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Get Off the Bus

May 24th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Gauntlet 1977 poster Gauntlet DVD

The Gauntlet (1977)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack
Produced by Robert Daley
109 minutes

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.

31 Days of Eastwood

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.

Gauntlet 1977 Pat Hingle Clint Eastwood

Gauntlet 1977 Sondra Locke

Gauntlet 1977 Sondra Locke Clint Eastwood

Gauntlet 1977 Clint Eastwood Sondra Locke Bill McKinney

Gauntlet 1977 Sondra Locke Clint Eastwood

Gauntlet 1977

Gauntlet 1977 Clint Eastwood

Gauntlet 1977 Clint Eastwood Sondra Locke

Gauntlet 1977

Gauntlet 1977 Clint Eastwood Sondra Locke

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 16 users: 81% for The Gauntlet

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Bathtub scene · Black comedy · Crooked officer · Drunk scene · Gangsters and hoodlums · Hitman · Prostitute · Road trip · Train

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan // Nov 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    The Gauntlet has so many plot holes I wonder how Clint escapes the abyss. But it’s difficult not to like. There’s certainly something fun about it even amidst the stupid plot points and character motivation that defies logic. But I love the poser though – now that is a piece of art I’d like on my wall.

  • 2 Walt Coogan // Jul 23, 2013 at 3:11 am

    This film is extremely underrated by most viewers (although Roger Ebert praised it). I think of it as a low-rent companion piece to “Apocalypse Now,” a postmodern “African Queen,” a metaphor for the Vietnam War and Watergate, a virtuoso action parody, a quasi-feminist character study, and an eye-opening examination of conformity, police excess, the perils of loyalty and patriotism, the blindness of the human condition, and also the continued possibility of romance and catharsis. The bluesy jazz score with Jon Faddis on trumpet and Art Pepper on saxophone, combined with the bleak urban and rural landscapes of 1970s Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the intervening desert, add to the mood and look of ironic dissonance.

    People talk about the supposed lack of realism, but doesn’t Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” also throw realism to the wind for the sake of symbolic spectacle? And given the documented nature of many police confrontations over the years, including with the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army, ask yourself if “The Gauntlet” is that unrealistic, after all.

  • 3 Walt Coogan // Jul 23, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Indeed, I love the comment that critic David Ansen offered in “Newsweek” when he wrote that “The Gauntlet” proved akin to “a sword-and-sorcery epic recast in tacky Southwestern drag.”

    Consider Ben Shockley as a debased prince who, in his apathy and perpetual stupor, has numbly succumbed to the kingdom’s routines and lost any ability to detect corruption. Consider Gus Mally as a debased princess who fights to open his eyes while a testy romance brews. And consider Commissioner Blakelock as the cynical and evil old king, for whom soldiers are simply pawns designed to take orders, not think them through. Now consider the debased prince deciding, with the help of the debased princess, to take an epic journey back home to confront the evil old king and his mindless minions, to depose the monarch and open the eyes of his subjects and soldiers. Indeed, there’s an element of Greek mythology to “The Gauntlet,” which is one reason why I’ve analogized the film to “Apocalypse Now.”

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