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Eastwood on Eastwood

Eastwood on Eastwood(1997)

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"Acting - I just assumed that you had to be some sort of a clown or an extravert to do that, so I never thought about pursuing a profession like that," says Clint Eastwood of his early career aspirations in the documentary Eastwood on Eastwood (1997). And now, almost fifty years after his first film, Eastwood's characters, from Dirty Harry to "The Man With No Name," have become cinema touchstones and he has become an Oscar® winning director. He's played his share of tough guys, but Eastwood can also play a romantic character as seen in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), for example. Still, "his deadliest weapons," as narrator John Cusack puts it, "have always been irony, silence and surpassing cool."

Eastwood first entered the movies playing bit parts at Universal in B-pictures like Revenge of the Creature and Tarantula, both 1955. But his big break occurred on the small screen - when he was cast as Rowdy Yates in the Western TV series Rawhide. Eastwood played the character he affectionately referred to as "the idiot of the plains" for seven seasons from 1959 to 1966. His television exposure earned Eastwood a unique opportunity. He received a script for a low budget Italian Western that he recognized as an adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa samurai film Yojimbo (1961). The movie was A Fistful of Dollars (1964) written and directed by Sergio Leone. At worst, Eastwood figured he'd get a trip to Europe out of the deal. Instead, it was a turning point in his career. A Fistful of Dollars was a surprise hit and developed a cult following in the U.S. Two more films with Leone would follow: For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Leone's Spaghetti Westerns broke all the rules of a Hollywood Western; they introduced anti-heroic protagonists, showed guns being fired and the victims in the same shot, and evoked the violence and anarchy of the American frontier.

The next phase of Eastwood's career marked another step forward - working with director Don Siegel, who would direct Eastwood in five pictures. The first three were Coogan's Bluff (1968) which brought Eastwood's Western lawman to the urban metropolis of New York City, Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) a Western comedy with Shirley MacLaine and The Beguiled (1971), a Southern Gothic drama set during the Civil War. Eastwood's fourth film with Siegel would be another defining moment in his career - and give birth to a trademark character in Dirty Harry (1971). The sarcastic San Francisco cop would survive four sequels, Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988), and become a part of the pop culture canon along with some catchy one-liners ("Go ahead. Make my day," etc.) Siegel only directed the first film in the series and his final Eastwood vehicle was the 1979 prison thriller Escape from Alcatraz, based on a real incident.

But Siegel would greatly influence Eastwood in another way; he inspired him to direct his own movies. And when Eastwood directed his first film, the 1971 thriller Play Misty for Me, he cast his mentor Siegel in a small part as a bartender. He has since directed over twenty films, including Pale Rider (1985), Bird (1988), a biography of jazz legend Charlie Parker, and the recent Academy Award® nominee Mystic River (2003). A high point in Eastwood's directorial career came with Unforgiven (1992) for which he won the Oscar® for Best Picture and Best Director. He was also nominated for Best Actor. Despite the move to directing, Eastwood continues to act. His aging Secret Service agent in In the Line of Fire (1993) reminded audiences why, no matter how great a director he is, they still like Eastwood where they can see him - in front of the camera.

Director: Richard Schickel
Narrator: John Cusack

by Stephanie Thames

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