Clint Eastwood: the Actor that Redefined Westerns and Action Films

Scott Smith biographies Clint Eastwood, the actor that carried the torch from Western stars like John Wayne and brought a new sense of masculinity to western and action films.

The Old Western was taking a beating in the 1960s. American New Wave directors like Sam Peckinpahand Arthur Penn attempted to revisit the genre and demystify the allure that stalwarts John Ford and John Wayne had spent years solidifying. Overseas, a new actor was interpreting the gunslinger as the nameless hero of Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti” westerns. Clint Eastwood would rise though a career of cowboy roles to carry Wayne’s torch to a new generation of film lovers. His performances in more than fifty films have left a permanent mark on action roles, and today’s macho screen idols are indebted to him for much of their style and delivery.

Eastwood shared billing with a talking mule in Francis in the Navy (1955), and his first significant role came in Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Originally titled The Magnificent Stranger, and based on Akira Kurosawa’sYojimbo (1961), it was the debut of the fearless loner that Eastwood would portray in other Leone westerns shot throughout Spain, Germany and Italy.For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) were solid hits in Europe and eventually reached cult status in America. Eastwood, fresh off the trail as Rowdy Yates in television’s popular seriesRawhide, seemed a perfect choice for the postmodern films, playing a moralistic cowboy out of place in a snakepit of nasty caricatures.

Back in the States, Eastwood made Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) andThe Beguiled (1971), establishing himself as the heir to the cowboy throne vacated by the ailing John Wayne. Ironically, these films were directed by Don Siegel, who helped Wayne make a graceful exit in The Shootist (1976).

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