Review: The Gauntlet

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney
Released: 1977 / Genre: Action-Adventure / Country: USA / IMDB
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If I was to give any credit to Clint Eastwood’s action-thriller The Gauntlet it would be for its poster. One of those cartoon-like depictions of a very un-cartoon-like film. Designed by the late artist Frank Fazetta, the poster depicts heroic alpha male Clint Eastwood protecting pretty blonde prostitute Sondra Locke from a haze of bullets. Fazetta’s artistry is amongst my favourite film artwork along with famed poster designer Drew Struzan.

But other than the poster there isn’t a lot to recommend about Eastwood’s 1977 film. He’s not yet the accomplished director of Unforgiven, or later Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, and he’s lumbered with Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack’s imbecilic script that beggars belief with every gun shot – and there’s A LOT of gun shots!

the gauntlet, clint eastwood, dumb movie, plot holes,

Admittedly, it’s a fun movie – fast-paced, humorous here and there; Sondra Locke is fittingly vivacious, Clint Eastwood is assuredly macho. But it all feels like a collection of ideas without a ‘whole’ to bring it all together. And it’s decidedly stupid.

For starters, the first half of the film has Locke hiding facts from Eastwood even though there is absolutely no reason to. Even more stoopidly Eastwood keeps ringing his boss to tell him his exact whereabouts even though he knows he’s being set-up. And, for some reason, even though everyone else knows it, Eastwood can’t work out it’s his boss that’s stabbing him in the back until someone explains it to him. Could this be Eastwood’s dumbest character ever?

When the two main characters are on the run, Eastwood hands Locke his gun. She looks at it for a second. She looks at the handle, the gun barrel, the hole at the end where bullets come out and says: “What’s that?” Yes, she really asks Clint Eastwood, while staring at the gun he’s handing to her: “What’s that?” With no hint of irony, Eastwood explains: “It’s a gun.” He is explaining this to a woman who later calls him a “.45 calibre fruit”, a telling remark that alludes to the fact she not only has knowledge of what a gun is, but also recognises the different types of ammunition they use. Hey there screenwriters Butler and Shryack – you’ve got a plot hole…and it’s not the only one!

Within seconds of this moment with the gun, a car trailing the pair shoots at them, cracking the rear window. Guess what Locke says? You got it! “What’s that,” she asks, like she’s just exited the womb. A bullet has just left a BULLET HOLE in the rear window. She is holding a gun. She knows they are being pursued by very bad guys – she posed naked for one of them for goodness sake! Yet, she can’t comprehend a gun shot in anger. Blimey!

Can it get worse?

…of course it can!

Eastwood and Locke run the gauntlet in a bus they have attached steel plates to in order to protect them from bullets. The steel is cocooned around the driver’s seat where they are situated. I wondered why they hadn’t also covered the tyres since these would be easy prey for a wily cop. Then I realised why they hadn’t bothered. It’s because the stupid cops in this stupid movie don’t shoot at tyres to stop a vehicle. They shoot every other part of a bus, apart from the tyres. They also shoot the middle and back of the bus where they can plainly see no one resides.

What’s even worse is how the cops are situated at either side of the road, presumably to offer an impenetrable defensive line. It doesn’t work but yet what is more disturbing is how these ‘intelligent’ officers of the law will fire bullets into a bus without a thought about the bullets either missing or shooting straight through the bus and hitting their fellow police officers on the other side. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

…and that’s not going into the whole helicopter-sniper-motorbike escape fiasco. How our intrepid protagonists survive this little encounter is beyond me. There’s a moment when Eastwood goes off-road to escape the helicopter when doing so will undoubtedly slow the bike down on uneven and unpredictable desert land. But never mind – it’s only a movie (with no concept of plot logic).

The film is literally littered with improbable plot points, a complete lack of logic, and holes the size of the Grand Canyon. But I can’t say I disliked it. If trashy B-movies won Oscars, this would be a Best Film contender. With scenes like the silly but suitably overplayed stealing of the chopper from the wild hogs and Locke’s brilliantly sadistic retort to being hounded by a cop about being a prostitute, the film has enough moments of simple delight to merit a viewing…or even two.

Review by Daniel Stephens

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Aiden R. Reply

    Oh dear God, look at that epic fucking poster. Just bought The Clint Eastwood Collection recently (the one with 35 of his movies in it), and this is one I’m looking forward to. Well, all of the Dirty Harry movies are ones I’m looking forward to for that matter. Don’t expect much, but, man, that poster…

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Haha…yeah it was the poster that intrigued me most before seeing the film. I thought – this is a film I can’t fail to like! It has it’s problems as mentioned above, but it is a difficult film not to enjoy.

  3. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Eastwood… I wonder what compelled him to make this?

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Fitz: I don’t know but I think he just wasn’t the director he is today. he had the acting talent back in those days ut he wouldn’t find his director’s boots until a few years later.

  5. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Saying he wasn’t the director he would eventually become may be a wee bit disingenuous – after all, he had made Josey Wales at this point (which admittedly wasn’t that great, but it was OK).

    No, I think he was misguided by the wood he had for Sondra … he probably needed to find her some lead parts (so to speak). Don’t believe me? Watch Sudden Impact. Personally I think The Gauntlet is art cinema compared to that witless exploitation.

    As for the poster, I’m pretty sure Frazetta did the artwork for a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks that were reprinted in the 70s (The Mucker series). Great drawer of biceps – pity he wasn’t around to do the artwork for the John Carter promotional stuff …

  6. Avatar
    Rschwarz Reply

    I think you missed the point of the ‘what’s the gun” bit. She was a prisoner who was hostile to him and he handed her a gun. I think she was more in disbelief than actually questioning what a gun was.

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