According to Box Office Mojo, this weekend’s top-grossing film is Gran Torino, a film rumored to be Clint Eastwood’s final bow as an actor. The film has been nominated for a handful of awards and, quite possibly, could be a contender for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar ceremony.
With this in mind, I come today not to praise Eastwood, but to bemoan an element of his repertoire that has been left moldering on the shelf for nearly three decades.
Clint Eastwood makes fantastic “tough guy with a monkey sidekick” movies.
When we look back on the 1970s and 1980s, we tend to compartmentalize them neatly into two groups: the disco glitter bomb of Studio 54 closed up shop, making room for the cigarette boats and dayglow of Miami Vice, and never the two shall meet… except that this isn’t the real story.
For a glimmer of time, America was fascinated with a sort of pearl snapped, Coors guzzling image sold as “countrypolitan.” Films like Urban Cowboy popularized the wearing of ten gallon hats and Wrangler jeans and Justin boots, while artists like Eddie Rabbit and, most importantly, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton made inroads into Top 40 radio (fun fact: “Islands in the Stream” was written and produced by none other than Barry Gibb. Listen to it again- it’s a jam!)
(You’re welcome, America.)
As much of Madison Avenue probably didn’t have a clue as to what “western cool” was, a strange glut of vaguely hick, often shirtless, and- I can’t say this enough- Coors-fueled diversions began to crop up. Movies like Smokey and the Bandit seemed to capitalize on the bubba-sploitation of earlier films like Walking Tall with a degree of authenticity, but the most curious subgenre to emerge was that of the tough guy with the monkey sidekick.
Television had B.J. and the Bear, but the pinnacle of the “tough guy with a monkey” came with 1978’s Every Which Way but Loose. Clint Eastwood, an established “tough guy” riding high on the success of his earlier westerns and his take-no-prisoners films as “Dirty” Harry Callahan. With Loose, Eastwood found himself as a significantly toned-down badass named Philo Beddoe (the film is rated PG, as opposed to Clint’s harder R films of the 1970s) who drives a truck, occasionally engages in bare-knuckle brawling, and pals around with an orangutan (the ape of choice for this genre- see also Tony Danza in Going Ape!).
I’m not going to discuss the plot much further beyond that- there’s not much else worth discussing. Eastwood does hook up with his then-girlfriend, Sondra Locke (fun fact: she later sued his ass for all manner of awful things), which should make for a romantic subplot- thankfully, we don’t have to endure much of that. Instead, we get Clint beating dudes up, chugging a beer while driving a truck, getting in a bar fight with an orangutan as his only backup, wailing on a biker gang, and spending time with his ma. It’s awesome- so awesome, in fact, that the “Bachelor Party” episode of How I Met Your Mother gives the movie a well-deserved shoutout (Clyde flipping the bird is cited as the third-best thing in the world.)
As the “countrypolitan” fad faded in the early 1980s, films like this seemed to drop from existence. Some twenty years later, country has emerged as every bit as viable a force in record sales, yet the byproducts of that bygone era seem to have been a bit more, shall we say, gentrified (to wit: a remake of Walking Tall scrubbed much of the chicken-fried goodness from the original, giving us a hero named “Chris” taking on casinos and drug dealers instead of moonshiners- I don’t expect any Patterson Hood songs about this guy any time soon.)
In this age of remakes and “re-imaginings,” perhaps no genre is as deserving a further investigation than that of the “tough guy with a monkey” film.
Clint, please consider a more fitting coda for Philo Beddoe… please.
In conclusion, America, I give you Ted’s third-best thing ever: