The Outlaw Josey Wales is a fantastic film. It’s sweeping, humorous and meaningfully heavy. It’s every reason movies exist. A challenging pleasure every time I watch though it’s not my favorite Western, not in my top 5 and maybe not my top 10. It’s not even my favorite Clint Eastwood offering in the genre. Yet, it’s one of the dearest films I will ever know for a few reasons. For starters it’s a revenge flick. Josey Wales was a farmer and family man whose farm and family became collateral damage during the twilight of Lincoln’s War. Hard to stay at home content with wife and child when your wife gets raped and your child burned alive in the name of keeping the Union together. Sounds despicable but William Tecumseh Sherman has a tank named after him for reveling in such degradation. Long before mechanized infantry however, men took their misery and the soothing thereof literally into their own hands. Covering the flesh of their fingers and the depths of their souls with the blood of those that done them wrong. Josey joins a Southern militia but once they’re double crossed it’s just him against the world. Him and all his guns that is.
Clint’s compliment in this movie would make The Punisher jealous. He’s got big guns and small guns and every other goddamn gun. He even gets to use a Gatling and a Sharps. The Sharps he uses twice. Once, to send some varmints on his tail for a little boat ride with a shot of several yards as the original designer surely intended and then later on with an up close “fuck your mom in the ass” kind of shot. It’s called that because the dude Clint pops from 10 feet away, with a sniper rifle shot from the hip, gets fucked so hard even his momma knows it! Knows it in her ass! Such is the might of retribution in the hands of Josey Wales. Besides burning black powder, another thing Josey is great at is opening doors. This door:
All doors dude! It would almost be comical, the way thresholds bend over and grab their ankles for him, if it wasn’t so badass. Long before the first supermarket, Josey Wales seemingly invented automatic doors. It’s as if his manliness produces an unseen shockwave that clears the way for him and announces, it case you hadn’t been listening, that everything’s about to change for the Josey. That is, if’n you ain’t with the Josey, you’re against him. And if you’re against him, that taste in your mouth is your own balls because Josey just strangled you to death with your scrotum. Terms like “brutal” and “unflinching” come to mind along with sentences like “I want to be him when I grow up” and “that’s not weird that I’ve been hard since the opening credits is it?”
No, no it’s not.
The Outlaw Josey Wales moves you to reach deeper than the red hot hate burning in both your heart our hero’s. Revenge can’t be avoided at times, but neither should redemption be. My hands have held both “fuck you” and forgiveness so I can relate. Life is balance and this movie balances grief with guffaws better than most any I’ve seen. You begin with this:
But before long you somehow or another end up here:
Much of that is owed to Clint’s directing. High Plains Drifter predates Josey Wales by three years and is the finest of fucking films but as much as I adore the former I must acknowledge that Clint had masterfully come in to his own with the latter. Wales is both epic and intimate as it looks across deserts or into one man’s sadly scarred heart.
Another reason this film must be considered damn near perfect is due to the ever growing ensemble that surrounds Josey. An Indian, an old lady homesteader and her daughter, a few inhabitants of a forlorn almost ghost town and one dog. He treats them all with aggravated acceptance. They treat him to reminders that once he gets even he can get on with living again and maybe even happily at that. Chief among these folks is Chief Dan George.
He plays Lone Watie, a once proud Native who finds in the strength of an angry stranger a reason to be proud once more. Much of his performance will make you laugh, some of it will make you think and one reminiscence in particular will bring quiet tears to your eyes. All of Josey’s supporting cast have an immeasurable impact on the feeling of this film. This gut-wrenched gunslinger ultimately faces his destiny by himself but that doesn’t mean he’s alone. Good thing when it’s four on one.
