Eastwood: Every Which Way But Loose

“Don’t do it!” – They said

“It’ll ruin your career” – They said

“We won’t back you” – They said

“Your a fool!” – They said

‘They’ (and there were lots of them), were of course talking about the idea of steel eyed action movie tough guy actor Clint Eastwood doing a light hearted, comedy movie like Every Which Way But Loose. What’s more, ‘they’ were completely and utterly wrong about pretty much everything. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

Read on, dear reader, read on..

So, the Clint Eastwood season of retrospectives on Filmwerk continues unabated, and we are only now edging towards the end of the 1970s. Amazing.

This will be my fourth contribution to the series, and I have enjoyed revisiting every one the movies I’ve covered, as well catching up with a few of the great films my colleagues have been writing about also.

Every Which Way But Loose in particular was an honest to goodness repeat rental video for me throughout the 80s (rather than one I saw mainly on TV like many of Clint’s earlier movies). I was only seven in 1978, so for the most part, I grew up in a world where this film (and the sequel Any Which Way You Can), were already hugely successful. As a result, I have very little conscious memory of what it must have been like for the prevailing winds to have been so against Clint Eastwood doing such an out and out (Although it must be said, very offbeat) comedy movie like this. However, thinking real hard about it, I can remember my dad not really liking it much. Reading some of the available literature on the subject does give one a little more insight, if not a full understanding of the situation. It was Dirty Harry with an Orangutan after all!! Crazy right?

So for the handful of remote South American pygmies that haven’t yet seen the film at least once; the premise goes a bit like this:

Clint plays Philo Beddoe a honky-tonk frequenting truck driver and and bare knuckle brawler with a good heart. He lives in the San Fernando valley with his best bud Orville (actually, at the outset, it’s not always clear what the relationship is between the two men, and I always thought they were brothers). Anyway, Orville is joyfully played by (Geoffrey Lewis, such a solid actor, here again on top form). Together, they live with their ‘Ma’ (the truly amazing, scene thieving Ruth Gordon), who is actually Orville’s elderly mother (although this is not confirmed here, rather in the aforementioned sequel. Trust me, Gordon is just fantastic to watch and so delightfully caustic. I always loved the ‘Ma’ character as a kid, and still do.

Beddoe is rapidly making a name for himself on the brawling circuit as the man who could possibly challenge the undefeated top dog in the sport, a certain Tank Murdock. One night at his favourite haunt (The Palomino), Philo meets and begins (rather inexplicably if you ask me), to fall for an aspiring country singer called Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke….again, yawn!). They become close (or so Philo thinks), and spend some time getting to know each other and having fun. Just as a deeper relationship seems to be developing though; she ups and splits town. This is after our man has spent a load of ill-gotten cash on her too, very poor form. Her departure is swift, with no goodbyes and under slightly mysterious circumstances.

Very concerned (although we’re talking the Clint Eastwood style of being ‘very concerned’ which is to not say too much at all), Beddoe immediately plans a road trip east towards Denver to find his gal (only later do we find out, she really didn’t want to be found, least of all by him). Philo is accompanied on the trip by Orville (plus the very lovely Echo, a gal he picks up early on the trip), oh and of course, the one and only Clyde, the aforementioned Orangutan (domesticated of course….well almost).

Before leaving on the road trip, Beddoe manages to start a scrap in the Palamino with two off duty cops, as well as have a fracas or two with various members of a grubby biker gang (the comedically inept ‘Black Widows’). Both parties end up trailing Beddoe and company across country, failing miserably to even intimidate, let alone best him in any way shape or form.

Philo and co have various ‘road trip’ adventures, he has a fight or two, and Clyde gets laid. Eventually Philo just happens upon his gal while out jogging by a lake, and they end up doing a little mattress mambo themselves. All is not well though, and she stands him up again, and shoots through. Strange girl.

The movie rounds out with final confrontations with Halsey-Taylor, as well as the Black Widows, plus a hastily arranged prizefight with retiring big kahuna burger brawler ‘Tank Murdock’, which Philo throws.

And that’s it, once these various situations have been tied up; they travel home to the valley (passing the poor battered Black Widows limping home on the highway). The excellent Eddie Rabbit title song plays, and the credits role. Full stop, the end… …well, until the sequel.

It’s a very enjoyable romp, and still has plenty of power to thoroughly entertain. It’s not side-splittingly funny, and I’m not sure if it ever was quite that kind of movie. But it definitely has it’s funny moments, but it’s a very feel good time movie, and almost every one of the main players convey themselves in a likeable, endearing manner.

