Not particularly complicated, and sometimes as confused as it is concise, 1972’s Joe Kidd is nonetheless a lean, reasonably satisfying slice of Clint Eastwood outlaw badassery. Coming on the heels of Dirty Harry and boasting a sterling roster for what turns out to be a minor Western effort, it’s a film with muddled politics but a clear sense of its main attraction—namely, Eastwood’s no-nonsense squintiness, which is celebrated to such a degree that, during the climactic showdown, director John Sturges (Bad Day At Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape) makes sure to cut to a close-up of his star’s eyes going extra-squinty right before he guns down his main adversary. It’s a moment befitting the proceedings, which mostly operate as a vehicle for its headliner’s tough-guy persona, here taking the form of an outlaw in the small town of Sinola, New Mexico. Things get hairy after John Saxon’s Mexican revolutionary stirs up trouble by storming a courthouse and demanding reclamation of lands that he claims were stolen from his people by the U.S. government.
Introduced sleeping off the prior night’s drunken escapades in a jail cell, Eastwood’s Joe Kidd is immediately established as a roughneck of few words, smashing a taunting cellmate’s face with a pot and gruffly accepting his fate in court while being tried for illegally hunting deer on reservation lands. He’s soon tasked with again heading into the wild to stalk prey when Robert Duvall’s wealthy landowner hires Eastwood—who, unsurprisingly, used to work as a bounty hunter—to help his thugs track and kill Saxon, lest the rebel cost him prized property. A man of supposed principle, Eastwood only agrees to this gig after he discovers that Saxon has stolen his horses. Yet revenge soon takes a backseat to some sort of ill-defined virtuous stand after Eastwood discovers that Duvall is a cold-blooded murderer. Either because he can magically sense a coming betrayal, or because he suspects that Eastwood won’t be able to resist the feminine charms of their prisoner—Saxon’s girlfriend, Stella Garcia—Duvall decides to lock up the gunslinger with the rest of a poor Mexican town’s residents.
Such sloppy plotting is part and parcel of Elmore Leonard’s script, and extends to the characterization of Eastwood’s hero, who eventually decides that the best course of action is to combat Duvall and his henchmen—including Don Stroud’s rival, who is felled in painfully anticlimactic fashion—while preposterously convincing Saxon to do the right thing and turn himself in to the authorities. Joe Kidd never makes a lucid case for Eastwood’s moral position, because it’s too busy lavishing love on the Western landscape (beautifully shot by Bruce Surtees) and staging a number of shootouts rendered dull by the lack of stakes at play. Instead, the film is just a series of well-struck poses by a cast that recognizes, and relishes, the one-dimensional qualities they’re embodying: Saxon’s gruff nobility; Duvall’s weaselly, cackling villainy; and Eastwood’s raspy, intimidating stoicism, so unflappable that even a gratified smile born from sniping a distant enemy can’t quite crack his snarling façade.
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Eastwood also gets mixed up with Mexican revolutionaries (not to mention Shirley MacLaine’s nun) in 1970’s Two Mules For Sister Sara (Ais), another one of the star’s minor ’70s efforts, and the second of his five collaborations with Don Siegel. For those five people clamoring for it, last year’s made-for-TV remake of 1984’s time-travel film The Philadelphia Experiment arrives courtesy of Starz/Anchor Bay. Meanwhile, a true classic, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, gets the Blu-ray re-release treatment by the Criterion Collection, replete with all the supplements from its prior DVD edition.
The week’s new releases are headlined by Sam Raimi’s L. Frank Baum-inspired blockbuster prequel Oz The Great And Powerful (Walt Disney), which (available on DVD, Blu-ray, or 3-D Blu-ray) affords another opportunity to ponder the unwelcome sexualization of the Wicked Witch Of The West. Speaking of witches, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton embarrass themselves in the horrid-from-concept-to-execution fairy-tale actioner Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount). The rich are skewered with soap opera-ish bluntness in The Taste Of Money (MPI Home Video), the latest wannabe-shocker from Korean director Im Sang-Soo. Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong (Image) details a man’s wacko efforts to find his beloved dog, while The Rock goes undercover with drug dealers to save his son from incarceration in the sturdy B-movie Snitch (Summit). And first-time director Jared Moshé gets classical with his respectably authentic throwback indie oater Dead Man’s Burden (New Video Group).