Well four on two, as Lone Watie rips through one of these dudes easier than alcohol and baccarat have through his descendants but I digress. Look at these blue bellied bitches! They’re all like “you’ll see, once we go and win this here ‘Civil War’ our country won’t never again be at odds over state’s rights, civil liberties or the fact that Honest Abe wants to send every black person (look it up kids!) back to Africa!” Well the three on the left are thinking that. The guy on the right is wondering if he’s Jason Stackhouse. No matter anyway, I mean I’m not ruining anything when I allude to the obvious fact that Josey will not be hindered in any way from seeing retribution paid in full by one Captain “Redlegs” Terrill.
What a bastard. He doesn’t get much screen-time and when he does says little, so he’s sort of a “Bruce the shark” kind of bad guy. He gave Josey that tear down his face and gave the order to burn his life to the ground. He’s rarely there but damn near omnipresent, sweating vinegar like the personified douche bag he so is. He’s the purpose of all Josey’s pain and the reason this movie even moves forward. But in this film as in life, curb stomping your enemies, as gloriously comforting and goddamn necessary every now and then as it is, cannot be the final measure of any man.
Hear me amigos, loud and true, that there are those in this world today I’d not extend a helping hand toward were their deviant lives hanging off a fucking cliff. I am brutal and I am base. But I am the converse as well. Just this week I reached out to an old friend turned villain for going on half a decade now. We spoke candidly and found peace. In humility, with apologies, both sides found new life in the friendship. I am not beyond a curbstomp, but I’m not adverse to a warm embrace either. The Outlaw Josey Wales has one of the best parlays ever to be put to film, one that perfectly illustrates my point.
He shares a few words with Ten Bears. More importantly he shares his heart. Never have I seen a man so fatigued and still so fierce. Honest about the outcome, Josey carries a confidence into the conversation his exhaustion might otherwise betray. If for no other reason watch the movie for this scene and know that as ready as fists are to take up arms in the pursuit of death they are just as ready to take your hand in the pursuit of life.
Fantastic fuckin’ film.
All the anger and all the absolution, all of it, leads to 6 of my best rounds ever in the cylinder for The Outlaw Josey Wales. But this one gets a few more too. 21 in fact, all for an old Navy submariner I knew. You see, in the back of a Perkins’ parking lot my new father in law Nick, minted only 48 hours prior, took me quietly aside and with watery eyes he looked at his daughter, then to me with hopeful ones. He said four of the most important words I will ever hear:
“Take care of her.”
Took a moment to say, it’ll take a lifetime of moments to honor. I married Angie after knowing her for under six months and that was after dumping my girlfriend/fiancee of seven years. I was better at being risky than responsible. Now years later, Nick has passed and the upstairs drain is probably clogged, our only car (a fabulous Honda Element) is about to turn over 300,000 miles and our plans of moving out to Arizona are bolstered by little more than wings and prayers.
But that might be all we need.
There’s a line as Josey come across an old woman at a critical junction in his journey and she greets him with “so, you’ll be the Josey Wales!” It was Nick’s favorite line from one of Nick’s favorite movies. It’s as much a question as it is the answer and deeper than you’d might’n suspect. It’s a commission too. Josey had and lost then had again. All the while jumping headlong and headstrong into just about every circumstance that came his way. He was skilled no doubt, but lucky too and more than anything, determined. “Determined”. That word’ll kick you in the balls as soon as pick you up off the floor. It harrowed and humbled me to think that a man I’d just met would entrust the most precious thing in his life to my untested hands. Thirteen years later I turned 40 and keep getting older every day with no marketable skills to speak of at my disposal. Hell I tried to write this review going on a week before I deleted it all and started fresh tonight. I got trouble eeking out a few thousand words what the fuck am I doing reaching for the stars?
I’ll tell you amigo.
And I will get there.
For myself and best of all, for her. For my wife. For my Angie. Josey Wales ran into a lot of shit, a lot of the times woefully unprepared, but always managed to give more than he got. And that’s what I’m willing to do across the board and in so many ways. Ready or not, Angie and I build a wonderful life together every single day. I can hear Nick even now saying the last thing he ever said to me as he lay dying in a cold hospital bed. He looked over to me at the end of his cognizance and so close to the end of his life. He looked at me, smiled, and said ”you’ll be the Josey Wales!”