The only blot on that statement, and something that never quite worked for me in the film was the casting of Sondra Locke as Lynn Halsey-Taylor. I know she and Clint were an item at the time and (as a result?) she ended up landing lead roles in like half a dozen of his movies. In all honesty, I never thought she was really a good enough actress to warrant some of these appearances, but that might be an unfair bias. I think she was better cast in some of the others (The Gauntlet springs to mind), but I still don’t like her. I’m not sure what it is about her that is so difficult to warm to. The character herself is of course, ultimately not particularly nice, and callously does her best to break our man’s heart (before he comes to his senses of course). But even before we find out what she’s all about; you just don’t take any kind of shine to her at all, and I’m sure we as the audience are really supposed to at least feel neutral, and give the gal a chance before we make up our minds about her. Instead you positively can’t stand the woman pretty much from the word go.

Locke’s frosty demeanour, and slightly waxy skin-tone, smugness, and boney, almost gaunt physicality is in direct polar opposition to Beverly D’Angelo’s instantly warming, sexy, curvy and very lovely character “Echo” – What? “Echo” – Yes folks, they pull that gag at least three times in the movie.

I don’t mean to wail on poor skinny Sondra, but i just don’t get it man, why is she even in this movie? Certainly not for her singing or guitar miming skills.

Ok, let’s forget about Sondra Locke for the rest of our time here, because luckily she’s mostly absent from lots and lots of the movie. Instead we get consistently lovely interplay between Clint, Lewis, D’Angelo and of course the big orange fury dude. Ma is fabulous (“Twelve ribs, my ass!!”), and of course the poor, inept Black Widows are always entertaining to the point where you even feel a bit sorry for them.

We also get a really killer, award winning country blues imbued soundtrack. There’s of course the title song which has become a minor classic, but the movie also featured the silver haired Charlie Rich performing ‘I’ll Wake You Up When I Get Home’ which also became a hit. The soundtrack as a whole is excellently handled. I think most people remember the immediately recognisable sleazy sax, and “Sha Na Na’s” of the Black Widow gang’s theme. It’s just an inherently funny piece of movie music that has endured.

Watching the movie for this review, I was really trying very hard to mentally wind back to 1978 and get a feel for what it must have been like watching Clint Eastwood let his hair down and have so much fun for the first time. I guess, judging by how successful the movie immediately became, that people really dug it. I still do, and just love the guy even more watching him here. Although I could probably do without the scene when he mimes to the famous Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan call, but y’know, that damn call gets everywhere (did George Lucas have anything to do with this movie?).

Oh crikey, watching the movie again has just reminded me of two things I had completely forgotten about. The first is the popular misconception that this is the film that contains the famous and oft quoted line “Right turn Clyde”. Actually no, this line is from the sequel ‘Any Which Way You Can‘, and does not actually appear here at all. The second is one of those Benji embarrassing admissions: As a teen, I seem to remember briefly developing a relaxed running style that was totally aping (no pun intended) Eastwood’s gate in this movie (and the sequel). This involved jogging along a bit while throwing the odd jab, and shaking out the old arms, brawler stylee. Jeepers I was so damn cool, it’s no wonder I was human girl repellent for most of my early teens. Oh well.

So just before I wrap up this sweet little slice of Clintcake, I just wanted to mention something I never really noticed before. Weirdly, although we always side with Philo, whatever trouble he gets into (just like we’re supposed to). When you look dispassionately at some of his behaviour throughout the movie; it ranges from mere questionable judgement to downright troublemaking, colossally violent overreaction and even criminal breaking and entering. Do you think that the Black Widows would have pulled his Ma’s porch down and chased him halfway across Colorado if he had just ignored the first two idiot bikers taking the piss out of Clyde at the top of the movie? I guess most to of the male characters in the film (except the mild mannered Orville), are somewhat quick to come to the wrong conclusion, or break into fisticuffs, so i guess we can just let it go (something none of these dudes ever do). Oh well never mind, so our Philo is a little quick to start punching people; I still want him to come out on top, and that’s one of the talents of our man Clint right?

I won’t be covering Any Which Way You Can, but I’m really looking forward to reading the retrospective of it when it appears a few days after this piece goes up. I might even go and watch it now, while the first film, as well as the writing of this retrospective are still fresh in the mind. I do remember it being a slightly lesser movie overall, but still great fun. I guess I’ll find out. What’s without any doubt is that in Every Which Way But Loose, director James Fargo, Clint Eastwood and the rest of the cast and crew managed to deliver a movie that was funny, endearing and engaging. It was fun, good natured and featured top draw performances from a solid cast of actors who all looked like they were having a blast (Locke notwithstanding). It gave us original and enduring elements, indelible movie images, and a great soundtrack to boot. It also made bucket-loads of cash on a very modest budget.

Job done then.

Ben Pegley

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