A meat-and-potatoes action picture blending brutal violence and cynical humor, The Gauntlet is a lowbrow crowd-pleaser featuring elements that dominated direct0r-star Clint Eastwood’s outlet for years afterward: The acting is perfunctory, the camerawork is loose, the gunplay is expertly filmed, and the politics are militaristic. So, while The Gauntlet is highly entertaining, it’s also, arguably, the production with which Eastwood and his production team learned how to make movies on autopilot.
In fact, the picture is so formulaic that it’s basically a Dirty Harry sequel without the brand name. As in the Dirty Harry pictures, Eastwood plays a rogue cop assigned to an impossible case—and as in the Dirty Harry pictures, Eastwood’s character becomes a target for cops and criminals alike, blasting his way to freedom with a pocket-sized cannon of a handgun. Virtually the only deviation from the Dirty Harry formula is that Eastwood’s character, policeman Ben Shockley, is an alcoholic bum rather than a respected badass.
Therefore, when he’s assigned to escort prostitute Gus Mally (Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix, where she’s set to testify against mobsters, it’s seen as a nothing assignment for a nothing cop. However, criminals have Mally in their crosshairs, so Shockley realizes keeping her alive long enough to testify will be tough. Furthermore, Shockley gets framed for a crime by the corrupt cops on the mob’s payroll, meaning he must transport Mally across the Southwest with legions of gun-toting policemen in hot pursuit.
During the movie’s most memorable scene, the duo hides in a small building that gets surrounded by an army of cops who open fire with so many guns that the building gets perforated until it crumbles to the ground; Eastwood and cameraman Rexford L. Metz have fun creating stylish shots of Mally and Shockley dodging beams of light as gunshots let the sun into their dark hiding place. The ability of these characters to survive impossible odds eliminates any possibility of narrative credibility, just like the trite banter between crusty cop Shockley and sassy prostitute Mally grates after a while. Eastwood’s strong-and-silent bit is just as entertaining as always, but Locke, costarring with then-real-life companion Eastwood for the second time, gives a shrill performance.
Still, there’s no denying that Eastwood and his people know how to stage action, so The Gauntlet is filled with intense chases, shootouts, and stunts. After all, even if this picture represents the moment when Eastwood locked into a formula, there’s a reason why the formula scored at the box office time and again throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
The Gauntlet: FUNKY