Eastwood: City Heat

1930s gangster/prohibition era comedy with Eastwood sharing star billing with Burt Reynolds.

So a quick scoot over to IMDB reveals that Clint Eastwood has starred in 67 feature films. That’s pretty awesome, but I wonder where on that list (in terms of popularity and profile awareness), City Heat would fall? Certainly not anywhere in most people’s top ten perhaps.

Of course Clint Eastwood’s filmography contains some seriously classic, highly regarded and well known movies, so maybe this is an unfair way in which to begin the retrospective. OK, maybe, but I would wager that even if we were to remove the Dirty Harry’s, all the Spaghettis, heck all the westerns and cop dramas; City Heat is still not top ten material. I’m not even really sure why I decided to actively request to cover it. My real passion films are mostly from his 70s era. This one is an odd ball choice that’s for sure. Perhaps I felt like I wanted to make sure little old City Heat got a fair shake from a generally ‘pro’ kinda guy (me). Who knows, I might end up ripping it a new one anyway. It’s certainly been a very long time since I last saw it. I guess we will let the chips fall where they may.

A somewhat forgotten little comedy crime caper that came along during a time of increased prohibition era movie interest during the early to mid 1980s. My personal favourite of these (and I know I use this term a lot), and a repeat rental video; was the spoof gangster flick Johnny Dangerously with Michael Keaton. I haven’t seen that in years, but loved it.

When City Heat was trailering (if that’s even a word) (Editor: No, it isn’t!) on British TV, I remember being really quite excited to go and see it. At this moment, with MacBook Pro propped up on a cushion, watching the movie; I can’t really remember why. Admittedly, it was a comedy movie that paired Clint Eastwood (a hero), with Burt Reynolds, who had by that time endeared himself to me through movies like Cannonball Run, Smokey & The Bandit, and Deliverance. Maybe that was all my thirteen year old self needed…

I’m struggling to figure it out actually, as 1984 was the year of Ghostbusters too, which was definitely the premier cinema event for me, and I’m amazed anything else even registered.

Anyhow, despite all that; along comes City Heat, with its double team of Eastwood and Reynolds….being funny….together!

Dammit, that’s gotta be cool. Right?


Well I certainly thought so at the time, and while this is not a Clint flick of mega proportions for me; picking it up again after what must be at least twenty five years or so is hopefully going to be a lot of fun.

After seeing it at the cinema, it was then rented; and I certainly grew up thinking it was a great movie. It was….wait for it…..a repeat rental title. In fact I also recall subjecting the rest of my family to it a few times too.

You’ll notice I used the word ‘subjected’ in that last paragraph. Sorry about that, It’s not my intention to give my hand away so early. But watching the movie now, I’m wondering whether the older members of my family knew something I didn’t back in the day. I actually found it a little tough going, but let’s not get too ahead of where we should be at this point.

Incidentally, for some reason best known to the country’s various DVD retailers; I could not find even a standard def copy for less than about a tenner (which I thought was a bit keen considering I’ve just bought the complete Dirty Harry box set on Blu-ray for less than £20. So, one iTunes rental later, I was watching the movie again, and truth be known; struggling to stay interested. Oops, I didn’t expect that.

So the movie is a gangster caper set in prohibition era Kansas City. Eastwood is Speer, the hard-nosed cop, and Reynolds is Murphy, the wiseass private dick who used to be Eastwood’s best friend and partner on the force, but now they can’t stand each other. A murder close to home brings them both together and they reluctantly team up to save the day.

Before I continue, something a little abstract occurred to me. I’m referring to the film’s title, which is somewhat of a misnomer. I never really noticed before, but for a movie called ‘City Heat‘, it does tend to place a lot of the action on cold dingy streets in relentless teeming rain. I know the heat of the title is not of a literal sort, but it still seems a resounding clunker of a mismatch once you think of it. I wonder why they couldn’t have set the movie in New Orleans or something, and had some literal hot sweaty heat goin’ on. There’s actually not that much of any other kind of heat in evidence either, so I don’t know; maybe the film was originally gonna be called something else, more fitting….involving teeming cold rain.

Moving on…

Oh my, it’s clear this film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. A good example is when Speer takes out his first goon. Admittedly, the dude is pretty big and lunkheaded, but when it requires 8 bullets at close range to put him down, you know you’re not in the real world (yes I rewound the movie to make sure I counted correctly). Clint even has to reload for gawd’s sake. So, this aspect is pure spoof, and the sort of thing that would (and probably does), happen in Johnny Dangerously. The trouble is, the scene is not played for laughs, the goon doesn’t clutch his chest in a comedy overacting stylee, and we the audience don’t know if it’s supposed to be funny or not, except that it’s not funny.

