Clint Eastwood may be to many casual filmgoers the gun-toting authoritarian Harry Callahan from the “Dirty Harry” movies, or perhaps the man with no name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, or more recently Frankie Dunn in “Million Dollar Baby. He’s an iconic Hollywood figure who has embodied some of the world’s most recognisable characters in many of the most prominent films of the last fifty years. But he’s also as accomplished behind the camera as he is in front of it, directing such classics as “Play Misty For Me”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, “Unforgiven”, and the critically acclaimed recent hits “Million Dollar Baby” (which won two Academy Awards including one for Best Director) and “Gran Torino”. The multitalented star has also composed several of his own film scores, providing the music for “Mystic River” and “Changeling”, while also recording original piano compositions for “In The Line of Fire”.
Film critic Mike Sutton takes us through Clint’s greatest films both in front of and behind the camera.
10. Tightrope (1984, Richard Tuggle)
The even dirtier side of Dirty Harry as the rebel cop edges towards becoming the social pariah in a serial killer story which is about as sordid as any mainstream American film of the period. Eastwood is brilliant at suggesting dark edges to the seemingly normal family man and he works brilliantly with Genevieve Bujold – one of the best actresses he’s ever worked with.
9. Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
Won Clint an Oscar and mainstream critical acceptance, gave a valuable breath of life to the Western and offered great opportunities for those great actors Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris and Saul Rubinek. Clint is brilliant too of course, playing the part with which he is so familiar and complicating it with a moral framework that remains troubling because it is (deliberately?) unresolved.
8. Play Misty For Me (1971, Clint Eastwood)
His directorial debut and the very best thriller about the havoc wrought by a meeting between self-regarding, thoughtless machismo and obsessive neediness. The first clear sign that Clint wasn’t interested in simply being a screen tough guy superstar and his first great probe into what makes men tick.
7. The Beguiled (1971, Don Siegel)
An astonishing Southern Gothic melodrama in which Clint, as a wounded Yankee soldier, finds himself at the mercy of a group of sexually curious young women and a deeply repressed spinster. The ending is still a fantastic shock moment which you should under no circumstances allow anyone to spoil.
6. Gran Torino (2008, Clint Eastwood)
After an impressive comeback this decade as a director with Mystic River and as an actor in Million Dollar Baby, Clint finally gives a master class in screen acting as a disgruntled Korean war veteran who re-examines his own prejudice and questions the assumptions upon which his life has been based. If this is his last screen performance, it’s a very fitting tribute.
5. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)
Almost single-handedly keeping the American Western alive in the Bicentennial year, Eastwood takes a standard revenge plot and turns it into a picaresque road movie in which vengeance-crazed Josey Wales becomes the reluctant centre of a raggle-taggle family of outsiders. Brilliant Jerry Fielding score.
4. Bronco Billy(1980, Clint Eastwood)
Clint at his most charming and off-beat as a failed shoe-salesman turned failed circus owner who somehow becomes a winner through the sheer determination to build his own myth. Very, very funny and enormously touching.
3. The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Clint Eastwood)
A desperately moving love story which is some kind of cinematic miracle; Clint and screenwriter Richard LaGrevanese take an offensively sentimental, badly written bestselling book and turns it into a Brief Encounter for the nineties. Clint’s performance is exemplary and he and Meryl Streep turn out to be an unlikely but deeply satisfying love match. If you don’t feel a tear coming to your eye during the scene in the rain, you’re not human.
2. For a Few Dollars More (1965, Sergio Leone)
Not Clint’s first film nor the most renowned of his Spaghetti Westerns but for my money this is Leone at his very best and Clint at his most typically taciturn as he embodies the solid narrative centre around which Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte can revolve. He also single-handedly makes wearing a poncho seem like quite a good idea.
1. Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel)
The original and best. Accept no substitutes, sequels or copycats. Extraordinary use of light and space, brutal and necessarily violent set-pieces and Clint in one of his signature roles. Note particularly how the committed liberal Don Siegel uses the camera to make Harry nearly as scary and unbalanced as the killer.
Essential reading: The Nation: “Last Man Standing: On Clint Eastwood” by Akiva Gottlieb – Detailed career overview
The Guardian: “Dirty Harry Comes Clean” – Interview
Night Hawk News – Great Directors
Clint Eastwood: The Good, The Bad, and the Extraordinary
5 Reasons Cinema Autopsy loves Clint Eastwood