The Gauntlet (1977)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack
Produced by Robert Daley
Whether The Gauntlet is one of the lousiest action movies ever made or a wickedly funny satire of lousy action movies, it certainly ranks as one of the more bizarre Clint Eastwood ever made. The most expensive Malpaso production up to that point in time with a budget of $5 million, it boasted top notch stuntwork and two over-the-moon sequences in which a house and a bus were each wired to explode with 250,000 squibs. Somehow, it all manages to look and feel like a low down dirty B-movie, as if made by a film company traveling around on a bus, making things up as they went along. Taking a story as old as It Happened One Night and refreshed as recently as Midnight Run, the plot proceeds in such a wildly idiotic manner that scenes practically beg for the Looney Toons logo and fanfare to precede them.
The Gauntlet can be excused as a drive-in movie, with moments of high intensity followed by stretches where you can go for popcorn, wander around and then return to your car when it looks like something is about to get blowed up real good. None of the banter between Eastwood and Sondra Locke (taking a role the studio pursued Barbra Streisand to fill) has any thought put into it at all. Even when the couple elicits moments of genuine affection for each other, it barely makes sense within the wacky mechanics of the plot, which builds toward one of the most ridiculous action sequences ever conceived. Frank Franzetta illustrated a fantastic poster that offers a hint into how seriously this picture was taking itself, but judging by what made it on screen, it’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers were in on the joke.
As the sun rises in Phoenix, disheveled metro cop Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) reports for work and is ribbed for looking so sloppy by his former partner Maynard Josephson (Pat Hingle) who’s been promoted to a desk job. Summoned before new police commissioner Blakelock (William Prince), Shockley is dispatched to Las Vegas to pick up someone named Gus Mally, who the commissioner maintains is a nobody witness for a nothing trial. Shockley discovers that “Gus” is actually Augustina Mally (Sondra Locke), a feisty hooker who claims that not only is someone looking to kill her, but that bookies in town have actually put a betting line on them never making it to Phoenix. As dumb as he looks, Shockley discovers there is indeed a horse named “Mally No Show” with 50-1 odds that are getting steeper all the time.
Shockley sneaks Mally out of jail in an ambulance but comes under attack before they can reach the airport. The couple seeks refuge at Mally’s workplace, but when Shockley calls the commissioner to request an escort, the entire Las Vegas Police Department shows up and blows the house to bits. Escaping in a storm drain, Shockley and Mally hijack a constable (Bill McKinney) who gets them to the Arizona border before he’s riddled with bullets. Stranded overnight in the desert, Mally reveals that she’s to testify against a sadistic john that sounds a lot like the Phoenix police commissioner. Realizing he’s been played for a stooge by his superiors, Shockley commandeers a charter bus, reinforces it with steel and shares his route with the commissioner, who prepare a reception for the couple’s bus in Phoenix.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 16 users: 81% for The Gauntlet
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
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