Monday, September 1, 2014

Every Which Way But Loose (1978) review


Clint Eastwood (Philo Beddoe), Sondra Locke (Lynn Halsey-Taylor), Geoffrey Lewis (Orville Boggs), Ruth Gordon (Ma), Beverly D'Angelo (Echo), Walter Barnes (Tank Murdock), John Quade (Cholla), Dan Vadis (Frank), Bill McKinney (Dallas), William O'Connell (Elmo), Gregory Walcott (Putnam)

Directed by James Fargo

The Short Version: Armed with fully loaded fists, a lovable orangutan, a filthy-mouthed old lady, and all the beer you can drink, Clint Eastwood stars in this box office knock-out. He's a bare-knuckled brawler chasing after the love of his life in between bar fights and being trailed by a vengeful cop, and an incompetent motorcycle gang. Virtually plotless, this 2 hours of consistent hilarity and fun became an unexpected smash success, and was Clint's biggest hit at that time. Get a BIG bucket of popcorn and a pitcher of cold beer for this one, but hide the Oreos!

Philo Beddoe makes a living as a local trucker driver and bare-fisted brawler on the underground circuit. One day he falls head over heels for a singer at the Palamino Club. When she unexpectedly up and leaves town allegedly over a jealous beau, Philo heads off after her, encountering trouble along the way. While he chases her, he's chased by a bumbling motorcycle gang and an off-duty cop who met Philo's fists in a barroom skirmish. It all ends with a fateful meeting of the knuckles when Beddoe tangles with Tank Murdock, a legend around those parts.

Nobody was expecting this wild and wooly Clint comedy actioner to bring home the box office bacon the way it did. The script was originally intended for Burt Reynolds's hands, but Eastwood was charmed by the unique scenario. Critics still saw the finished product as a train-wreck, but paying customers were having none of it while sending EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE to a 100 million haul.

It's doubtful Reynolds would have brought the same level of deadpan humor that Eastwood does. Still, Reynolds was a logical fit for the material given his string of southern fried action and race car hits that began earlier in the decade, and continued into the 1980s. If anyone ever wanted to see two of the 70s biggest stars team up, they got their chance in 1984 with CITY HEAT. 

Clint Eastwood had been a living, breathing goldmine for years from his various westerns at home and abroad; this includes the popular DIRTY HARRY series, and an occasional experimental movie thrown in from time to time. Nothing he'd done before was quite as different as this. The actor hadn't starred in a full-on comedy before, so this was a gamble, and one that paid off in a big way. One of the keys to that success was the inclusion of Manis, a member of Bobby Berosini's orangutan act. 

Manis played Clyde, an ape Philo won in a bet taking on four guys in a fight. A strong bond is presented between Philo and Clyde that reportedly extended to their offscreen companionship as well. Clint was said to occasionally visit Manis when he was performing at Vegas shows as part of Berosini's act. Sadly, Manis wasn't able to return for the sequel as he had grown too large (sources state the ape was 11 years old at the time), and was believed to have become too aggressive.

When Clyde isn't accompanying Philo to bars, he's making a nuisance of himself at home with Ma, Orville's foul-mouthed mother. Ruth Gordon and Clyde battle it out onscreen to see who can steal the most scenes. Speaking of thievery, Clyde loves stealing Ma's Oreos; and that's one thing Ma doesn't like to share is her Oreos.

To say Ruth Gordon is a scene-stealin', show-stoppin', shotgun blastin' granny grumpus is an understatement. The personification of the cranky old lady, Gordon plays the cliches to the hilt and then some. She gets many of the best lines, and her delivery is comedy gold. She also has a grand old potty mouth that begs the question if Gordon had ever spent time on a sailor's ship. 

John Quade is perfectly cast as Cholla, the leader of The Black Widows, a dopey, clumsy-footed biker gang that are about as threatening as a car-load of circus clowns. They have their own theme music, and function as little more than cartoon characters. They have a few run-ins with Philo, and every time the result is the same -- bruised, battered, and beaten. There's a running gag that for every scuffle the Black Widows get into, they not only lose the fight and a little more dignity, but lose a bike or two in the process.

Former Italian muscleman and western star, American Dan Vadis has a role as one of the BWs. He's slimmed down considerably from his busier movie acting days in the 1960s. Still very toned, Vadis appeared in numerous supporting roles in a variety of Eastwood movies. 

Geoffrey Lewis is an extraordinary character actor. The man has played virtually every kind of role in domestic and foreign productions. His part as Orville Boggs is possibly his best remembered, and it's one he reprised for the sequel. He runs a tow service and acts as Philo's fight manager. He plays perfectly off of Eastwood. It's never revealed in the film, but if you didn't look at the end credits, or recall a line from Eastwood, you'd swear the two men were playing brothers.

If there's any real negative in this movie, it's the inclusion of Putnam, an off-duty cop who starts trouble with Philo in a bar after opening his mouth to which Beddoe promptly closes it. His pride hurt, the officer takes vacation time to chase Beddoe down in the hopes of returning the favor. The inclusion of Putnam does nothing except add another character chasing Beddoe while he chases Lynn. Which brings us to....

Sondra Locke had co-starred in Clint's movies since the late 70s and her role here isn't the most wholesome -- playing a hustler that moves from one town, and one man to the next. Locke's portrayal of bar band singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor is eerily foreshadowing of public opinion in lieu of how the couple ended up by the end of the decade, and again in the mid 90s. The two had both a romantic, and working relationship that melted down in 1989 during some ugly mud-slinging and a lawsuit. A second round of legalities came in 1995 when Locke was awarded an undisclosed amount. She told reporters, "I don't have to worry about working -- let's put it that way", and "I'm very happy with the settlement, but it wasn't about money; it was about closure". Her first appearance in a Clint flick was in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) and the last being SUDDEN IMPACT (1983).

The sequence near the end where Beddoe realizes his action-oriented journey has been all for nothing other than the viewing audiences enjoyment is the one time the film gets serious. There's also a bit of irony in that this is one film where the hero doesn't get the girl in the end; instead, Orville gets a girl in the form of the sexy Beverly D'Angelo, a young lady running a fruit and vegetable stand with the freshest melons for miles. a few years later she was taking a VACATION of another sort with Chevy Chase in the 1983 National Lampoon classic.

The bittersweet finale doesn't stop with Philo learning the woman he'd been pursuing wasn't much of a lady; he sets up a bare-knuckle brawl with the legendary Tank Murdock (western star Walter Barnes), a fighter we hear a lot about, but never see till the end. Philo, enraged and smarting from the emotional beating he took from Lynn, pummels the aging bruiser; and as the crowd begins to boo their hero, Beddoe's next move is one you don't quite expect.

Much of the success of Fargo's film goes to the country music soundtrack spearheaded by Eddie Rabbitt's hit song of the same name. The song, 'Every Which Way But Loose', climbed to #1 for three weeks in 1979 on Billboard's Country chart, and #30 on the Hot 100. Mel Tillis and Charlie Rich feature on a few songs a piece, and Sondra Locke sings a tune or two.

So what if critics trashed it? EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE may be missing a plot, but it makes up for it in sheer quirkiness; and combining elements that don't appear to be a good match, but in the end, go great together. Both films have been on television countless times, so it's doubtful if most viewers haven't seen it at some point. If not, get ready for one of the manliest movies of all time, good times, good tunes, and a movie that will turn you Every Which Way But Loose.  

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD.

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