Judge Dan Mancini once freaked out at the Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel, man. It was far out.
Our review of Clint Eastwood: The Universal Pictures 7-Movie Collection (Blu-ray), published June 19th, 2015, is also available.
Eastwood is the man!
Back in 2007, Universal released Clint Eastwood: Western Icon Collection, a two-disc triple feature headlined by Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, and supported by John Sturges's Joe Kidd and Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara. The set was dirt cheap but offered transfers of the three movies that suffered from minor source damage and an excess of compression artifacts. While not a bad deal for someone looking for a hearty Eastwood cowboy fix, the release had something of the stink of a last ditch, bargain basement cash grab.
Now we have a similar release: Clint Eastwood: American Icon Collection, a three-disc, four-movie package featuring two flicks with Eastwood directing and two with his directorial mentor, Don Siegel, at the helm.
Facts of the Case
Clint Eastwood: American Icon Collection's three discs are housed in a standard size keepcase and a glossy cardboard slipcover. Here are the movies:
The Beguiled (1971)
The most fascinating thing about revisiting Clint Eastwood's early adventures in the director's chair is the extent to which he borrowed mentor Don Siegel's voice while in the process of developing his own. The two Eastwood movies in this set—Play Misty for Me and The Eiger Sanction—are leaner, more direct, and more traditionally masculine than the director's more acclaimed works in the 1990s and 2000s. In these early works, one can see the influence of Siegel in the use of handheld cameras that follow the actors in loosely blocked scenes to mimic documentary verisimilitude; the revelation of character through action; and male protagonists who are anti-authoritarian, anti-social, and amoral (especially sexually).
Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty for Me is surprisingly assured, both visually and narratively. Stunning aerial photography of seaside Carmel, California ensures that the movie is a feast for the eyes. By contrast, Eastwood shoots his actors (including himself) with a touch of rough-around-the-edges naturalism. The rugged, unostentatious design gives the psychological thriller a gritty believability. The film presents Eastwood in full sex symbol mode, his Dave Garver a cool, intelligent loner with a wolf's eye and a forceful sexual confidence. This proves to be Garver's Achilles' heel when he meets obsessed fan Evelyn Draper. Jessica Walter delivers what is easily one of the most memorable performances of her career, whipsawing from manic, to smothering, to emotionally needy, to sudden fits of rage and violence with such skill that she entirely sells the character's mercurial nature—Evelyn Draper is the psycho-chick all men fear. As a directorial debut, though, Play Misty for Me is perhaps most impressive for its spot-on sense of pacing. Eastwood is deliberate with his setups and payoffs, and he takes the time necessary to immerse us in Garver's world, yet the movie has a clear sense of direction, propelled by well-timed turns of plot. From top to bottom, Play Misty for Me is artful and well-constructed.
Assigned a disc of its own, the version of Play Misty for Me in this set appears to be a repackaging of Universal's Collector's Edition release from back in 2001. This may sound like bad news, but I can assure you that it is not. The 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer is excellent. Colors are bold and natural. Detail is as sharp as the format and original source materials allow. The movie appears to have undergone an extensive digital restoration because the image is nearly pristine. Edge enhancement and other digital tomfoolery are controlled and not at all obtrusive. Audio is a two-channel presentation of the original mono source. It won't rock your home theater, but it's clean and free of hiss, cracks, and pops.
All of the supplements from the earlier DVD are included here. "Play it Again: A Look Back at Play Misty for Me" is a thorough making-of documentary that runs nearly an hour in length. "Clint Eastwood Directs and Acts" is a photo slideshow of Eastwood, well, directing and acting in the film. "The Beguiled, Misty, Don and Clint" is a six-minute featurette about Don Siegel's influence on Eastwood, as well as the thematic and stylistic connections between Play Misty for Me and The Beguiled, which Siegel and Eastwood made just prior Eastwood's directorial debut. Finally, "Clint Eastwood on DVD" is a brief and quite dated featurette in which the actor-director discusses why he likes the format.
Skipping over High Plains Drifter and the obscure Breezy, the American Icon Collection next presents 1975's The Eiger Sanction. Eastwood's fourth time in the director's chair, the film is easily the worst in this set but still manages to deliver some fun and a (literal) mountain of gorgeous visuals. The plot (a former assassin is compelled to come out of retirement for one last hit) is hackneyed and predictable, but Eastwood approaches the material as though plot were beside the point. From an espionage section chief (Thayer David, Rocky) whose extreme albinism forces him to hole up in his office under red gel lighting, to a foxy black love interest named Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee, Blacula), Eastwood piles on the absurdity so thick that you can't prevent the suspension-of-disbelief portion of your brain from clicking into action. The movie is something of a long haul through the first act, but picks up considerably when Eastwood's Dr. Hemlock begins training for the mountain climbing expedition during which he intends to identify and "sanction" his target. The second act is deliberately paced but benefits from the interaction between the smooth and laconic Eastwood and the boisterous and emotive George Kennedy, who plays Hemlock's decadent trainer. The movie doesn't hit its full stride, though, until the third-act ascent up Eiger—the climb is real (there isn't a rear projection shot in sight) and the cinematography is breathtaking. It's unfortunate that the The Eiger Sanction is a better travelogue than an action flick.
