Joe Kidd – 1972

Director John Sturges
Screenplay Elmore Leonard
Starring Clint Eastwood, John Saxon, Robert Duvall, Don Stroud, Stella Garcia, James Wainwright, Paul Kosio, Dick Van Patten, Gregory Walcott

Joe Kidd is a Western based upon the real life storming of a courthouse in 1967 by a Mexican nationalist Reies Tijerna who wanted their ancestral lands handed back to them by the U.S. While it didn’t quite achieve Tijerna’s stated goal, it did create a new idea for Elmore Leonard. The script isn’t his or legendary director John Sturges’ best work, it is enough of a vehicle for a younger Eastwood and Duvall to show their acting chops. John Saxon, son of Italian immigrants by birth, plays a believable version of the Hispanic anti-hero, now called Chama.

The story starts out with Eastwood’s titular hero in the clink for hunting on reservation land, among other things. His session in court with a particularly antagonistic Sheriff ends strangely with the raid. Somehow Kidd rescues the Judge and kills one of Chama’s men in the process. This makes him a target of the nationalist, as well as someone in demand by the Harlan (Duvall) who compares the search to a hunting expedition.

If there is one thing Joe Kidd has going for it, no one other than Eastwood is safe throughout the first two acts. Several guys one might figure Kidd is “saving for later” are taken out before their clichéd time is up. We know they’re saving one for last, though.

There are a few classic Leonard lines, several of them delivered by women in the cast (Garcia, in particular) which gives a clear indication that Leonard is not one to play chauvinist with the intelligence of his characters.

The action scenes are slow and labored. There are no clear scenes that will impress anyone, even the train crash at the end is a slog.

Still, the duo antagonist and protagonist work as well as one might hope. Duvall, especially has a few nice flourishes that anyone who knows of his later work will appreciate.

Eastwood has many of the earmarks that fans will recognize, but even he seems distracted most of the time. We know he’s the good guy. We know he breaks the mold. When he decides to help and when he decides to watch is a tossup.

This film is not the pinnacle of any of the talent involved in its creation. Still, it’s got too much talent to ignore the film completely.

(*** out of *****)

From Roger Ebert’s original review:

“…The director is John Sturges, who has made infinitely better films than this one (“The Great Escape,” “Bad Day at Black Rock”). He seems to have bogged down. The photography is undeniably beautiful, but there comes a point when we’ve had too many mountains and too little plot...”

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