A gentle fable on familiar themes, lightly salted with irony by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood plays the title character, the head of a modern-day wild west show that scrabbles from town to town in the backwaters of the midwest, spreading the forgotten values of fair play, comradeship, and clean living (up to a point). Sondra Locke, as a spoiled heiress, enters via a plot device lifted from It Happened One Night. Eastwood’s performance is dense and subtle, drawing on his natural shyness and gentility, though his direction — apart from two or three creatively edited sequences — is much less distinctive than it has been before. A minor film with a good heart — if anything, it’s too lovable (1980).
The principal source of the humor, it seems, is the usually unacknowledged fact that Schwarzenegger’s appearance and usual screen persona already has certain feminine and even maternal qualities, which this movie literalizes. In manner (i.e., voice and gesture) as well as appearance, Schwarzenegger, like Sylvester Stallone, has more in common with Jane Russell, Esther Williams, Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, and Dolly Parton than with the principal (and principally lean and mean) macho movie icons of the past — Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. (Perhaps only Elvis Presley qualifies as a male star who encompassed both physical types over the course of a single career, at least if one gives precedence to sheer mass over muscles.)
Sergio Leone’s comic, cynical, inexplicably moving epic spaghetti western (1966), in which all human motivation has been reduced to greed—it’s just a matter of degree between the Good (Clint Eastwood), the Bad (Lee Van Cleef), and the Ugly (Eli Wallach). Leone’s famous close-ups—the “two beeg eyes”—are matched by his masterfully composed long shots, which keep his crafty protagonists in the subversive foreground of a massively absurd American Civil War. Though ordained from the beginning, the three-way showdown that climaxes the film is tense and thoroughly astonishing.