Despite the middling quality of the movie, The Eiger Sanction looks nearly as good on DVD as Play Misty for Me. Color and detail are as beautiful as the earlier film, though haloing from edge enhancement is slightly more noticeable. Audio is again presented in a clean two-channel mix of the original analog mono track. The only extras are text-based production notes and a trailer for the film.
Disc Three of the American Icon Collection switches gears into a Don Siegel double-feature. First up is 1968's Coogan's Bluff, a movie that can be read as a more conventional precursor to Siegel and Eastwood's most famous collaboration, Dirty Harry. Walt Coogan, like Harry Callahan, is a rigidly justice-minded cop with no patience for politics, bureaucracy, or legal niceties that put innocent bystanders in harm's way by extending latitude to hardened thugs. Coogan doesn't pack a .357 Magnum and he isn't nearly as violent as his cinematic antecedent, but the movie is still filled with Siegel's stylistic action flourishes, from rugged camerawork, to gunplay, to breathy foot chases through the streets of the city. The movie's most memorable (and dated) sequence, however, is a freak out/orgy/music video at a psychedelic night club called the Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel, where Coogan scares up a lead on his target. Coogan's Bluff is a fun, fish-out-of-water police action movie and a fine showcase for Siegel's style and Eastwood's screen persona. It's nowhere near as good as Dirty Harry, but it's better than most of the non-Siegel-directed sequels in that franchise.
Sharing disc space with Coogan's Bluff is the Siegel-Eastwood Civil War drama, The Beguiled, from 1971. An unusual film, it's perhaps the most interesting title in this collection. A chamber drama of sorts, it offers a sly, cynical, and at times horrifying glimpse into the sexually repressed world of an all-girl school during a time of war when men are scarce. Siegel expertly uses Eastwood's screen charisma to demonstrate the explosive results of the sudden arrival of a man into such an environment. Loyalties are tested and hearts are broken as Eastwood's Corporal McBurney manipulates the women's emotions in a desperate attempt to stay alive and out of the hands of Confederate soldiers. In "The Beguiled, Misty, Don and Clint" on Disc One, film critic Richard Schickel makes the case that Play Misty for Me was directly influenced by The Beguiled (they were made the same year). Schickel's case isn't overstated. Both movies are subtle but tense psychological thrillers that occasionally explode into histrionics and violence; both are propelled by sexual desire; both turn into quasi-horror movies in their finales. The Beguiled's drama begins quietly but builds inexorably toward the revelation that Mrs. Farnsworth and her girls are at least as cynical as McBurney. The cold, unforgiving look in the eyes of a very young Pamelyn Ferdin during the film's climax is the stuff of lotharios' nightmares. The most enjoyable part of The Beguiled is watching Eastwood spar with Geraldine Page. Anyone who still harbors doubts about Eastwood's quality as an actor should take the time to watch him stand toe-to-toe with one of the 20th century's finest. He acquits himself well.
Though Coogan's Bluff and The Beguiled share a disc, their audio and video presentations don't suffer in the least. Coogan's Bluff is the worst looking of the four movies in this set, yet its 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer is still rock solid. The image sports a tad more grain, as well as some specks on the source, but colors are accurate and detail is excellent. The Beguiled (also presented in anamorphically-enhanced 1.85:1) looks nearly as good as Play Misty for Me. The image is sharp, colorful, and not at all hampered by digital artifacts. Again, the audio presentations are clean and serviceable two-channel mono mixes.
Coogan's Bluff comes with no extras, while production notes and a trailer accompany The Beguiled.
Clint Eastwood: American Icon Collection is a pleasant surprise. With excellent transfers of four Eastwood adventures, all for the price of one DVD, the set is a steal—even if The Eiger Sanction isn't worth watching more than once. Eastwood fans who don't already own these titles shouldn't hesitate to add this three-disc set to their collections.
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Scales of Justice, Coogan's Bluff
Perp Profile, Coogan's Bluff
Distinguishing Marks, Coogan's Bluff
Scales of Justice, The Beguiled
Perp Profile, The Beguiled
Distinguishing Marks, The Beguiled
• Production Notes
Scales of Justice, Play Misty For Me
Perp Profile, Play Misty For Me
Distinguishing Marks, Play Misty For Me
Scales of Justice, The Eiger Sanction
Perp Profile, The Eiger Sanction
Distinguishing Marks, The Eiger Sanction
• Production Notes
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