Possibly Clint Eastwood’s least interesting Western, this forgettable action flick has an impressive pedigree considering how little of interest actually happens onscreen: Celebrated novelist Elmore Leonard wrote the screenplay, and macho-cinema veteran John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) directed. The thin story has reformed bounty hunter Joe Kidd (Eastwood) recruited by a rapacious developer (Robert Duvall) to track down a Mexican revolutionary (John Saxon) who is impeding the developer’s plans. The revolutionary also made the unwise choice of getting on Kidd’s bad side. One can see glimmers of Leonard’s style in the rangy plotting (Kidd’s the central figure, but other characters drive the story), and in Kidd’s bitchy comic-relief observations. Yet whereas the best Leonard-derived Westerns are built on rock-solid conceits, such as both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, the storyline of Joe Kidd is leisurely and unfocused.
The movie looks pretty good with DP Bruce Surtees behind the lens (although it seems as if he was asked to light sets more brightly than he usually does), and Eastwood is always a compelling figure when he’s strutting around with a six-gun on his hip, so Joe Kidd is more or less watchable. However Duvall marks his time in a role so trite and underwritten it would stifle any actor, even one of Duvall’s consummate skill, and the miscast Saxon snarls his way through a silly Spanish accent. Saxon also fails to demonstrate the charisma one might expect from a grassroots leader, so it’s tempting to conjecture that Leonard envisioned a complex characterization that never made it past his script pages.
Some of the shootouts in Joe Kidd are moderately entertaining, but when incidental details like the use of unusual firearms and an appearance by Dick Van Patten as a hotel clerk stick in the memory more than the main narrative, that’s an indication something unremarkable has unspooled. So if you’re in the mood for an early-’70s Eastwood Western, you’re better off with the Clint-directed High Plains Drifter (1973), which combines six-gun action with allegorical gloom. Joe Kidd, on the other hand, feels like it was nothing more than a paycheck gig for everyone involved.
Joe Kidd: LAME