Honkytonk Man (1982) Directed by Clint Eastwood
It's Clint again. I no longer mind. I give in – to this household's clintomania. Gladly.
So this time he is the honkytonk man. The lost and heartbroken husky voiced country singer. The sympathetic alcoholic. The man who takes his nephew under his wing because it benefits him and takes him to a whore house as a reward. He also teaches the 13-year-old how to drive a car, engineer prison breaks and sip clear whiskey from the bottle. Lessons in masculinity. Again.
Significantly, this is a mild film. Mild for anyone, but especially so for Dirty Harry. There are emotions and drama, but everything is dealt with in a stroking, tingling manner rather than grasping the issues straight on. Suggestion rather than deciding for the audience. I am impressed.
So Clint is a singer and a songwriter then. He is heading for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville to audition, but there are problems on the way, mainly that he is dying. And unlike me with pneumonia, he can't sing with TB. This is a depiction of broken dreams and having to give in. Or is it about fighting for the dreams until the end? It also romanticizes the life of a journey man, the unsettled outlaw who never fits in. There's the parallel with the characters Clint plays in his Westerns. The question is, what is so romantic about never finding your place, never stopping, especially when the outsider is a white American ultra masculine male?
I love Clint Eastwood. From the Spaghetti Westerns through to Dirty Harry and then on to being considered a serious auteur, icon of cool, violent fascist, sexist/sexy and all the while a republican with liberal tendencies. These contradictions just add to my fascination. It has made for one of the most interesting movie careers of the modern era and at least a dozen truly great pictures.
In Honkytonk Man Clint sings! Again! This time round though, no Paint Your Wagon embarrassment. In fact, Honkytonk Man was an early sign from Eastwood that he had something else in the can. Of course before this, Clint the director had delivered a handful of pictures that to me were great : the classic The Outlaw Josey Wales, the very good Bronco Billy, The Gauntlet, and the ghostly Gothic Western High Plains Drifter which is genuinely strange yet brilliant. But Honkytonk Man is a gentle picture which gives an idea of the tragedy and sadness that would dominate later films such as Bird, Million Dollar Baby and The Changeling.
Eastwood's country singer picture looks wonderful and has a slow-burning dry humor. Kyle Eastwood (Eastwood's real son) is excellent as Eastwood's nephew while Clint's portrayal of dying country crooner Red Stovall is one of Eastwood's best turns.
This film flopped at the time, but time has improved its quality. The mainstream Superstar of the day took a left turn with Honkytonk Man, a quirky warm film that doesn't add anything to the myth of the man. It's just another piece from an amazing body of work.