"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Joe Kidd (Universal, 1972)

Bruce Surtees, Elmore Leonard, John Sturges - it's a great combination


Early 1900s, somewhere down on the Mexican border (“Sinola County”). Clint Eastwood as Joe Kidd is just emerging from spaghetti gruntings into real characters although director John Sturges has obviously been watching a few spaghettis because we have jangly Lalo Schifrin music and a band of spaghetti-esque killers (they are quite good, in fact).

The qualities of this film come from four things: the acting, especially Eastwood and Robert Duvall but also some of the minor parts; the directing (Sturges was a good, solid journeyman Western director, just occasionally going beyond that into the very good); and the wonderful scenery, filmed in Panavision in the Inyo National Forest along the California/Nevada border by Bruce Surtees, surely one of the greatest ever Western cinematic photographers.

That's three, you say. But of course the principal ingredient is the fact that it was written by Elmore Leonard and I don’t know of a bad Western by him. The story, characters and plot are gripping, authentic and, well, just right.

Only John Saxon as the “charismatic” revolutionary Luis Chama isn’t too convincing and he doesn’t endear himself to us with his comment to his woman, “I don't keep you to think. I keep you for cold nights and days when there's nothing to do”. The others do an excellent job. I like Saxon in Westerns normally - he could be excellent - but this isn't one of his best.

The killers are brutal and very expert with their ultra-modern weapons. Their boss, Duvall, is the most ruthless of all. He finally gets his day in court.

There’s an important question of land rights underpinning the tale.

An excellent movie, produced by Eastwood’s company Malpaso, not quite in the Josey Wales or Pale Rider class, and certainly nowhere near Unforgiven in quality (after all, Clint didn’t direct this one) but nevertheless by no means one of his worst and visually a treat.
It's must-see, pards.



  1. John Saxon has just left us a few days ago at 83... Even if you think he was not at his best in Joe Kidd, as you say you usually like him in westerns - he was a guest in many TV ones such as The Virginian or Bonanza - he could be one of your next focus !?

    1. For an Easterner he was very good in the West. He rode extremely well, for one thing. He was outstanding in several Westerns, I thought.