Joe Kidd

Clint Eastwood in Joe Kidd (dir. John Sturges, 1972).

Do I think of John Sturges' films as "sturdy" simply because his name begins with Stur? Could be, but Joe Kidd, adapted by Elmore Leonard from his story Sinola, is that if not much else. Eastwood is likeable enough in the title role, but is not operating at full power (he had a bad flu for the duration of the shooting). His character seems modeled in part after Dean Martin's "Dude" in Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo: the washed-up town drunk who gets his groove back under pressure. Eastwood can do this routine passably, but here it isn't a necessary part of the story, and even if it were, it's not as gratifying as when Martin does it. We don't cheer for him in the same way. We don't want him to shake off his demons; we want him to harness them, as he does in Unforgiven, where there's little doubt he'll go back to hitting the bottle after the credits roll.

Robert Duvall makes a good mean son of a bitch as Frank Harlan, the landowner who pays Kidd to help him go after the rather dull John Saxon as Mexican revolutionary Luis Chama (which Harlan pronounces "Chay-ma"). A lot of the tension is broken about halfway through when Harlan dispenses with Kidd's services and it's clearly established that Kidd is thenceforth on Chama's side. Up to that point, it's interesting watching Kidd trying to wrestle with his priorities, but then it all just settles into a big comfortable shoot-'em-up. You do get to see a train plough into a barroom, which is nice.

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