– Summary –
Director : John Sturgess
Cast : Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, John Saxon, Stella Garcia, Don Stroud, James Wainwright, Paul Koslo, Gregory Walcott, Dick Van Patten, Lynn Marta.
Year Of Release : 1972
Length : 88 Minutes
Synopsis: When a renegade Mexican revolutionary threatens properties in a small town, a drunken shootist and a wealthy land owner team up to find him. Morals and ethics are tossed aside quite quickly.
Review : Dull, dramatically pointless and undercooked cinematic travesty from acclaimed director John Sturgess, Joe Kidd is nothing but a disappointment in almost every regard. Worthwhile only for Eastwood completists, and for a steady, unassuming showing by Robert Duvall.
Anaemic, overly long, and somewhat thin story about a drunkard leading a group of mercenaries on a hunt for a renegade outlaw; Joe Kidd is not exactly the first film that comes to mind when thinking of the Clint Eastwood oeuvre. Rightly so, this mediocre affair will forever be consigned to DVD bargain bins, which is a shame considering the talent both in front of, and behind the camera.
John Sturgess, who directed films such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape (yes, that one!), Never So Few and Last Train From Gun Hill, brings his considerable talent to bear on this film, which you’d think would be fairly well developed. Instead, the script, from Elmore Leonard (who wrote such classics as 3:10 To Yuma, Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, Be Cool and The Big Bounce) seems a little flitty, a little sketchy at best. The characters are ill defined, the action is stop-start and aggravatingly slow, and the film’s point is lost in translation somewhere from Leonards brain to Sturgess’ vision. Even the great Lalo Schifrin, whose music scores for films like Bullit, Cool Hand Luke, and Dirty Harry had elevated his status to a Hollywood legend of sorts, seems a little off-key here, with a middling musical effort bordering on boring.
Regular Sturgess editor Ferris Webster seems unable to concoct a cohesive narrative with the material, the bulk of the film set outside the town of Sinola, where the pursuit of Chuma takes place. The film’s opening twenty minutes, which seems to drag quite considerably, when they’re obviously meant to instill a sense of either dread or anticipation of a showdown, could be trimmed quite easily down to a lot less, shortening the film but still allowing the plot and character development to move along with good pace. Speaking of pacing, I think this point is the film’s biggest failing: the pacing of scenes and action seems a little off, which is disappointing. Webster would go on to redeem himself with Eastwood as director, cutting many of the directors’ films like High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Firefox to name a few.
Eastwood stars as Kidd, a drunken town reprobate who is seconded by wealthy land owner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) to chase down a Mexican bandit/outlaw, Chama (John Saxon) who is leading a revolt of the local peasants to return land they see as rightfully theirs. Duvall is a cryptically brutal man, somebody for whom the word “no” apparently doesn’t exist. If he can buy it, then he does so, and if people don’t want to, then he simply kills them or pays them enough to go away. Duvall is amazingly straight in this film, his usual cinematic shtick giving way to a mainly steady, angry performance I don’t think I’ve seen from him outside of Apocalypse Now. Eastwood and Duvall are traditionally pretty reliable for giving top-notch screen performances in their films, although I think while Duvall does the best of the two leads, Eastwood is given short thrift by a script that calls for him to be mysteriously mysterious to the point of being almost untouchable. He strides through the film, barely looking sideways at his fellow cast, as he merely appears to be going through motions he’s done a hundred times before. Discover the bad guys, discover their dirty secret, have his guns taken away, recover guns through the use of subterfuge, and strike back in a way that’s overly dramatic and memorable. In Joe Kidd, Eastwood drives a train through the Bad Guy’s hideout. Ludicrous, of course, since somebody decided to build a saloon right at the end of a train track, but still memorable.
Watch for a solid cameo appearance by Dick Van Patten (best known to younger audiences as the dimwitted king of Druidia (and Princess Vespa’s father) in Spaceballs, here playing the manager of a hotel Harlan takes over when his posse moves into town.
Sturgess has a commanding cinematic style, it has to be said. Previous outings such as the aforementioned great Escape are a true indication of his sense of timing, scale and ability to handle widescreen action with aplomb. So whatever he was drinking between takes on Joe Kidd must have seriously hampered his ability to get a decent performance out of Eastwood or the other actors, and in what eventually turns out to be a dramatic misfire, deals quite haphazardly with the action sequences (boring) and the dramatic moments (pointless), leaving you with a film that’s feels like it was directed, performed and edited in slow motion. In short, I think Sturgess felt he was trying to create a classic, where as we all know it’s impossible to determine which film, if any, become true classics for whatever reason. This “trying” approach mars what could have been a fairly solid adventure film from Eastwood, and as such, relegates it to a “wannabe” instead of a true “classic”.
Joe Kidd has a heck of a lot going for it. Great cast, great locations, great score composer and screenplay potential, and all you end up with is a slow, generic mess that has virtually no point, no tension, and no hope of being entertaining. Eastwood is good, Duvall is better, and nobody cares.
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