Richard Schickel’s film The Eastwood Factor is a fascinating look at Clint Eastwood’s incredible career at Warner Brothers. The 88 minute film is an extension of Schickel’s mouth watering Featurette that was included with the mammoth, Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. which celebrated Eastwood's 35th anniversary with the studio. Eastwood’s friend and co star Morgan Freeman narrates throughout in his warm and charming style, while Eastwood informally welcomes us, the viewer, while tinkering away casually at the keys of a piano. It is obvious from the start that Eastwood is in relaxed mood, surrounded by friend’s, including Schickel, he is seemingly happy to talk at length and in an unhurried manner. Eastwood takes us back to his childhood and about his early influences such as Bogart and in particular, James Cagney and reminds us of his admiration for White Heat. It was dramas such as these that were produced at Warner Brothers in the 1930’s and 40’s and that Eastwood remembers watching fondly as a kid. A very brief look at his role in Maverick and Rawhide sets up the next stage of Eastwood’s career, before touching even more briefly, on his Sergio Leone ‘Dollar’ Trilogy (1964-1966). But in fairness, this is Eastwood at Warner Brothers, so the show really starts to bubble with the introduction of Dirty Harry (1971).
Eastwood mentions how there were several variations of the Dirty Harry script piled up for him to read, tailored for different stars and different premises. A hard enough task to read them all he recalls. But Eastwood was also smart enough to realise how the story was beginning to become lost with every subsequent read, and instead opted to choose the script that he first read and was first attracted to. It is an interesting glimpse at one of his philosophies, and one that Eastwood returns to later while discussing David Peoples’ script for his Oscar winning film Unforgiven (1992). Eastwood tells how he, ‘Started writing and fooling with things and changing things, and all of a sudden I realised I was wrecking it. So I called him (Peoples) back up and I said forget about that. I'm just going shoot it the way it is’. It’s a refreshing and humbling side of the star and one that is rarely realised by today’s equals, a simple admission that at times, even Eastwood can get it wrong. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) is touched upon, with Eastwood reminiscing fondly about his co-star Chief Dan George who couldn’t adapt to the art of memorising a script. He remembers how he would simply begin to tell stories, while Eastwood sat with him and encouraged the actor along.
There are some wonderful segments shot on the studio backlot, where Clint visits his costume house. Concealed within an old courthouse set on the lot, Warner’s hold every costume worn by Eastwood and his entire supporting cast. For this special occasion, entire outfits from Dirty Harry to Unforgiven are displayed in all there glory. But it is inside the courthouse where row upon row of historical delights can be found. An original shirt from Play Misty for Me (1971) catches Eastwood’s eye, which strangely enough was made at Universal, and suggests that this particular ‘Aladdin’s cave’ may even date back beyond his Warner years. Eastwood’s love of restoration and preservation are explored from The ‘Eastwood’ Soundstage at Warner Brothers which he saved and turned into a viable commodity through to personal projects such as his Mission Ranch. Memorable locations are revisited, such as New York Street which featured in one of Eastwood’s most personal films, Bird (1988) to the small cabin featured in the closing scene of Eastwood’s Oscar winning film, Million Dollar baby (2004).
For me, I was delighted to see many of Eastwood’s more personal films explored to a deeper degree and have tended perhaps, to me overlooked in other retrospective documentaries. The self destructive elements of Bird (1988), Honkytonk Man (1982) Tightrope (1984) and White Hunter Black Heart (1990) are characteristics that have always fascinated Eastwood and make for interesting viewing and insightful discussion. White Hunter Black Heart as Eastwood explains, is a film he enjoyed making. The story centres on a director (based on John Huston) whose obsession is to shoot an elephant instead of filming The African Queen. While its premise may not seem all that appealing to audiences, it is the concept of the character’s morality which become the focus of Eastwood’s fascination and deeper exploration. The film remains something of an undiscovered gem and a perfect example of Eastwood’s craft outside of the typical genre movie.
Lighter films such as Every which way but loose (1978) and the heart warming Bronco Billy (1980) are examined and used as examples of Eastwood’s instincts when choosing projects that were otherwise met with opposing opinion. While these characters may be described as ‘flawed’, Eastwood had no inhibitions regarding his screen image and that he was prepared to take chances along the way.
In discussing Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood acknowledges that the film will probably be his final western, the genre in which he first made his name. In his commentary, Freeman describes it as Eastwood’s ‘fully acknowledged masterpiece’, and sets the scene nicely for the last chapter. The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is a full on romance and perhaps the last thing that Eastwood’s audience were expecting. He explains how he encouraged Meryl Streep to come on board and was both equally happy with the results. Films including A Perfect World (1993) are discussed and Eastwood talks informally about how he didn’t intend to star in it all and that Costner wanted him to feature along side him. There are also some charming anecdotes regarding child actor T.J. Lowther and how he had to be caught on the first or second take at the most. So we had ‘no slates, none of that crap’. On Million Dollar Baby (2004) Eastwood informs us that everyone misinterpreted the stories content in its pre production stages and labelled it as a woman’s boxing movie, while he saw it as ‘a father-daughter love story and that's the way I approached telling it’. The Eastwood Factor is filled with such personal and delightful stories. Flags of our Fathers (2006), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Eastwood’s ultimate redemption story, Gran Torino (2008) are all touched upon before concluding with Invictus (2009).
The Eastwood Factor is a highly informative piece of work. It avoids Eastwood the man and instead provides a rare look at a rare breed of filmmaker. Schickel steers clear of a typical biography approach and instead lets the actor’s body of work propel us on an intimate and insightful journey. The film’s 88 minutes encapsulates Eastwood’s integrity, charisma, passion and brilliance. For admirers of film documentaries in general, The Eastwood Factor serves as a compelling education. For Eastwood fans in particular, it’s an absolute essential for your collection!