The Mother Brain Files: American Rebel Book Review
By Mother Brain
Iâ€™ve been a fan of Clint Eastwood for as long as I could remember. In my early teens, the 5 Dirty Harry movies were my initial introduction to the man. Soon I grew a greater appreciation for his whole body of work from Sergio Leoneâ€™s Man with No Name trilogy to his directorial efforts in the later part of his career. As a movie star, heâ€™s an icon. As a filmmaker, he can be placed in the same category as Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese, etc.
Recently, I was looking around my local Borders Book Store when I stumbled upon â€œAmerican Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwoodâ€ by Marc Eliot. In a nutshell, itâ€™s the most objective biography about the Oscar winner as previous biographies were sugar-coated and never quite detailed the flipside of his life and career. This book not only looks at Eastwoodâ€™s acting and directing efforts but it also goes in-depth into his struggles as a contract player for Universal Pictures in the 1950s, his extra-marital affairs, his complicated relationship with his frequent co-star Sondra Locke, and what really went on during his time as Mayor of Carmel, CA in the mid 80s.
From the opening chapters, you get a sense of what shaped Clint Eastwood the man. Being a child of the Great Depression, hard work was something not beneath him, especially as his parents were constantly on the move to make ends meet. Then the â€œrebel movementâ€ of the late 50s and early 60s, which was led by the likes of James Dean and Steve McQueen, opened many doors for Eastwood. This would be the time that set the ground work for the kinds of characters he would remodel over and over.
Eliot effectively breaks down Eastwoodâ€™s on-screen persona into three roles: The mystery man with a vague history (Leoneâ€™s Man with No Name trilogy, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Unforgiven, etc), the modern day loner with radical views on justice (Dirty Harry series, Cooganâ€™s Bluff, Gran Torino), and the good-natured redneck (Every Which Way But Loose, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, Million Dollar Baby, etc). He also gives great insight on Eastwoodâ€™s unconventional but effective directing methods. Eliot uses anecdotes from Eastwood himself as well as the actors he has worked with in the past. You discover how Eastwood prefers to not treat his actors like race horses; his ability to shoot quickly and finishing his films in a 30 day period under budget.
While the insight on how Eastwood built his credibility in Hollywood is a fascinating read, it is his private life that really draws you in. For a man who made very testosterone-driven action films in his prime, Eastwood could not resist the female attention from actresses to assistants in his production company, Malpaso. He would father 7 kids in all! But itâ€™s his troubled relationship with Sondra Locke that keeps you guessing. From the beginning of their romance during the making of Josey Wales in 1976, Locke was already married for nearly 10 years to a man she did not even live with due to his homosexuality. The complications between Eastwood and Locke would lead to abortions, Lockeâ€™s botched directing career, and a long drawn out legal battle in the 90s. I came out of reading this book knowing that Eastwood was not the perfect husband and father until his later years when he remarried a 2nd time; however, I found Locke to be a strange, opportunistic bird trying to use the most respected star in the world to further her own troubled career.
The book has a lot of cool tidbits about Eastwoodâ€™s films and other info: How Two Mules for Sister Sara originated as a project for Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor; what the real meaning was behind the tossing of the badge ending in Dirty Harry; how his campaign for Mayor of Carmel began over a law about eating ice cream cones on the street; how his Charlie Parker biopic Bird was made after Prince turned down the role; how Eastwood gave an on-set lecture to Kevin Costner on the set of A Perfect World when Costner demanded one too many takes for his scenes; how Eastwood helped Sean Penn through a difficult physical scene in Mystic River.
I recommend this book to any aspiring filmmaker and all Eastwood fans who want to know so much more about the real Dirty Harry.