Yeah Pop, I reckon so.
Honest words exchanged
Peace coming to years of strife
You know what pisses me off sometimes? Me. I piss myself off because, even after living forty years I will still get my panties in a twist if goings-on don’t go down almost exactly as I’d expected. My wife wears a different pair of heels than I was expecting? Tension! My horse doesn’t head in just the right direction? Annoyance! Some rando exits an elevator in a terribly inefficient manner totally unlike how I, with my infinite elevator exiting experience, would have egressed? Death upon him and his for seven upon seven generations and may his greatest of great grandchildren still feel a cold shudder down their back forevermore whenever they’re asked “what floor please?”
Now, I am improving. I don’t freak out nearly as much anymore and when I do it’s not quite as paralyzing. I’ve learned from past mistakes and accept that new ones are always on the way. I’ve also learned that great and wonderful moments happen when perfect plans go awry.
I’ve never expected the best times of my life. They happen, and if you’re too dumb, too angry or too scared, you’ll miss ‘em. Two Mules For Sister Sara is a wonderful illustration of this truth.
Clint Eastwood once again plays a bristly badass with little to his name save for a pistol, a horse and an unerring commitment to look out for himself. Seeing Clint portray precisely the same dude in all his best movies you might think it’s repetitive, but you have to ask yourself ”who gives a fuck what I think” and remember that the answer is “no one!” Clint is perfectly typecast for a reason. If you have any doubts, sit through The Beguiled. By the end of that one you’ll be crying out to heaven for mercy. Good thing Shirley MacLaine is a nun.
She’s the titular Sara. I would normally make a ”tit” joke here. But she’s a bride of Christ and it’s probably bad luck to talk about Jesus’ wife’s tits. While I may be relatively refined, the men man-handling our sweet sister at the start of the film are anything but and for that crassness earn some lead up their ass-ness. Thus begins the improbable partnership between a hellraiser and a holy woman. Both are embroiled with the Juaristas in a fight to ferret out the French incursion into Mexico but have differing reason for doing so. Sara works for God, her new escort Hogan, only gold. Despite the obvious disconnect, this sacred and profane odd couple manage to work together to avoid a military detachment, escape hostile Indians and even give a French supply train a blowjob it will never forget.
Bet you thought I was going for another cheap sex joke at the sister’s expense but no, I’m better than that. I’d never allude to the fact that since nuns spend so much time on their knees with their hands clasped and eyes closed that goddamn my balls love me some nuns! Whew, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (and into some nun’s hypothetical mouth) we can proceed. Don’t think me a scoundrel either, although Sara is first and foremost one of the Lord’s faithful servants, she still manages to tease her traveling companion along the way.
One minute she’s rebuffing poor Hogan’s advances, the next she’s all “wanna see me hold the snake?” Come to think of it, maybe there’s more to this Sister Sara than meets the eye. That’s on top of everything else meeting your eyes. Two Mules For Sister Sara was beautifully shot in beautiful Mexico. It’s easy to forget in this day and age of green screen that the outdoors still exist and people are in them from time to time. It’s winsome to take pause then and acknowledge that the hills, sky, grass and critters you’re seeing were real. Sure it’s absurd, but generations from now on will instead just assume everything presented to them is fake. And they’ll be fine with that. The background in a movie or several people in that background, their “friends” online, the key lime flavoring in their unfortunately colored key lie pie: all fake. Get some dirt under your nails amigos, get too drunk or go and get lost somewhere you’ve never been before. There’s a big, wide and real world out there to be contested. And when you find some bastards that need explodin’, then get to explodin’!
