Directed by: Clint Eastwood
This is probably one of Clint Eastwood's most overlooked films. Right off the bat, it's a pretty damn good movie. I just wish this poster art by the legendary Frank Franzetta lived up to the movie. This came out a year after The Enforcer, and to be honest, it could have easily been another Dirty Harry flick. Right after The Enforcer, but before Sudden Impact. I mean, he essentially plays the same character. A cop with a bad attitude. I think had they called it Dirty Harry 4: The Gauntlet, it would have had a much bigger audience. And they totally could have gotten away with it because he's pretty much Dirty Harry in this. He just doesn't have that big ass revolver.
So the story goes like this. He's a washed up alcoholic cop named Ben Shockley. He's often referred to as a drunk, though they never actually show him drunk. He's given an assignment to transport a witness named Gus from Las Vegas to Phoenix to testify at a mob trial. What he doesn't know is Gus is actually a female prostitute played by his then real life girlfriend Sandra Locke. She has incriminating information about a high placed figure that involves the mob, gambling and stuff like that and what was supposed to be an easy assignment turns out to be a life and death situation.
He soon learns that he was only given the assignment because his superiors didn't think he could actually pull it off and probably die in the process because this witness has such damning information that everyone, including the mob and the police are trying to kill them to prevent her from testifying. That's the basic plot in a nutshell. Throughout the movie they're being chased by everyone you could possibly think of. The cops, the mobs, bikers, you name it. And it's a lot of fun. Shockley is a grumpy ol' pain in the ass. Gus is belligerent, stubborn and doesn't take like to take orders from anybody. So essentially, a match made in heave. When Shockley figures out that he was never meant to actually produce this witness, he is hell bent on proving everyone wrong, even if it means dying in the process. He is going to produce this witness to the courthouse to prove a point, that he is not a washed up alcoholic and indeed a good cop. He can still do his job.
Along the way they get caught up in so many chases that it keeps the movie running along nicely. There's lots of action, lots of chases, lots of fights, shootings and even comedy. The chemistry between Eastwood and Locke is undeniable, which is where a lot of the funny moments come from. I guess that's why they ended up making about 6 movies together. They're characters here are both so incredibly hard headed that it's pretty funny watching them just try to carry on a conversation without fighting, because they just can't without wanting to rip each other's head off. But you know what all that means in the end, that if they fight so much and claim to hate each other, they'll inevitably fall in love, which they do. You can see it coming from a mile away. I love Shockley's favorite quote throughout the movie: "Nag, nag, nag". Just like a real couple. And I also gotta point out, Eastwood is so cool in this. The guy doesn't even have to ever try, he just is. It's effortless for him. That goes a long way in carrying the film.
There's a ton of action here, especially during the climax, it's insane. You see, once Shockley figures out that everyone will do whatever it takes to prevent him from getting his witness to Phoenix to testify, he devises a plan to hijack a bus, which he then reinforces with steel along the front to run the gauntlet to Phoenix; hence the title. So as you can imagine, once they reach Phoenix all hell breaks loose. Every police officer in the city unleashes a barrage of bullets upon the bus that can rival The Killer or even Hard Boiled. I read something like 8,000 rounds were fired for the climax. We learn that it's in fact his boss who is the main villain here and since he's the chief of police, he's got the entire Phoenix police department and then some lined up along the entire route for what seems like miles, ready to kill on sight. And they do try, but remember, Shockley's on this super awesome steel-reinforced bus. So they can't stop him. If only one of them out of the hundreds that were there just thought to shoot out the tires. Believe it or not, not one single cop came up with that genius idea.
There are two things about this film that drove me nuts though.
One was the fact that this bus seems to go on for blocks while being assaulted by a hail of bullets, not one of them hitting the tires. The second is in the end. Shockley and Gus unbelievably do reach the courthouse and are confronted by hundreds of cops with there weapons drawn and Shockley's boss, who they both know is the ringleader here. The Chief, in a moment of panic, pulls a revolver from one of the officers belt and shoots Shockley. Gus, being the tough cookie that she is, also grabs a gun and shoots the chief dead, right in front of hundreds of police officers. Not one of them draw there weapons or try to intervene. They all just stand there and watch the chief shoot a guy, and then a woman shoot the chief dead. It was just ridiculous, I still can't get over that sequence. I guess for that one moment all 100 of them forgot that they were peace officers.
Though I usually am against remakes, I feel this would be a good candidate for one. Made by a really good action director who doesn't pull any shaky-cam shit. I liked it immensely, but I wasn't a fan of Eastwood's directing style here. This was in the early phase of his directing career and he just hadn't found his style yet. Not like it is now with all his Oscars under his belt. Because here, there is none. It's just kind of there. I watch it and think what it could have been like had someone like Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah directed it. They both were set to direct it at different times, but bowed out leaving Eastwood to take the reigns. Though it's a pretty awesome action flick, had either one of these gods done it themselves, it would have been certifiably badass. I love discovering old flicks like this. It just reaffirms my love for the cop/action genre, even if it was made 34 years ago.