The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet” is one of those preposterous movies that works because of its star power. Imagine the film with anyone else but star Clint Eastwood and it falls apart. It’s Eastwood who makes “The Gauntlet” such an exciting ride.


gauntletEastwood pulls double duty on “The Gauntlet.” He’s behind the camera as director and in front of the camera as star, and the union emerges as a fruitful one. Taking his cue from the “Dirty Harry” films, Eastwood plays Phoenix cop Ben Shockley, a veteran of the force who has never had a chance to break a big case. His disappointment continues when he’s given the low profile assignment of escorting a federal witness from Las Vegas to Phoenix (a nothing witness for a nothing trial).

It’s a simple transfer, one assigned to Shockley because he can get the job done. It’s more of an insult than a commendation, yet Shockley takes the assignment without argument. Eastwood is at his best playing characters like Shockley, so disillusioned with his station in life that he buries his sorrows in drink and all night card games. He doesn’t even bother to shave or dress up when he meets the new Police Commissioner (William Prince). So Shockley thinks nothing of his current assignment when he hops a plane for Las Vegas to pick up his prisoner.

What he doesn’t realize is that his prisoner, named Gus, is actually a woman, a prostitute played by Sondra Locke, who claims that she has been targeted for death. Shockley doesn’t believe her, even when he learns that Las Vegas bookmakers have taken odds on her not reaching Phoenix. After two spectacular attempts on their lives, Shockley learns that his nothing witness has the goods on the mob, who will do anything to make sure that they don’t reach their destination.

At that point, “The Gauntlet” becomes a series of close calls and explosive shoot-outs as Shockley and Gus make their way to Phoenix. It’s also at this point that the film becomes more of a live-action cartoon rather than a standard issue action film. In their attempt to kill Shockley and Gus, the bad guys literally shoot up the everything in site. Remember the shoot out at the end of “Bonnie & Clyde?” That was child’s play when you see what the bad guys do to numerous vehicles during the course of “The Gauntlet.” Talk about overkill. “The Gauntlet” is also a buddy film, pitting the weary Shockley against the street smart Gus, who knows how to take care of herself. Their arguments are priceless, and in this role, Locke is actually quite good.

She’s razor sharp here, and her comeback to a red neck Las Vegas cop is one of the film’s highlights. So is the explosive finale, where Shockley and Gus try to enter the city of Phoenix in an armor plated bus. Sure, it’s totally preposterous, but if you’ve followed the film this far, you’ll find yourself rooting for the good guys despite the illogical premise. Eastwood does an excellent job as director, moving everything along at a clip.

The screenplay by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack is filled with delicious dialogue that helps divert your attention away from some clumsy plot mechanics. For instance, the audience knows within the first fifteen minutes who is behind the conspiracy even though it takes the characters half the film to figure it out. One of the side benefits of the film is seeing Las Vegas circa 1976, without it’s current, towering amusement park hotels dotting the strip. After 22 years, “The Gauntlet” still holds its own.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Delivered in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio (enhanced at 16:9), the film looks okay but not great. The original negative is a bit spotty, making for a less-than-stellar transfer. The transfer itself is also a little gun shy. One scene, in a cave at night, looks absolutely dreadful. The blacks start shimmering and turning blue, while the contrast is totally lost. The well lit scenes fare the best, but the film in general has that grainy look. The colors are okay, and the flesh tones look natural, but the blacks don’t hold up well at all. There is also some noticeable compression artifacts, but not enough to qualify as a disaster. The depth of field is limited, as is attention to detail.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The highlight of the DVD is the very expressive 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track (there’s also a French mono track). There’s a lot of action and flying bullets in the film, and all are captured with distinction on the soundtrack. The dialogue track is superb, but it’s the stereo surround and ambient noise that distinguish this effort. Jerry Fielding’s jazzy score (an Eastwood trademark) sounds great, with it’s crystal clear high and low ends. The basses are thundering, especially during the finale. The ambient noise is so realistic it’s almost annoying. I did notice a little high end hiss during one quiet moment, but it could have been the subtle sound of desert noise on the soundtrack. The stereo split is excellent, creating the illusion of bullets flying all over the room.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The DVD features the usual array of extras, none of which will win any awards. The main menu is okay, but the scene access menu is absolutely atrocious. No clips or stills, just bullets with a listing. There’s also a filmography section listing both Eastwood and Locke, but only Eastwood’s information is click-able. For some reason (I’m sure those familiar with the Eastwood/Locke situation in Hollywood know) Locke’s information is unavailable. There’s also the original theatrical trailer, which is a hoot.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

I don’t know if I would recommend adding “The Gauntlet” to your collection, but for Eastwood and action fans, this would make a good rental.

VITALS: $19.99/Rated R/111 Minutes/Color/34 Chapter Stops/Snapcase/#11083

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE GAUNTLET

BIRTH DATE: 1977

HMO: Warner Home Video



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