The use of dynamite in Two Mules For Sister Sara is deliciously liberal. According to historical fact, dynamite wasn’t patented by Alfred Nobel until after the events of this movie. According to huge explosions, who gives a shit? Clint tosses highly volatile death sticks around with the nonchalance of a desk jockey tossing away an old TPS report. His cavalier attitude, coupled with a body count padding accuracy rate that’ll have you cheering from the edge of your seat, further cements Clint as King of the Cocksure Cowboys. I mean in case the Dollars trilogy, Joe Kidd, The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter and/or Unforgiven hadn’t convinced you as of yet. He sure as hell saves the day but not without more than a little help from his friends including a rag-tag band of Juarista freedom fighters and one delightfully derpy pinata. WARNING: the following is a short clip from the beginning of the final battle. Skip it to avoid seeing a delightfully derpy pinata sacrifice himself while Clint honors his derpy memory:
A great scene from a great movie that mixes the humor of our human condition with horror from the same. War is hell, rape indefensible, despotism to be despised. But keeping a smile on your face more often than not makes all the shit we gotta deal with and all the shit we gotta do to make those deals just a bit less shitty on the whole. We all make mistakes and life’s golden path makes mistakes for us if’n we’re not ambitious enough to do it on our own. Listen and hear Hogan’s wisdom as he spits “everybody’s got a right to be sucker once!” When your own personal Mexico gets invaded by some French-like fuckery through a fault yours or not, you gonna mope or are you gonna crack a confusing smile and lob some dynamite?
So what’cha gonna do brother?
Oh I get it. A Hulk “Hogan” gag. Shirley, I must be joking.
Not funny? Fine, I’m done messing around MacLaine!
6 rounds for Two Mules for Sister Sara and my point is this: die hard! Oh man I goddamn did it again! But I’m serious. Live long enough or just wander outside to get the mail and the improbable will fall upon you easy as sunshine. Plan and plan and plan all you want, expect those plans to be realized flawlessly, and then think of me when randomness takes one hilariously huge dump on those perfect blueprints of yours. Hogan and Sara didn’t plan on relying on much more than themselves, much less each other. Funny how things work out for the best when at first glance you just don’t think they’re gonna work out at all.
So ride true amigos and be on the lookout for bumps along the way because not all of them can be avoided.
Nor should they be.
Helped Dante save a wedding
What a great strange life
When I finally saw The Wild Bunch I thought it was oafish and fatuous. It made me want to simultaneously shit, vomit, sneeze, urinate and cry in a desperate attempt to expunge my memories of having to endure it by any means and all orifices available to me. Since that day I’ve hoped I would come across another film to fill the wild and bunch-y void in my heart. A Zapata-esque Western featuring an ensemble cast embroiled in tests of both physque and character. Life and death decisions made by strong hearts behind big bosoms and huge balls dangling from well worn, leathery and scarred scrotums. The Professionals gave me exactly the tits and tats I’d been searching for and all without using women and children as meat-shields.
Starring Lee Marvin as the grizzled leader of a band of four specialists hired to rescue a rancher’s wife. Woody Strode as basically The Black Man With No Name. Burt Lancaster as a guy I’ve heard of but never seen in a movie before now. And Robert Ryan. Who was in The WIld Bunch. So, fuck.
Anywho, these guys are the best there is at what they do. Marvin (weapons/logistics/looking cool), Strode (scouting/archery/also looking cool), Lancaster (explosives/smiling like an idiot. A sexy, sexy idiot) and finally Ryan (being superfluous).
Marvin was drunk for the entire production which makes the authentic ease by which he juggles the egos along with the gravitas of the mission all the more impressive. In vino veritas literally translates to “yeah I’m drunk, drunk and amazing! He also handles a heavy machine gun as if he’s ready to make violent, steamy love to it all the while speaking in a voice that has you thinking “if I ever get a blowjob from a guy, maybe he should sound as goddamn awesome as Lee Marvin always does!”
Away from dick jokes now and on to Woody. Strode. Exuding a definite sense of Clint, all minimal dialogue and a sure-this’ll-work-or-maybe-it-won’t-but-screw-it-either-way look in his eye, Woody calmly catches your gaze through every scene in which he’s featured even if he never says a word. Strong, near silent and black. Like a good cup of coffee.
