men and women are tested.  Sudden Impact does the same thing.  With Eastwood directing, he makes the viewers witnesses to what the Locke character is subjected too.  That should be enough, right?  Real life is not that clean cut though.  However, in an age of internet surfing and headline breezing, people are endlessly tried in the court of public opinion and not a court of law.

The first film in the series had Harry declare that the law is crazy.  The second film tested the protagonist when he uncovers that people supposedly on his own team were carrying out vigilante murders against the worst mobsters and pimps in the city, as a means to clean up the streets.  Now, another and more personal vigilante appears.  What makes Harry right and these others wrong?  I don’t think any of the five films in the series ever give a clear-cut answer.  That’s okay.  I’d be frightened if there were a direct response, because it remains a complex issue.  When the courts fail us, what is there left to do?

Do not mistake me.  I am not calling for violence.  I’m just questioning a system that is sometimes broken.    

Recently, a local trial wrapped up where a retired police officer shot a man in a movie theatre who became argumentative and belligerent when he wouldn’t turn off his cell phone.  Popcorn was thrown, a gun was drawn and a man was instantly killed.  The retired police officer was found not guilty by a jury of his peers.  The court of public opinion by and large have been outraged with this verdict.  The grieving widow felt as if justice was not served.  Followers of the story didn’t either.  Another story focused on a beloved teacher who was hit by a car in a school parking lot.  I actually got into a public Facebook debate with someone who said the driver should be punished to the full extent of the law.  I questioned if the driver is truly guilty of murder or manslaughter.  It could have just been an accident.  We are humans to a fault.  How do we know the teacher didn’t just step in front of the car without looking?  The opposing view insisted the driver had to be speeding.  Maybe.  Yet, at the time neither of us knew that.  A car going at 5 mph can just as easily crush a human to death as a car going at 30 mph.  I insisted to the person I was sparring with that she was riding a slippery slope of presumption without all of the facts disclosed.  A police report has yet to be publicly disclosed.  Circumstances always come into play.

I know I’m digressing.  With a Dirty Harry picture like Sudden Impact, it’s laid all out for you.  Harry will request that four robbers put down their guns before introducing his friends Smith & Wesson.  He’ll also consider the circumstances after a woman’s life has been permanently scarred with no one to side with her.  A police officer should not be judge and jury.  Yet, it’s reassuring those films like Sudden Impact or Dirty Harry will allow a comeuppance for the wrongdoers in the world. During the closing minutes of the film, Sondra Locke delivers a monologue that at least is worth consideration even if it’s not agreeable.  I don’t believe our society should turn into a wild west circus where you can get gunned down in a movie theater over thrown popcorn.  I do believe however, that evidence must be taken more seriously in many circumstances.  Suspicion must be valued more often. 

Sudden Impact might have a right-wing attraction to it.  It glorifies gun violence, for the sake of action entertainment.  Harry doesn’t just have a .44 Magnum.  Now, he also has a .44 Magnum Auto Mag!!!!  (Whatever that is!)  Ironically, this picture is primarily told from a woman’s point of view where she wants to be believed and she wants justice, much like many of the messages of the Me-Too movement that gained major traction in 2019.  It’s insisted that when a victim says they have been raped or assaulted, no matter how far back the incident occurred, it should be believed.  The argument is where’s the proof?  Like Harry Callahan though, proof is not always the end all be all.  Instinct and common sense sometimes have to prevail.  Again, it’s a slippery slope, but it’s also always worth questioning.  Harry Callahan is always worth questioning.


By Marc S. Sanders

Clint Eastwood is having a pretty eventful day in the film True Crime, a picture he produces, directs and stars in. He plays Steve Everett, a womanizing journalist who is assigned at the last minute to interview Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) for a human interest story about the man’s last hours before he’s sentenced to death by lethal injection for shooting a young pregnant woman. Everett gets a hunch though that Beechum may be innocent and he’s quickly running out of time to prove his gut feeling. It does not help that his editor (Denis Leary) has discovered that Steve has been sleeping with his wife. It’s also inconvenient that Steve has to honor his promise to take his young daughter to the zoo.

For the simplicity in the storyline of Eastwood’s film, I still found moments that kept me engaged. Washington’s footage which begins at sunrise on his supposed last day at San Quentin penitentiary is very well detailed. I liked how the warden spells out to Beechum what to expect today ranging from requesting his last meal to ensuring direct phone lines to the governor are working properly. I got to witness how all activity of a death row inmate is strictly recorded. I found it interesting how the lethal cocktail is to be administered.

Washington has really good moments with his wife (Lisagay Hamilton) and young daughter wanting to color him one last picture of green pastures. The film doesn’t drown in sappiness or long monologues that you might expect. Like other Eastwood films he looks for the quiet moments in a person’s day; familial, but painful intimate moments of a loving family with all options exhausted.

The other storyline might be debatable for existing. Steve has to contend with his editor’s animosity towards him while also trying to balance what’s left of his family life with his current wife (Diane Venora). Opportunities are given for tough guy comebacks and insults between Eastwood and Leary along with their boss played by James Woods. There’s good timing in these lines but some might question why waste time with this material. I had no objection, however.

These are men who are not putting their lives or instincts on hold to focus just on an inmate sentenced for death. This is just routine work of the day. We don’t stop working just because we find out our spouse is a two timer. We also don’t put our personal interests in hold for a criminal we have regard except to fill a square in the news paper.

