Possibly Clint Eastwood’s least interesting Western, this forgettable action flick has an impressive pedigree: Celebrated novelist Elmore Leonard wrote the screenplay, and macho-cinema veteran John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) directed. The thin story has 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 makes the unwise choice of getting on Kidd’s bad side. One can see glimmers of Leonard’s style in the rangy plotting and in Kidd’s bitchy comic-relief observations, but while the best Leonard-derived Westerns have rock-solid conceits (see 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, though it seems he was asked to light sets more brightly than he usually does, and Eastwood is always a compelling to watch when he’s got a six-gun on his hip, so Joe Kidd is more or less watchable. Yet Duvall marks his time in a role so trite and underwritten it would stifle any actor, and the miscast Saxon snarls lines 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. Some of the shootouts in Joe Kidd are moderately entertaining, but when such incidental details as 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.
Joe Kidd: LAME