Clint Eastwood, as a spectacled art professor and art collector (samples by Matisse and El Greco in his private expo), turns down I'll-do-anything-for-a-B-average tawny chicks and engages in torturous repartee with assorted honeys -- Dirty Harry living out Charles Bronson's wish for a role "leaning on a mantelpiece, sipping a martini"? The opener is an abbreviated Euro-spy thriller, chiaroscuro melancholy and swallowed microfilms retrieved by way of switchblade; the offed agent was Eastwood's old chum, so the mock-suavity will uncloak a retired government assassin, re-recruited to eliminate the two killers from Europe to Arizona and back. An adaptation of a Trevanian novel, to say nothing of the nuttiest entry in Eastwood's '70s oeuvre and one of his less searching heroism explorations, but the auteur cunningly sets himself up as monolithic straight-man to the narrative's absurdities. The hero appropriates Bogart's The Big Sleep gay-burlesque to infiltrate the enemy's lair, although true queerness comes his way in the form of Jack Cassidy's effete archenemy, lapdog (christened "Faggot") in tow -- merely one of the Other manifestations evoked to rustle the straight-white-guy defensiveness; also included are Vonetta McGee's snappy soul sister, Brenda Venus' laconic Native-American coach, and the proto-feminist asking George Kennedy why guys climb mountains. The picture is virtually silent-Germanic in its exoticism (Eastwood's mastermind is a froggy, albino Mabuse, while the Swiss Alps intrigue is Blind Husbands territory, if not Riefenstahl), yet, no less than in his Westerns, Eastwood implodes genre tropes, the back-and-forth mathematics of espionage, the randomness of sides as "just retaliation." Ultimately, Nature has the final word, and Eastwood's shooting of landscape dwarves the characters' pettiness -- a dusty car chase in long-shot against the vastness of the Arizona desert, the hero dangling over an alpine abyss in a useless mission. Works of art retain meaning in a world of betrayal, whether a Pizarro painting or the mounting of a Monument Valley pillar, filmed among friends and capped with helicopter circling. With Thayer David.
--- Fernando F. Croce