How do you write about two Clint Eastwood movies that co-star an orangutan, are filled with bare-fisted brawls, inept motorcycle gangs, and Ruth Gordon? Do I write about how the real-life couple (at the time) of Eastwood and Sondra Locke, while solid on-screen, becomes more uncomfortable when you think about her future allegations against him? Do I write about how disconcerting it is to watch these movies back to back, knowing that Clyde is played by two different orangutans? Do I write about Eastwood's struggle both professionally and personally that is represented through the fights that comprise both these films?
Any one of these could be ripe for discussion. But these movies aren't very good. They are watchable, however, and the reason that is, is because they are an update of the 1960's Frankie and Annette beach movies. They're almost beat for beat the same type of movie. Clint is Frankie. Sondra is Annette. Clyde is any one of the animals that popped up in those movies. Geoffrey Lewis is Bonehead. The Black Widows are the Rats. Country music replaces pop music. Ruth Gordon is Buster Keaton/Don Rickles. I don't know why this has never been brought up before. (That being said, I may be the only person to have been able to make that connection without having to look up any of the information that I just wrote about. I might know a little too much about the Frankie and Annette beach movies.)
With the two previous paragraphs, I've probably spent more time on Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can than anybody in their right mind should, but there is a reason (beyond my recent watching of each of them). When I was 11 or 12 years old, I watched them at my cousin's house. At that age, all I cared about were the bare-knuckled fights. That's it. Clyde was no Cheetah from the Tarzan films. The music did nothing for me (although the theme song for Any Which Way But Loose really did become a life-long ear worm). The bad guy bikers had so little personality that I couldn't engender any like or dislike for them. I knew, instinctively, that these were not good movies. But sometimes you simply want to revisit what you saw in your youth. So that's what I did.
For those of you who've been sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what these movies are actually about because you haven't seen them (or, like me, haven't seen them in years), here you go. Every... is about how Eastwood fights to get some extra cash, meets singer Locke, and tries real hard to get her enough money so she can get out from under the thumb of her abusive boyfriend and make a demo. However, things don't go as planned, and the movie ends on what be one of the most melancholy endings you've ever seen. Any... picks up a little after the previous film, and Eastwood gets hired to box the best bare-fisted fighter east of the Mississippi. None of his friends want him to do it, so he backs out. Of course, things don't go as planned, and the movie ends on a fight that seems like it's the longest in film history.
These two movies border on surrealism. Clyde is an ape who's human in just about every way. The fights are unbelievably long. They go from ridiculous to awesome and back again. The Black Widow bikers are so stupid and inept that you wonder how they even could have afforded motorcycles in the first place. This is a universe that should be completely foreign to any of us, except for the fact that reality is the subtext in these films. That melancholy ending of Every Which Way But Loose? That shouldn't exist in this universe. The honor and grit and resolve that Eastwood's character has? It's what makes these movies both quintessentially Eastwood and more than just throwaway films. And that honor, grit, and resolve? None of that is even explicitly said in the movie. Clint just lets his thoughts and actions spell that out.
If you want to enjoy these movies for things like "Right turn, Clyde," or Clint Eastwood singing a duet with Ray Charles, or bare-knuckled boxing, go right ahead. I still say that they're not very good. But I'll also say that they can't be easily dismissed. And that might be their biggest victory.
**1/2 for both