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Joe Kidd (1972)

by on 2013/06/11

joe_kidd_1972“Next time I’ll knock your damn head off.”

* * *

My stepfather was a truck driver. He liked hunting, coffee, huge bowls of Rice Krispies and stories. Particularly stories. He told tales involving colourful characters with names like Pinky. (Apparently Pinky was so named because he was missing his little finger).

These were stories about men who weren’t afraid of anything, were dead shots when bull moose attacked, and could hang a grown man from a coat hook.

Watching this Elmore Leonard-scripted story about a character by the name of Joe Kidd reminded me a lot of my stepfather’s stories. Enigmatic, deadly, drunken, slightly silly, Joe Kidd is played by a young but ever crusty Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry). Elmore Leonard’s quirky dialogue and meandering, equally quirky action put me in mind of a tall tale told at a bar.

I liked the story’s minimalism. We meet Joe Kidd in jail. He’s wearing a derby and a starched shirt collar. He looks like a dandy but he can swing a prison-issue dinner pail like a gladiator.

There’s a very, very slow reveal about who Joe Kidd is and what the kind of man he is. When a loud-mouthed, entitled landowner comes to town in the form of Frank Harlan played by a loud-mouthed, entitled Robert Duvall (Four Christmases), he seeks out Joe to act as scout on his “hunting party.”

Duvall, surrounded by gunny sociopaths, is on the hunt for prey of the most dangerous game variety. There’s an Mexican land reform activist called Luis Chama played by John Saxon (Fast Company) who has caught the landowner’s eye.

Posse formed, the best guns packed in saddlebags, the hunt is on. There’s an interesting but never fully realized cat and mouse game played between Eastwood’s and Duvall’s characters. There was also the very subtle but confusingly inconsistent character arch here for Kidd, from a disinterested amoralism to impassioned fighter for the justice system.

I, like my stepfather, like stories. Very much. Joe Kidd is a pretty good one, told by someone who maybe tended to ramble just a little and didn’t quite understand why the characters were doing what they eventually ended up doing.

Directed by John Sturges (The Great Escape), it is an uneven but mostly satisfying ride. I can forgive just about anything that has Mr. Eastwood squinting over a gun barrel.

* * *

88 minutes

Rated PG

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