Actually, this latest doc from film critic and longtime Eastwood
biographer Richard Schickel turned up earlier this year as a 20-minute
extra found in Warner Home Video’s Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Brothers, a massive DVD box set that features 31 Eastwood-Warners flicks from Dirty Harry (1971) to Gran Torino (2008), plus two MGM titles, Where Eagles Dare (1969) and Kelly’s Heroes (1970), that Warners now owns, and Columbia-Castle Rock’s Absolute Power (1997). The expanded edition of The Eastwood Factor, which will hit video shelves on Tuesday, June 1, to accompany the recent issue of director Eastwood’s Nelson Mandela epic Invictus,
isn’t necessarily more of a good thing, either. Since Schickel is
hamstrung by his exclusive usage of the Warners movies, he’s unable to
flesh out a true career profile.
So don’t expect any material from Eastwood’s beginnings as a
contract player on the Universal back lot in the mid-1950s, or footage
of him as an uncredited Air Force jet pilot trying to wipe out a
mutated eight-legged freak in Tarantula (1955). And while there’s an amusing clip of Eastwood guest-starring in a 1959 episode of Warners’ TV series Maverick,
with Clint in a saloon slugfest opposite James Garner, there are only a
few stills depicting Eastwood’s eight-season run as Rowdy Yates in the
TV western Rawhide, along with a few more images from his
super-successful Italian western cycle for director Sergio Leone, which
were released by United Artists.
Instead, Schickel’s work is a mostly admiring affair that offers
deathless bons mots, uttered by narrator—and frequent Eastwood
regular—Morgan Freeman, which include, “Eastwood goes where his
instincts and emotions tell him to go” and “Whatever the genre,
Eastwood walks tall and speaks sparingly.” Schickel’s got that
“sparingly” part down pat; aside from Eastwood’s own laconic
reminisces, Schickel doesn’t bother, perhaps because of budget
limitations, to track down the many other people Eastwood has worked
with to gather their perspectives.
Yet for a guy who made his mark in the 1970s with his classic The Men Who Made the Movies documentary series for Public Broadcasting, Schickel’s The Eastwood Factor
rates, or more aptly irritates, as a shockingly lazy work. In an old
clip with Eastwood sharing the screen alongside Tab Hunter and Tom
“Billy Jack” Laughlin, would it have killed Schickel to even ID the
movie as Lafayette Escadrille (1958)? Then again, maybe he couldn’t because Lafayette Escadrille is a Warners release and you sure don’t see that film as part of the box set.
Instead, The Eastwood Factor has Schickel in movie-critic
search mode, looking for significant themes to unify Eastwood the
auteur. Schickel comes closest with his five-minute dissertation on the
unexpected sense of family unity that accompanies The Outlaw Josey Wales
(1976), a near-masterpiece western with its haunting Jerry Fielding
score (Schickel ignores the fact that Eastwood replaced original
director Philip Kaufman during the shoot, however). On the other hand,
narrator Freeman parrots Schickel’s description of Pale Rider (1984) as a “unique western,” when it has been pretty much dismissed as a pallid imitation of director George Stevens’ Shane.
The Warners-only mandate also hurts Schickel’s attempts to place
Eastwood in the auteurist pantheon. He cites the daring kinkiness that
drives Eastwood’s character in writer-director Richard Tuggle’s
underrated Tightrope (1984), yet those walk-on-the-wild-side aberrations were apparent in the 1971 Universal thriller Play Misty for Me that marked Eastwood’s directorial debut. Schickel notes the tenderness behind The Bridges of Madison County (1995), yet director Eastwood got there two decades earlier for the May-December romance of Breezy, a Universal release that came out in 1973.
For that matter, Schickel never mentions the occasional fractious
relationship between Eastwood and Warners. Despite the fact that he
made millions for the studio, Eastwood still had troubles raising the
financial capital for Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby
(2004), with both works becoming award-winning critical successes. Nor
is there a mention of the quid pro quo Eastwood had to perform for
Warners in order to direct Bird (1988), his pet project on
troubled jazz great Charlie Parker—by headlining the fifth, and least
effective, Dirty Harry project, The Dead Pool (1988).
This documentary tribute is a mostly undernourished project, yet the
ageless superstar still makes for an ingratiating presence. On his own
quirky resume, he admits, “Like most pictures that I’ve done, I had no
idea whether anybody wanted to see them. But I figured. “I’d
like to see it,’ so I kind of went for it from that angle.” Such
straight-shooting adds a degree of timeless vitality to Eastwood’s
ever-expanding cinema canon, and that’s far more than can be said for The Eastwood Factor, a catalog of missed opportunities that indicate Richard Schickel is just coasting with this so-so documentary.
Turner Classic Movies’ tribute to Eastwood on Monday, May 31, begins with The First Traveling Saleslady
(6 a.m.), made in 1956 opposite Carol Channing (!) during Eastwood’s
salad days, then proceeds with the Sergio Leone trilogy of A Fistful of Dollars (1964; 8 a.m.), For a Few Dollars More (1965; 9:45 a.m.) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966; noon), followed by Hang ’Em High (1968; 3 p.m.), Where Eagles Dare (5 p.m.) and Kelly’s Heroes (8 p.m.). The Eastwood Factor airs at 10:30 p.m. and repeats at 4:15 a.m.; sandwiched between those runs will be Dirty Harry (12:15 a.m.) and Magnum Force (1973; 2 a.m.).