Silverback Clint

[We just watched Cry Macho, Clint’s latest. It’s a weak offering on all fronts, but it gives us a chance to be reminded of the many contributions that Clint has made to our collective lives. He belongs in the Silverback Hall of Fame. SB SM]

This list is from, September 20, 2021.

Clint Eastwood is often viewed more as an icon than an actor.

In Sergio Leone films, he’s the “man with no name,” staring down adversaries with a deadly squint and a malevolent hint of a grin, his craggy face mirroring the rocky landscape of the Spanish countryside where the spaghetti westerns were shot. As Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan, Eastwood explodes on the screen with a kind of laconic intensity, daring crooks and psychopaths to “go ahead, make my day.” And somehow, over the decades, that persona has ripened, with Eastwood allowing moviegoers to see him grow more vulnerable. In later life masterpieces like “Bridges of Madison County” and “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood’s still a loner, still tougher than everyone else on the screen, yet willing to show the ravages of time, gruffly holding off the dying of the light. True, he’s no shape-shifter. No Daniel Day-Lewis style chameleon. There’s an inherent “Clint-ness” to all of his performances. But the notes he hits are played with a master’s flare.

Eastwood returns to screens this Friday in “Cry Macho,” still going strong at age 91. Here’s a look back at some of the defining performances of his storied career.10

Play Misty for Me (1971)

Clint Eastwood Play Misty For Me

Photo : Courtesy of Everett Collection

The psychological thriller marked Eastwood’s directorial debut. He gave himself the role of a disc jockey who picks the wrong woman to have casual sex with in this precursor to “Fatal Attraction.” Jessica Walters as his jilted lover has the showier role, but Eastwood ably plays the audience surrogate. He’s kind of a jerk, but we root for him anyway.9

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Clint Eastwood Where Eagles Dare

Photo : Courtesy of Everett Collection

Pure escapist pleasure. Eastwood and Richard Burton make an unlikely, but satisfying on-screen duo in this story of a team of paratroopers tasked with raiding an impregnable, mountaintop Nazi fortress. The actors reportedly dubbed the film “where doubles dare” due to the extensive on-screen work of stuntmen, but the action sequences are genuinely thrilling and still stand up decades later.8

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1973)

Clint Eastwood Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Photo : Courtesy of Everett Collection

Clint in minor key. It’s the story of a bank robber who takes a young scamp (Jeff Bridges, never better) under his wing as he tries to evade his pissed off former gang of thieves and the police in pursuit of hidden loot. Fun yet poignant, with Eastwood, always the most generous of actors, giving Bridges room to shine.7

Dirty Harry (1971)

Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry

Photo : Courtesy of Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Eastwood achieved a new level of superstardom as a tough San Francisco cop who bends the rules in his pursuit of justice. Harry Callahan is a fascist with a blatant disregard for the laws he’s sworn to uphold, but moral qualms aside, it’s hard to think of a more memorable movie performance than the one Eastwood pulls off here.6

Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

Clint Eastwood Escape From Alcatraz

Photo : Courtesy of Paramount/Everett Collection

A drama about a real-life prison break in San Francisco Bay with Eastwood playing Frank Morris, a brilliant thief with the ingenuity and daring to figure out a way off the Rock. Tense and economical, the final sequence where Morris and his accomplices escape from their cells and struggle to avoid detection is gripping.5

The Beguiled (1971)

Clint Eastwood The Beguiled

Photo : Courtesy of Everett Collection

Eastwood’s injured Yankee soldier leaves the teenage residents of a seminary and their batty headmistress hot under the corset, triggering a wave of murderous jealousy in this hammy slice of Southern gothic. The actor’s transformation from rakish cad to victim ranks among his finest works. “The Beguiled” bombed on release, but it hinted at hidden depths to Eastwood’s on-screen talent.4

Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood Unforgiven

Photo : Courtesy of Warner Bros./Everett Collection

The film that triggered Eastwood’s improbable second career as an Oscar darling, with the actor scoring a Best Picture statue and a prize for his directing. Much of the praise at the time went to Eastwood’s filmmaking, but his acting here is top-shelf too. “Unforgiven” is a movie that deals with the consequences of violence and as Will Munny, a former outlaw hanging tenuously onto life on the straight-and-narrow, Eastwood personifies the dark heart of the old West.3

Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Clint Eastwood Bridges of Madison County

Photo : Courtesy of Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Fans of the Robert James Waller potboiler wanted Robert Redford to play Robert Kincaid, the National Geographic photographer who has a passionate affair with Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife. It’s good that Eastwood took the role instead. Redford would have been too glossy, too plucked from the pages of a romance novel. In contrast, Eastwood makes you feel the loneliness that is a part of Kincaid’s itinerant existence and the last, best hope for love and connection that Meryl Streep’s Francesca represents. No eye is left dry as Streep and Eastwood have their last, longing rain-swept encounter.2

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Clint Eastwood The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Photo : Courtesy of Everett Collection

Eastwood’s “Blondie” is the quintessential Western antihero, with his ever-present cigar, poncho, six shooter and flexible moral compass. The greatest of the actor’s collaborations with Leone, a sprawling, go-for-bonkers update on the kind of movies John Ford and John Wayne once made. Oft imitated, occasionally parodied, there’s no beating the original for it brutality and inventiveness (there’s never been a better shootout than the film’s finale). And it’s Eastwood, with his sun-blanched stare who holds the camera’s gaze and delivers a performance that resonates down through the ages.1

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Clint Eastwood Million Dollar Baby

Photo : Courtesy of Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Frankie Dunn, the ornery boxing coach that Eastwood plays in this Oscar-winner, is hard to love, let alone like. But he’s transformed through his mentorship of the plucky Maggie (Hilary Swank), a fighter with nothing to lose who becomes a surrogate daughter to Frankie. Their goodbye achieves a tragic weight that few films can manage to achieve, which is a credit to Eastwood’s boundless talent and his courage as a performer.

2 thoughts on “Silverback Clint

  1. Nice to read these short summaries of his best films, and of course there are others worthy of mention, but there is a space limit, after all!. But one film that resonates with me is Gran Torino. I can still feel the lurking, ominous dread that pervades that one, many years after I saw it in a small theater in Belfast, Me.

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