Joe Kidd (1972) / Western-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and sexuality (PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, John Saxon, Don Stroud, Stella Garcia, James Wainwright, Paul Koslo, Gregory Walcott, Dick Van Patten (cameo)
Director: John Sturges
Screenplay: Elmore Leonard
Review published October 15, 2005
A stateside Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Kelly's Heroes) vehicle that definitely emulates his spaghetti western days, Joe Kidd isn't quite as entertaining as the Sergio Leone masterworks, but it does deliver the goods for those hungry for more. Unlike the other films, though, Eastwood's character does have a name, Joe Kidd, but in most other respects, he's the same take-no-crap, do-for-self, renegade character we've come to know and love. I used to consider this a misfire in the Eastwood western arc, but over the years, it has grown on me. Today, I consider it an entertaining and thoughtful Western that, while it may pale in significance to Clint's best, is still better than most others of its genre made during the same period.
In the small, southwestern town of Sinola, there is a bitter feud threatening to emerge between Mexican peasants looking to retain their rights to the nearby lands, and greedy landowners and developers that claim these farmers have no right to ownership under the law. Not wanting to take the battle to court and see justice not prevail yet again for the poor, Luis Chama (Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street), the leader of the Mexican fighters, takes over the courthouse, burning the deeds and making his escape. One of the white landowners in question, Frank Harlan (Duvall, The Godfather) arrives with a posse of killers to stamp out the uprising, and he calls upon the services of local rogue character Joe Kidd (Eastwood) to show him the back country trails so that his men can smoke Chama out. Kidd is repulsed by Harlan's ruthless ways, but finds he has little choice in the matter, but he vows to see things done right if he can help it.
Joe Kidd is derivative and somewhat predictable in its fashion, but it does benefit from good characterizations. Clint is as he always is in these sorts of movies, but who would want him to be otherwise? He's a good guy with a lot of gray area inside, not really someone that fights for what's right so much as what's just. Also refreshingly handled are the posse of bad guys, who definitely perform on the wrong side of the law, but they aren't exactly evil incarnate either. They use strong-arm tactics to protect their interests, while they seem conflicted as to how many bad things they are willing to do to get the job done.
Also in keeping with the complex nature of the characters, Luis Chama and his clan aren't painted to be pious or wholly honorable either, as they are willing to see people die for their own causes as well. The only difference is that they didn't really ask for this fight; they just don't know what else to do to keep what's theirs. Bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard provides the screenplay, but this isn't the talky and irreverent style you'd expect -- it's an Eastwood vehicle after all, which means sparse dialogue and lots of bottled-up anger.
Joe Kidd will probably have little appeal outside of normal Western circles, and it is definitely recommended only for Eastwood's most devoted fans. Good performances and interesting characters bolster this standard story into something worthwhile for those looking for Clint to do his thing in trademark kick-ass fashion.
©2005 Vince Leo