Clint Eastwood is Philo Beddoe in…
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE
Don’t you hate it when you and your orangutan are driving somewhere in your pickup truck minding your own business and some fuckin biker assholes pull up and start harassing you about there being an ape? Why can’t a man and an ape travel together as equals without getting stared at and made fun of? And also, does someone who wears a viking helmet really have a leg to stand on in making fun of your choice of animal companion? And no wonder those morons put swastikas on everything, going around harassing different races and species.
Well when and if this happens to you you might get fed up and try to chase those fuckers down, possibly steal a street sweeper and tail them until they hop a train, at which point you will at least get to steal their bikes. This is a worthwhile option and one that works out for trucker/mechanic/bareknuckle brawler Philo Beddoe in this movie, but it also begins a war that leads to many fights and the destruction of more than a dozen motorcycles. So just know what you’re getting into here is all I’m saying.
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE has a reputation as a monkey movie, because Philo happens to hang out with the aforementioned orangutan named Clyde. But actually Clyde’s heritage is incidental, it’s not a movie where Clint has to protect the ape from greedy developers or somebody, or the law tries to take him away and put him in a zoo. This is not the type of movie that Ghost Rider enjoys while sipping his glass of jellybeans. Clyde isn’t even the co-lead or sidekick, he’s just a member of the ensemble, one of the many quirky touches in a light-hearted comedy about this professional street fighter who thinks he’s in love with a traveling country singer (Sondra Locke – not trustworthy).
In fact, Clyde is Philo’s badass juxtaposition. We know that Philo makes his living by going around to bars, construction sites and meat packing plants and taking bets to take on their best fighters. But later we learn that he made a big risky bet to win Clyde from a roadside attraction somewhere. Why? He couldn’t stand to see him in that little cage. Now he drives him around town, treats him with respect, breaks into the zoo to get him laid, sometimes even confides in him.
Philo’s other best friend Orville Boggs is played by Geoffrey Lewis. He’s been in other Eastwood movies (and is Juliette Lewis’s dad) and he’s good at playing rednecks. I like that he still plays that type but not a buffoon – he’s mischievious and smarter than he appears and will sometimes play dumb just to fuck with people who actually are dumb, like when the bikers try to scare him with their black widow tattoos and he pretends to really be interested and asks questions. Also he’s constantly changing the direction of his baseball cap. Sometimes it’s forward, sometimes backward, sometimes crooked. But he always switches it when he’s about to do something. You actors might experiment with that one after you get tired of Michael Caine’s not-blinking trick.
This is also Clint’s tribute to country music and to California’s working class and rural types who are usually ignored in movies. You got these small town dudes in their shitty pick up trucks, going to the honky tonk to watch live country music and get in fights, I assumed it was supposed to be somewhere in the midwest or the south until I noticed the City of Los Angeles logo on the street sweeper. Personally I’m all for urban living but Clint was mayor of Carmel out in artichoke country, so this probaly more true to his lifestyle. It’s nice to see a movie about places like this but where only some of the bad guys are stereotypical hicks and rednecks.
I’m really curious where this thing came from. It’s closer to a straight comedy than most anything else Clint has done. It’s a serious fighting and relationships storyline but it has some really broad and cartoonish humor. In some ways it reminded me of THE BLUES BROTHERS, because he keeps encountering these sort of one-dimensional villains who he doesn’t pay much attention to but he pisses them off so bad they stalk him cross country. This is a guy who literally gets into a fight over peanuts, and just about everybody he gets into a fight with (the bikers, the police) ends up trying to hunt him down, and failing spectacularly. There are parts of the movie that feel pretty down to earth, but you’re more likely to remember the scene where the ape crashes a stolen street sweeper. That’s something you would not see in a DIRTY HARRY movie. (I haven’t seen MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL or CHANGELING yet, maybe it happens in one of those.)
You know, come to think of it municipal vehicles are often used for unethical purposes in this one, for example during one of the many confrontations with the incompetent Black Widow biker gang Orville suddenly appears in a garbage truck which he uses to scoop up and destroy their bikes. There’s a lot of stickin-it-to-em comedy that really has no consequences – he doesn’t get brought up on charges for stealing the truck, and they don’t kill him for destroying all their bikes. They just look real steamed and we laugh at them.
Also I haven’t even mentioned that Ruth Gordon of HAROLD AND MAUDE fame plays Orville’s Ma. She’s always whining in her Ruth Gordon way that Clyde steals her Oreos, etc. When the Black Widows come to her house looking for Philo she pulls out her shotgun and shoots several of their bikes in that movie sweet spot that causes them to explode.
By the way, there’s more than one scene where Clyde gets to flip people off. I think you could argue that orangutans flipping people off is the lowest form of comedy besides the current “spoof” genre. But I won’t complain. Also I gotta wonder if the ape in the movie ever caused uncomfortable situations by doing that later on. I would think once he has that in his repertoire he would return to it every now and then.
But it’s not all comedy. The fist fights are still cool. Clint apparently had the same trainer as Stallone did for ROCKY. And in a weird way the style they’re shot in predicts the less comprehensible fights in the Greengrass BOURNE sequels, because they do alot of handheld close up to the fighters to make you feel like you’re right in there about to get punched. But it works pretty good.
So how did Clint get involved in this? It wasn’t written for him, because apparently Burt Reynolds almost did it first. The writer is Jeremy Joe Kronsberg, whose only other credit is GOING APE! starring Tony Danza, which he also directed. Does that mean he specializes in ape movies and really intended this to be one? Or did the success of this one mean he could only do another movie if it had apes in it? I don’t know. Also, I cannot explain how he also happens to be credited with writing a song in the completely unrelated but totally fuckin badass Parker adaptation THE OUTFIT.
Director James Fargo was Clint’s assistant director on several movies including HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and had previously directed THE ENFORCER. Not a great director or anything but his workmanlike chops in combination with Clint’s charisma and this odd script make for a hell of an entertainment.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.