There are a lot of interesting things about JOE KIDD, the least being the movie itself.
This is Clint Eastwood at the peak of his early stardom: ruggedly handsome, aquiline nose, velvet rasp, thick shock of dirty blonde receding hair, three-day growth to emulate Leone’s Italian spaghettis that made him famous, wisecracking and head-cracking all over the New Mexico desert. He is a towering presence in the movie, that without him, would be as unimaginative and confused as the people who cast John Saxon as a Mexican.
Saxon is revolutionary leader Luis Chama, who storms a courthouse with his tryhard Spanish and (real Mexican) henchmen in the small town of Sinola, New Mexico, and burns land deeds owned by white prospectors in front of a judge, proclaiming “his people” are taking back land that rightfully belongs to them.
Land owner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) and his posse of professional shooters come gunning for Chama, hiring Joe Kidd (Eastwood) to track Chama. It’s written by legend Elmore Leonard and directed by legend John Sturges (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE), yet Kidd’s motivation and the plot play out very inartfully.
We can’t figure whether Kidd is in it for the money or because Chama’s men tied one of his ranchhands to a fence with some barbed wire for no reason. We can’t figure why Harlan would hire Kidd, then fire him and lump him in with Mexican hostages. We can’t figure why Harlan threatens to kill five hostages at a time until Chama surrenders to him, yet lets his most dangerous hostage – Kidd – stay alive to take down all his henchmen through the cunning use of Being Clint Eastwood.
And worst of all, we can’t figure the diluted revolutionary message. At first, Chama is righteously struggling for land reform, ruthless in his principles: “It doesn’t matter how many of these villagers die as long as the revolution succeeds!” Yet by the end, Kidd convinces Chama to take his grievances to court for “a fair trial.” That would be the same crooked American courts that granted land deeds to white folk over the rightful ownership of indigenous peoples. I’m sure the courts would grant Chama leniency after his insurrection and failed land takeover.
Though Chama is originally painted as a Che Guevara-type, this is a fantasy resolution that only White America could conceive; that all its indigenous peoples behave this way. On AMERICA’S terms.
- In JOE KIDD, Clint Eastwood is back in the saddle after directing his first feature, PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) and spawning his enduring anti-hero DIRTY HARRY (1971).
- Clint’s role as hired hand playing both sides of a range war reminds us of his breakout role in Sergio Leone’s FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964).
- Big Gregory Walcott co-stars as a deputy; seems to only exist in Eastwood movies to get his ass kicked by Eastwood (in RAWHIDE, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, THE EIGER SANCTION, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE).
For Clint fans, this film is a monumental example of Eastwood doing all those outlandish things only Clint can get away with in a Clint Eastwood movie; the types of things that make schoolboys grow up idolizing the laconic, lanky super cowboy:
- After a fellow prisoner mocks Kidd, the prisoner is dispatched by Kidd, not with a gun to the face – a saucepan.
- In a scene reminiscent of DIRTY HARRY chewing on a hotdog whilst shooting burglars, Kidd calmly guns down an assailant without even looking at him, but rather, down at the beer he raises to his lips.
- Kidd walks into a strange blonde’s room (who looks decidedly like scrawny Sondra Locke) and makes out with her after merely two minutes of flirting. She asks, “How long were you in jail?” Kidd: “Two days.” She: “What would you be like if you’d been in there two months?” Kidd: “We wouldn’t even be talking now.”
- When one of Harlan’s pro gunmen challenges Kidd to a duel, forcing Kidd to use only second-rate Mexican guns, Kidd picks up a second-rate Mexican gun – and clobbers the pro gunman with its butt.
- And then there is pure Eastwood bombast – in the final climactic scene, Joe Kidd runs a railroad engine through a saloon for the final shootout.
You gotta be kidding! No he ain’t. “Want some more?”