23 April 2008 | RJBurke1942
Just don't kid around with Joe Kidd, okay
Just another vehicle for Dirty Harry in the west? Well, not quite. This time round, Clint plays the title role an individualist, of course, and one with a sense of justice not unlike Dirty Harry; where Joe Kidd differs is that he has no truck with the law and prefers the hunter's life on the range.
Which, in turn, causes him to wind up in jail because, in the opener, we find Joe in jail having been charged with hunting deer on reservation land. After being summarily fined $10 and deciding to work out the fine in jail instead, the court proceedings are interrupted by a large band of Mexicans desperately seeking justice about land claims in the area.
During the subsequent shooting melee when the Mexicans attempt to kidnap the county judge, Joe takes the initiative and gets the judge safely away, and out of harm. After the bandits run, Joe settles down to work off his jail term of ten days only to be hauled out of that predicament by Robert Duvall's nasty business tycoon, Frank Harlan, who wants to hunt down, with his own band of killers, the leader of the Mexican band, Luis Chama, as portrayed by John Saxon.
Thereafter follows an inventive narrative and denouement as written by one of America's best writers, Elmore Leonard, involving a hunt to the high sierras and a Mexican standoff and a Mexican standoff - between the Mexican bandits, the American bounty hunters and finally Joe who escapes the clutches of the bounty hunters to try to persuade Chama to plead his case in a court of law.
To say more would ruin the plot for you. Clint does his usual laconic, iron-fisted turn with revolver, rifle and now pistol an automatic German C96 Mauser, no less (the setting is in 1897 or so, and that pistol began production in 1896). Robert Duvall is suitably slimy and duplicitous, hell bent on killing whomever he wishes to get his way; perhaps a bit of a parody of bad guy, but what the hey! The real parody, however, is Don Stroud, as Lamarr, the gunman who just can't behave while Joe Kidd is around. While John Saxon's Mexican bandit, Luis Chama, is sympathetically done.
The setting is simply and starkly beautiful snow capped peaks in the sierra, the undulating plain, a frontier town, rocky outcrops, a small village with the inevitable church and bell tower which plays an important and somewhat comedic part in the battle between the competing bands. Director Sturges certainly took advantage of the natural splendor to make this film all that more enjoyable.
As always, though, my criticism with Hollywood Westerns made from the fifties to the seventies generally is that the characters are way too clean: these were rough conditions, dirty times, filthy streets. I know there were exceptions, but that just proved the rule. Eastwood's Unforgiven (1995), Jamurschs' Dead Man (1996) or Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1992) redressed that aspect very nicely, however.
For 84 minutes you'll enjoy a good story, well acted and with appropriate action. See it if you can. Recommended for all.