Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Joe Kidd (Universal, 1972)

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Bruce Surtees, Elmore Leonard, John Sturges – it’s a great combination
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Early 1900s, somewhere down on the Mexican border (“Sinola County”). Clint Eastwood as Joe Kidd is just emerging from spaghetti gruntings into real characters although director John Sturges has obviously been watching a few spaghettis because we have jangly Lalo Schifrin music and a band of spaghetti-esque killers (they are quite good, in fact).

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The qualities of this film come from four things: the acting, especially Eastwood and Robert Duvall but also some of the minor parts; the directing (Sturges was a good Western director, sometimes going beyond that into the very good, though there were complaints on this one that he had something of a drink problem); and the wonderful scenery, filmed in Panavision in the Inyo National Forest along the California/Nevada border by Bruce Surtees, surely one of the greatest Western cinematic photographers.

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That’s three, you say. But of course the principal ingredient is the fact that it was written by Elmore Leonard and I don’t know of a bad Western by him. The story, characters and plot are gripping, authentic (especially the firearms) and, well, just right.

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The “charismatic” revolutionary Luis Chama (John Saxon) does not endear himself to us with his comment to his woman, “I don’t keep you to think. I keep you for cold nights and days when there’s nothing to do”. IMDb tell us, “In the original script, Luis Chama was a more heroic and multi-layered character, but Eastwood wanted to be seen as the hero, so this was changed throughout filming. Saxon said, “Clint needed to be the guy who dealt with all the action, so in the end, Chama was smeared with self-serving and cowardice, so it was clear who the main hero was.” Saxon attended a NOSOTROS meeting, a Latin American organization opposed to stereotypes, and publicly apologized for playing such a dubious character.” Saxon was a very good actor in Westerns, I think.

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The killers are brutal and very expert with their ultra-modern weapons. Their boss, Duvall, is the most ruthless of all. He finally gets his day in court.

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There’s an important question of land rights underpinning the tale.

 

Firearms buffs might like to know that care was taken to esnsure that the weapons used were period-correct (it’s set in 1912). Robert Duvall’s Custom Savage 99 (1899), James Wainwright’s Remington-Keene sporter (1880) in .45-70, Don Stroud’s Mauser C-96 (1896) broomhandle, and Clint’s Cased Ross Rifle sporter model M-10 (1910) in .280 are all authentic.

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A good movie, produced by Eastwood’s company Malpaso, not in the Josey Wales or Pale Rider class, and certainly nowhere near Unforgiven in quality (after all, Clint didn’t direct this one – it was the last Eastwood Western to be directed by someone else, and Sturges later said he didn’t get on with Clint and wished he had resigned) but nevertheless it is by no means one of his worst and visually a treat.

 

Not everyone liked it. Roger Ebert said that “The director is John Sturges, who has made infinitely better films than this one. He seems to have bogged down. The photography is undeniably beautiful, but there comes a point when we’ve had too many mountains and too little plot. All that holds the movie together is the screen persona of Eastwood, who is so convincingly tight-lipped that sometimes you have the feeling he knows what’s going on and just won’t tell.”

 

I thought it was pretty good, though.

 

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6 Responses

  1. John Saxon has just left us a few days ago at 83… Even if you think he was not at his best in Joe Kidd, as you say you usually like him in westerns – he was a guest in many TV ones such as The Virginian or Bonanza – he could be one of your next focus !?
    JM

    1. For an Easterner he was very good in the West. He rode extremely well, for one thing. He was outstanding in several Westerns, I thought.

    1. Hello, Christopher. I agree with what you wrote on JOE KIDD. And I find your blog (new to me) fascinatingly eclectic!
      Jeff

  2. Excellent review. I like this film too! That ending, what a hoot! All ‘Joe Kidd’ fans (I know you are out there) should check out the HD Blu ray. Looks smashing like it was filmed yesterday with great color and detail. Check it out!

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