CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (13)
August 13, 2019
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974–1983).
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | d. JAMES FARGO | 1978
The suggestively named Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood) is a trucker who doesn’t do much trucking, and instead drives around with his brother and manager Orville bare-knuckle boxing for cash and getting into bar fights. He has an orangutan, Clyde, that he won from a zoo in the desert in a match. He meets a girl, beats up some Nazi bikers, loses the girl, and they drive around the West looking for her as hilarity and pugilism commingle.
At its core, Every Which Way but Loose is a picaresque that takes place in a version of America that was just wrapping up: a pre-Reagan America full of dusty corners, vague lawlessness, fraught but meaningless encounters. It’s Rabelais, but with Eastwood as Gargantua, and an orangutan as Pantugruel. Instead of the impending end of the Renaissance, it’s the end of random, weird, dumb America; instead of sausages, it’s punching people in the face.
The Nazi bikers who Clint keeps beating up (and stealing — and then selling — their bikes) glom together and follow him across the country as he lazily searches for the country singer he (sort of) fell for. The Washington Generals of Nazi biker gangs, they get ruined in a bar fight, shot at by Clint’s mom, and finally pummeled en masse by Clint while Orville destroys their bikes. Meanwhile some cops that Philo accidentally (not knowing they were cops) beat up in a bar are also on his tail. Pursued by the law and the lawless, but, either way, pursued by idiots. When a cop finally catches up, he is dispatched with a fish to the face, his truck sunk in a lake.
It’s all played for laughs — too silly to be camp, too serious to be slapstick — but it isn’t exactly funny. The cops and bikers are bad, certainly, but too ineffectual to be antagonists in this story that might not even have a protagonist. It’s not camp or rom-com, western, action or road movie, though it waves at all of them (sometimes gently, sometimes fervently). Too serious to be whimsical, too whimsical to be taken seriously, Every Which Way but Loose could be accused of repeatedly undermining its own purpose if it had one. Unlike most movies where weird thoughts about them occur to you afterwards, even while watching this you feel that maybe it was stuck together like Queaneau’s Elements of Style and, somewhere there are a thousand more versions of the movie where the scenes are jumbled differently. I bet most of those are pretty good, as well.
The final fight is against a bare-knuckle giant, a sort of tall tale who has been mentioned throughout the movie. But he’s old, washed-up, the crowd turns on him as Clint is handling him fairly easily — they mock the old guy and you hear them plot to turn Clint into their new meal ticket. Clint realizes that his work is being commodified — that what he was experiencing as rootless beating the shit out of people is about to make him just another cog in a parallel economy every bit as exploitative as the one he was resisting (or ignoring). Or maybe he sees his end laid out and decides to chart another course — refusing to be the inevitable collision with modernity in this (small) tall tale. So he takes a dive.
The America where you can just wander around doing fuck-all is gone. Now we have reasons for things, expectations that our actions are considered so as to lead somewhere. Which is funny, since we’ve all destroyed our attention spans and are even less capable of this sort of structure than we were in 1978. Yet we persist at bludgeoning our giant square selves into stupid round holes. If I was in charge, all orangutans would be provided with pugilistic truck drivers and everything would be pointless again, as it should be.
CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION | Madeline Ashby on BLADE RUNNER | Erik Davis on BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | Mimi Lipson on CONVOY | Luc Sante on BLACK SUNDAY | Josh Glenn on THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR | Lisa Jane Persky on SORCERER | Devin McKinney on THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | Adam McGovern on QUINTET | Mandy Keifetz on DEATH RACE 2000 | Peter Doyle on SOUTHERN COMFORT | Jonathan Lethem on STRAIGHT TIME | Heather Kapplow on THE KILLER ELITE | Tom Nealon on EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | Mark Kingwell on THE EIGER SANCTION | Sherri Wasserman on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK | Gordon Dahlquist on MARATHON MAN | David Levine on PARALLAX VIEW | Matthew Sharpe on ROLLERBALL | Ramona Lyons on ALIEN | Dan Piepenbring on WHITE LINE FEVER | Marc Weidenbaum on THIEF | Carolyn Kellogg on MAD MAX | Carlo Rotella on KUNG FU | Peggy Nelson on SMOKEY & THE BANDIT | Brian Berger on FRIDAY FOSTER.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.