The entire film plays a little this way, it’s just not funny enough to be a comedy, not silly enough to be a spoof, but conversely; not serious enough to be a straight crime caper.

There are some funny moments that still raised a smile and a titter if not a full on gut laugh. The ‘who’s got the biggest, longest gun (obvious cock metaphor here)’ competition during a shootout (Clint wins with the most ludicrously long hand cannon). Reynolds also provides a few witty quips and bits of business, but looks a little out of place (especially with his oh so 70s ‘stash).

The chemistry between Eastwood and Reynolds is pretty good too, I liked it. Eastwood is kinda playing on and sending up his Dirty Harry persona, but it’s too subtle to really work well. Reynolds is good but just a little uncomfortable in a beta role against Clint’s relentless, assertive alpha male dominance. Clunky.

The movie is peppered with recognisable A and B grade supporting actors, but wins awards for criminally underwritten and underused talent in not only the brilliant Madeline Kahn (Murphy love interest), but also Richard Roundtree (yes, Shaft himself), as the murder victim around which the whole movie then orbits. There’s no room I guess, what with Eastwood and Reynolds around. ‘Fame‘ singer Irene Cara looks beautiful, but she isn’t the most gifted or natural actress in the world, and she doesn’t quite convince us in the Jazz singing department either during her Speakeasy scenes. She’s lovely though.

The movie as a whole falls flat, and I was really shocked at how badly it played to me now, so many years after being proper jazzed about it originally. Every other Eastwood film I’ve either covered myself or watched anyway during this season have been spot on, and just as I remember them. City Heat just isn’t. It’s a shame because there’s actually a lot to like. The performances are good (at the least the principles). Some of the dialogue is snappy and satisfying too. But I think the story is weak, and the decision to begin or end so many scenes in the driving rain, with the only joke extracted from it seemingly being the fact that Murphy drives a silly little barchetta convertible with no roof, while holding a pitifully ineffectual umbrella and getting drenched.


In the final analysis, I have come to the conclusion that I’m just not that interested in 1930s prohibition era crime capers, comedy, spoof, or straight.

As a writer, I would say that good or bad; I have developed a certain style and approach in my musings about movies. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a ‘prose’ or anything so grandiose. But there’s definitely a Benji way of doing things that seems to always come through however I try to mix it up. One of these things has definitely been a tendency to go a little long (some would say perhaps ‘Waffle on’), compared to the average word count of my colleagues (I have no idea what they’re talking about). It is certainly true that I’ve squeezed out a few 3000+ word epics this year though!

However, even when a little more reigned in, I would usually struggle to come in under 1500. I also take a lot of time to craft my writing into something that feels (to me at least) like there’s an agreeable cadence and grace to the overall construction. A flow, so to speak. I don’t really submit ‘written from the hip’ material very often, if ever. Rather; for good or ill, the words are pondered upon, written, unwritten, rearranged and finally moulded into the thing I end up submitting. Success or failure is therefore largely dependent on the extent of buffing and rebuffing one was able to fit in before the deadline. Now, some would say “You can’t polish a turd, Ben”, which is true, but hopefully does not apply to this or any other example of my scratching.

The fact remains, I just can’t crack ’em out in a couple of hours fellas.

City Heat does present a bit of a problem to this philosophy though, in that; once I caught up and watched it again after so long, I felt somewhat less than overflowing with things I wanted to say about it. Good or bad, it just wasn’t prompting much of an interest beyond a certain point (see above). For many writers this would be OK and could signify merely the subsequent producing of a nice slimline 800 word piece of work.

I can’t do that.

So in a brazen attempt to further pad out this scrawl with irrelevant details, balderdash and bilge you could have lived your whole life without knowing, I will now round this retrospective off secure in the knowledge that the status quo has been maintained and our word count is once again in familiar, comfortably lengthy territory. This is despite the fact that Benji’s quick capsule review of City Heat could have gone a bit like this:

City Heat – It’s OK, rains a lot, not that funny really. Liked it in the 80s a lot, yet my family didn’t. 2011? Not so much, they were right all along. Let’s watch Unforgiven.

So it’s been fun contributing to the Clint Eastwood season. I’m leaving it now, and almost feel a little cheated by my own teenage self for reaching across time and influencing 40 year old Ben’s decision to cover this wild card movie I haven’t seen in over twenty years. Shame I’m not going out on something more classic (Clint’s next movie Pale Rider would have been a much better choice on reflection).

Oh well, it is what it is and I’ve really enjoyed watching so many Eastwood movies in quick succession. The man is a living legend and I still one of my favourite actors of all time.

So who’s for a Jeff Bridges season?…….hello?

Ben Pegley

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