Now, anyone with a hard-on for dynamite is granted near instant access into my personal pantheon of favorite action heroes. Add Burt Lancaster’s infections grin and sensitive scoundrel of a character on top of his explosive moxie and boom goes my balls. All over my hands. Because I was jerking off he’s so good. You will hang on every word he says with gusto. Almost like a woman being dragged across a desert level gusto. Like this!
Then’s there’s Robert Ryan. I wish I could tell you what he did in The Professionals but you’ll ust have to watch and not care for yourself.
But I put my apathy aside, as I’m sure you will, once all the big burly balls start rolling. A woman’s been kidnapped and needs saving. A ragged quartet has been offered a sum of money to do so but it’s no ordinary sum of money. Because, the woman is no ordinary woman.
She’s Claudia Cardinale.
If you’ve never fantasized about Claudia Cardinale while masturbating with gun oil, a bullwhip tight around your neck, while Ennio Morricone music plays you to climax then you’re probably not me. She is (sweaty) hands down one of the most elegant and attractive women to ever walk the planet. An Italian enchantress I simple adore and who always makes me appreciative. Appreciative of the fact that often when I see her on screen I have but to look across the living room at my wife Angie who, although only half Italian, is easily twice as beautiful. Claudia and my wife have more in common though than just looks. Without ruining too much I’ll say only that Miss Cardinale might not be quite the ”damsel in distress” she at first appears to be. Pretty and pugnacious, she gives us more over the course of the adventure to look at than just her mountains. In fact, shot in California, Nevada and Mexico, The Professionals other mountains are glorious to behold as well. Just look at ‘em!
In the background there. See? I told you. This movie feels vast without ever slipping out of your grasp, expert cinematography juxtaposing sweeping vistas with intimate campfire conversations. You feel like you’re riding right along with the crew as they cross the southern border to stir up week-old refried beans kind of shit and then make a desperate run back to America.
The entire cast gets so grungy in this film, covered in scratches, sweat and ill-informed decisions, that you’ll feel like you need a bath by the end of it all too and not just because Lancaster and Cardinale appear on screen at times together making you think “I don’t have enough dicks to jerk on!” No one was afraid to get down and dirty in this one and that lends a tremendous authenticity to the narrative. Having Jack Palance play Jesus in your film helps that too.
Not that Jesus, c’mon! This Jesus is Mexican and we all know the real Jesus was white. Or at least not Mexican. Or black. Palance plays rebel leader/Cardinale kidnapper Jesus Raza begrimed in the same manner as all the other stars and with a soiled soul to match. He’s furious tranquility, like a hyena you’re about to sit on unbeknownst to either of you. He’s grubby and his motivations grey. What’s he up to? And who’s up to it with him? And can he really change water into wine? All reasonable questions, but I ask, “who’s ‘good’ in The Professionals?” and “who’s ‘bad’?” and “who the fuck am I to ask you that?” Go watch and figure it out for yourself. This South of the Border soiree will not fail to satisfy.
5 rusty rounds in the cylinder. The Professionals is silver screen adventure at its damn near finest. Like Indiana Jones 1 and 3, but not so much 2 and certainly not 4. No, this movie is thought out and thoughtful, with a cast ready and able to handle action and moral ambiguity equally well. It revels in both a simple concept and an intricate execution thereof. Plus it’s casually complex without being cunty like some other “edgy” Westerns I won’t mention here. Like The Wild Bunch. It’s a dream team of talent and a sight to behold, stirring folks against a stirring backdrop. Things aren’t always what they seem in this movie but neither are they that way in life. In life, we collect around us individuals to laugh with and butt heads against as we forage for meaning in an ever meaningless world. We head off with sure plans and come back with the answers to questions we never thought we’d be asking ourselves. Who am I, truly? What do I want and how far would I go for it? Where are all the white women at?
My hope is that you’ll find the answers you’re looking for or start asking different questions. Honesty about who you are, self made bastard or one by birth, is the key amigos. The Professionals is honest and ruggedly so. Honesty and ruggedness.
I’d welcome more of both in all our lives.