THE GAUNTLET, 1977
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh, Carole Cook
Review by Surinder Singh
Strong-willed but mediocre cop Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) is given a special mission by his superiors: to escort prostitute and witness Gus Mally (Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix. The only catch is that the two of them are being set up and are never supposed to reach Phoenix alive! Shockley and Mally form a relationship to be reckoned with as they dodge bullets and enemies on the road to Phoenix.
It’s fair to say that not all of Eastwood’s directorial forays have been greeted with awards and critical praise. What is clear is that he has embraced a wide range of subjects and genres over the years with his directing career never afraid of tackling any subject head on. The Gauntlet is a more offbeat, character piece despite what the movie poster is trying to sell you. Sure the bullets fly and the vehicles smash but this is not the heart of the movie.
Like in the masterful Play Misty For Me (1971) Eastwood has put forth another strong female character. The charismatic Mally arrives in the typical western guise of the ‘hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold’ but sheds the clichÈ as soon as the films gets going. While she’s clearly vulnerable, she is also incredibly intelligent and immediately out smarts the intimidating, unflinching chaperone of Clint Eastwood. The best scenes in the movie are those showing Mally manipulating the slightly slow-witted Shockley.
Eastwood is knowingly playing against type here. He knows we are expecting him to tear up the screen and outsmart the bad guys with his amazing physical ability. But like all great directors Eastwood goes the opposite way to expectations and plays Shockley as a man on equal terms with his female character. Locke and Eastwood cleverly play their scenes like a bickering married couple rather than the obvious hero and damsel in distress.
Sondra Locke deserves a lot of praise for being able to hold her own next to one of cinema’s most formidable screen talents. Her most powerful scene is where she coldly pushes a chauvinistic cop to the point of mental breaking point with a long, insightful put down. Such is the intensity of Locke’s performance that we almost forget Eastwood is even in the car! The point made here is that no matter what label society hangs on you, a person can be strong, confident and survive the toughest of social situations.
It’s very pleasing to see Shockley and Mally’s relationship bloom into a real relationship over time. While it’s a convention we are expecting, the relationship is believable and not contrived. They’re the classic tortured souls who could certainly go further in life if they stayed together. The other side to this relationship is that Mally teaches Shockley things about himself he never noticed and vice versa. Despite his failure to catch onto the conspiracy, Shockley learns from Mally that he’s actually a better cop than he realizes.
Everything comes to a head in the film’s final climax. The title of the film refers to the final action set piece of Shockley and Mally driving through a gauntlet of gun fire (complements of a corrupt police department) in a bus turned to Swiss cheese. It could be argued that the sequence is slightly too long and doesn’t really develop as a piece of action. But what the slow pace does do is give you a feeling of suspense that our two main characters may not survive the ordeal.
The films ends with a final genre defiant move; Mally draws the gun and shoots the bad guy. In a standard cop thriller it would be customary for Eastwood to do this but after the entire journey it feels rather fitting that Mally do it! The film proves that a successful partnership between two people has to be a 50/50 scenario. Yet despite having such universal themes The Gauntlet seems to be a hard movie to place. Perhaps in time film audiences will re-visit this seventies classic!