I watched Joe Kidd shortly after watching the new print of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on blu-ray. Needless to say, Joe didn’t hold up too well. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it is what it is, a routine Western with an all-star cast. Written by Elmore Leonard and directed by the man who gave us Bad Day at Black Rock, this should have been a showstopper but, a few brief flashes aside, the film never really gets out of first gear. Made in-between the first two Dirty Harry films, Clint Eastwood stars as Joe, an ex bounty hunter, hired by amoral landowner Robert Duvall to track down a Mexican troublemaker (John Saxon) who is demanding their land back, which was stolen by the gringos.
Joe Kidd has plenty of virtues: the cast are outstanding – Eastwood brings a slightly softer version of his screen persona here, and looks as comfortable as ever. Duvall is as good as you’d expect, deliberately mis-pronouncing Saxon‘s character’s name and being an amusingly repellent bastard generally. The main man himself certainly looks the part of a Mexican outlaw. With a great moustache and large sombrero, Saxon keeps up a pretty damn good accent without drifting too far into Speedy Gonzales territory. The main problem the film has is that it never really gets going. When Eastwood and Duvall catch up with Saxon, we have a tedious twenty minutes or so where Duvall tries unsuccessfully to draw his adversary from his hiding place in the mountains. There is an exceptionally nice touch here, though. A rivalry between Eastwood and one of Duvall‘s goons (Don Stroud) simmers along for a good while but Leonard pulls the rug from under our feet in a craftily abrupt way. Leonard is scrupulously accurate with the weaponry on show. Stroud‘s Mauser C96 pistol looks far too modern to be in a western, but actually came into production in 1896 (a date which crops up on more than a few buildings, incidentally). There are a couple of snazzy-looking rifles on show, too, during a slightly far-fetched long-range sniper duel.
It’s moments like this which make you keep watching through the dull bits. Sturges, it seems, is directing on auto-pilot. Okay, after watching Leone’s classic most other westerns would seem a little mundane but, if you remove the cast Joe Kidd would be fairly undistinguishable from any run-of-the-mill job. While the cast give it plenty, Sturges seems happy to merely point his camera at them. What should be the action-packed finale is a little botched. There seems no flow in the action at all. Lalo Schiffrin‘s music is great (while being heavily influenced by Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti themes), but no-one else behind the camera seems to give a shit. Look at it this way: towards the end, Clint Eastwood and John Saxon crash a steam train through a fucking house. Read that again: through a fucking house. This should have been one of the greatest scenes ever filmed but, instead, it’s a cinematic shrug of the shoulders. That says it all.