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The Gauntlet (1977)

 
 

Eastwood's Escort Service for Hooker

On a scale of one to ten, I'd have to give her a two, and that's because I haven't seen a one before - Ben

Clint Eastwood as Ben Shockley in The Gauntlet

Before Bruce Willis took Mos Def on a bus ride in "16 Blocks" or Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin dodged bullets and boarded trains in "Midnight Run" there was Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke going from Vegas to Phoenix in "The Gauntlet". Yes "The Gauntlet" is one of those movies where a cop has to baby-sit a prisoner/witness as he takes them from one place to another except there are people who want them dead. Now whilst many say that "Midnight Run" is the best when it comes to this sort of movie it does have competition from "The Gauntlet" which whilst being from the 70s is still surprisingly good. It is absolutely daft as we watch Eastwood try to take Locke across country slowly realising that those who want him to fail include someone in his own police force and it does spiral out of control as it reaches it's memorable climax, but still it is so much fun even after 30+ years.

Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood - High Plains Drifter) isn't what you would call a model detective, he drinks and looks a mess yet he is assigned to baby-sit Gus Mally (Sondra Locke - Bronco Billy) a witness who he must bring back to Phoenix from Vegas. What should be a simple task turns out not so simple when Mally, a feisty hooker, knows that someone is running a book on them not to make it out of Vegas let alone reach Phoenix. But Shockley is determined to do his job and as they cross country by various means avoiding the trouble which keeps on coming their way it soon becomes apparent that those who want them to fail include corrupt individuals within his own police force who will stop at nothing to not only stop them but also silence them.

Sondra Locke and Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet

So anyone who has seen the likes of "16 Blocks" and "Midnight Run" will know the formula with Shockley finding the mundane task of transporting Gus Mally across country turning into a rollercoaster ride as it becomes apparent that someone doesn't want them to reach their final destination. But it is a formula which works especially when you have Eastwood playing a variation on his tough, sexist cop trying to protect a fiesty hooker who is being forced to testify against the mob. Much of the entertainment comes from the snappy banter which flies between Eastwood and Locke especially during those early scenes where she continually tries to escape. And whilst it may sound cliche the fact that Shockley and Mally end up falling for each other adds a nice element to the story.

But the banter and relationship between Shockley and Mally is just part of why "The Gauntlet" is entertaining and the actual discovery of who wants them dead is also quite good. So whilst it may not be evident immediately it doesn't take you long to work out who wants them dead and there is some good reasoning for it too. But what is good is that it then adds another twist to this one which you can't see coming, another person who wants Shockley and Mally terminated. Plus whilst you have this element of guess who you also have a touch of comedy about it as someone is actually running a book on how far Shockley and Mally will get.

Of course with this being all about the hazardous journey from Vegas to Phoenix there is plenty of action, action which is funny for being so over the top. When you have a scene where a house gets surrounded and is blasted by so many guns it collapses you just can't help but laugh. And this over the top sense of action flows throughout from trouble with bikers, a fight on a train and what is one of the most stupid but funny climaxes as Phoenix and Mally hijack a bus of old people and prepare to face the trouble they know will be waiting for them as they enter Phoenix. All of this action is so over the top than you have to disengage the temptation to think logically because them minute you think about it you spot so many issues and let's just say that surely it would be easier for someone to shoot the tyres from a vehicle than pepper it with 1000 bullets!

But all of this is entertaining escapism and as already mentioned it is partly down to Clint Eastwood and Sandra Locke that it works. Eastwood is so comfortable playing a variation on his tough cop, one who can talk mean and is not afraid to hit people including women, but this is not Dirty Harry, its more Comedy Harry as Eastwood makes Shockley more sarcastic and humorous. And Eastwood works so well with Sandra Locke who makes hooker Gus Mally great fun as she has a feistiness about her yet also an adorable side. Sadly the only weakness in "The Gauntlet" ends up being Pat Hingle who as Shockley's friend Josephson ends up forcing the humour, the bumbling nature of his character causing it to be strangely wrong in a movie which is as much about the laughs as it is the action.

What this all boils down to is that "The Gauntlet" is still a really enjoyable movie despite being over 30 years old. It may run with what now is a familiar storyline but it works thanks to the pairing of Clint Eastwood and Sandra Locke. And it's not just them as whilst the level of comedy and action reaches the ridiculous it certainly brings a smile to your face especially the seriously outrageous final bus journey into Phoenix.

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