Same goes for Steve’s time sparingly spent with his daughter (Francesca Eastwood) at the zoo. Steve turns out not to be an attentive father as he also tries to stay on top of his story on Frank. My cinephile colleagues (including Miguel) took issue with most of the material that the journalist experiences. They thought it was meant for a different film other than the death row storyline. Not I, however. I found it courageous of Eastwood with a script from Larry Gross, Paul Brickman and Stephen Schiff to stay true to this portion of the film. All people have demons they live with and those setbacks don’t grant mercy in even the most desperate of times such as when a possibly innocent man has mere hours left to live. Life is never put on hold even if you’re a lousy father and husband.

True Crime stayed with me up until its last ten minutes. At that point, Eastwood takes the film in a beat the clock car chase direction. This moment is unlike anything else the film presented and I took issue with it here. I wasn’t watching an action picture before any of this. Before the end arrived, I was caught up with the different perspectives of those involved in the process of supposedly humane lethal injection. I saw the prison guards who’d make a joke out of what’s to come. I saw a self involved minister trying to egg on a confession for his own personal salvation, and I saw a warden (Bernard Hill) who actually possessed sensitivity to a prisoner’s fate; that’s something you don’t see too often in film.

Eastwood never allows the audience to empathize with his character’s personal problems. This guy made his own bed. His personal life is not wrapped up in a pretty pink bow by the film’s conclusion. Instead, True Crime told me that beyond a man’s own personal issues is the necessity to help rescue another man who is arguably in a much worse scenario. Dismiss the film’s ending, and you’ll nevertheless appreciate the structure of the rest of the picture.


By Marc S. Sanders

Unforgiven is a crowning achievement for director/actor/producer Clint Eastwood. It’s really a movie and screenplay from David Webb Peoples (the scribe behind Blade Runner) designed only for Clint Eastwood. After a long career of portraying quiet men with violent means, Eastwood transitions to anti-violence that would thematically dominate the next chapter of his filmography with In The Line Of Fire, A Perfect World, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, and Letters From Iwo Jima. (WOW!!!! What a list!!!!!)

The character of William Munny is now a failing pig farmer haunted by a past of gunslinging murder and mayhem. His past returns when he’s offered a large bounty to murder two cowboys who disfigured a prostitute with a knife. He recruits his former partner Ned (another likable character for Morgan Freeman) to accompany him, and they join a kid who presumes he’s ready to kill but is really only fooling himself.

Meanwhile two other stories collide when the cruel, torturous Sheriff Little Bill Dugget (Gene Hackman in an Oscar winning role) meets with a gleeful celebrity in his own mind, gunfighter English Bob played by Richard Harris. Character actor Saul Rubinek plays Beauchamp, a reporter eager to document and dramatize these legends of the quickly expiring period of the Old West. Beauchamp will soon realize the heroes he envisions are nothing but pipe dreams.

Little Bill outlaws weapons in his town, and for the offense? A brutal beating or a painful whipping. Hackman is great at looking like his motivations make sense. Maybe they do. He sets an example and maybe it casts a preventative measure, albeit with a brutal arm of the law. Little Bill is happy to beat someone in the street, only to return happily to building his home along the river.

Unforgiven doesn’t make the violence easy for its characters. It’s harder to kill. It’s harder to listen to a dying victim beg for water. It’s just as hard to mount a horse. Most importantly, it’s hard to accept how cold blooded you can be when pushed to a point.

To watch Unforgiven almost requires at least a little experience of Eastwood’s first half of his career. The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry surmise a history for Munny where it was easy to draw the revolver, point and shoot. This film shows that defiance of scruples doesn’t last forever.

It’s a 1992 Film (Best Picture Oscar Winner) that still carries an important message responding to the questions of bearing arms and Wild West violence that recklessly surfaces in what is expected to be a more civilized society today.

Watch Unforgiven for its many moments of symbolism, changes in attitude among practically every character, and for the well executed direction of another classic from the great filmmaker, Clint Eastwood.

This is one of the best pictures of the last 30 years.

(Would love to hear commentary from others on this film. This is one worthy of extensive discussion. I also recommend you read Roger Ebert’s “Great Movie” review; here – initially gave Unforgiven a thumbs down. This was one of those few instances where he changed his mind.) 


By Marc S. Sanders

Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider is more or less a simple western film with a storyline you’ve seen countless times before.  It’s an old west tale that has the The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai) feel, but this might as well be called The Magnificent One, perhaps.

Pale Rider is nothing special in its assemblage to be another Hollywood western.  However, it’s delivery from Producer/Director Clint Eastwood is what kept me engaged.  Seeing it for the first time, nearly forty years following its theatrical release, I took great pleasure in recognizing the tough and intimidating persona that Eastwood became famous for in his spaghetti westerns and tough cop films.  The scowl and squint across his chiseled face are here along with his imposing height, with his black hat resting perfectly atop his head.  Eastwood knows how to capture himself on camera better than most any other actor/directors.  He capitalizes on his foreboding and intimidating presence.  He does it very well in Pale Rider when he points his camera at a distance down the dirt road where he’s saddled perfectly still upon his steed.  He does a shot like this as well in his Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact, where he positions his silhouette against bright carnival lights in the background with his loaded gun held at his side.  This guy makes himself scarier than Freddy Krueger in moments like these, and in film history, the images are iconic.

Again, Pale Rider has all the trappings of what audiences used to love in Hollywood Westerns.  It has reminders of Shane and High Noon.  Yet, it’s a bit more brutal, because 1980’s cinema allowed that, and this film falls in the tradition of Eastwood’s continuous violent work at the time.  Still, that’s not why you watch an updated picture like this.  You take in Pale Rider as a Clint Eastwood vehicle.  The familiarity of Eastwood’s unnamed dangerous man that bad guys should’ve walked away from was treasured long before he thankfully segued into his anti-violent themes of films yet to come (Unforgiven, A Perfect World).  The point is that I recommend the film because…well…I’ll never tire of that scowl and squint.