Movie review: ‘Joe Kidd’

Clint Eastwood is synonymous with both westerns and crime films so today I’ll focus on his effort in a western from 1972 called “Joe Kidd.” It’s pretty much a standard western by his career but does have three distinct differences: a celebrated war film director (John Sturges) as well as the black belt who would co-star with Bruce Lee a year later in “Enter the Dragon” (John Saxon) and a screenwriter better known for his novels (Elmore Leonard). It comes in just under 1½ hours, so it’s a quick watch and you’ll never find it dragging.

‘Joe Kidd’
(1972; 88 minutes; rated PG; directed by John Sturges and starring Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall and John Saxon)


(NOTE: I expanded this review Jan. 9, 2017, with some more opinion; the updating of some links; and the fixing of a couple of typos.)

Clint Eastwood isn’t noted for usually having big-name co-stars (if there is anyone even reaching “co-star” status) in one of his films. He often has little known actors play the bad guy (and they’re really bad as shown by Andrew Robinson as “The Killer” in the cop classic “Dirty Harry” – click here for my review – or DeVeren Bookwalter as “Bobby Maxwell” in the “Harry” sequel “The Enforcer” – click here for my review) but an exception was apparently made for “Joe Kidd.”


While not the marquee star he would become, Robert Duvall is the villain in “Joe Kidd,” playing “Frank Harlan.” After a string of TV appearances, Duvall began to get notice with “Bullitt” and as the original “Maj. Frank Burns” in the film version of “MASH” (watch the opening credits: no asterisks in the original film title – they were added in the movie poster) but he would explode onto screens in 1972 when along with “Joe Kidd” he would be in three other films including one you might remember … “The Godfather.”

Along with veteran director John Sturges here, you’ll find that celebrated crime novelist Elmore Leonard, whose books were the basis for films such as “Get Shorty” and Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (click here for my review), wrote the screenplay for “Joe Kidd.”

As it is, Eastwood plays the title character “Joe Kidd,” who is a hunter, guide and just about disrespectful of all authority. The movie opens with Eastwood serving some jail time for illegal hunting, but he’s soon out of jail by being hired by Duvall to track down a Mexican revolutionary whose people are getting screwed out of their rightful land by people such as Duvall.

Eastwood starts out by being against the revolutionary (“Luis Chama” played by John Saxon) because of a jailhouse fight and then the theft of his horses by Chama’s men, but Clint soon finds out he on the wrong side of everything with Duvall.

Before going further with the plot, I’ll take a look at some of the principal cast:

  • Oscar winner (not for this one) Duvall appears nearly effortless in his role as a calculating, cold-hearted leader of killers. His work here isn’t as wonderful here as in his Oscar-nominated roles in “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” (he had four other nominations) nor as exceptional as in “Tender Mercies” for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor, but he’s not just doing it for the paycheck or for an Eastwood notch in his resume (to butcher a pun). It’s pretty cool that he gave the most iconic of lines in “Apocalypse Now” (Remember the smell of napalm in the morning?) in a career that’s now legendary.
  • Four-time Oscar winner (not for this one) Eastwood is … well, Eastwood here. He doesn’t go over the top too much and is in his typically stoic loner persona here. It’s not Eastwood’s best role (I’ll say “The Outlaw Josey Wales” is that … click here for my review); it’s not my favorite role for him (that would be “Kelly’s Heroes” … click here for my review); but it is a solid effort and fans of Clint won’t be disappointed. I liked him better in the World War II espionage/action flick “Where Eagles Dare” (click here for my review) or “In the Line of Fire” (click here for my review). Clint won his Oscars (three; one was a career award) as director, but doesn’t have a win for acting.
  • The most amusing supporting actor is Don Stroud, who plays the angry, volatile gunman called “Lamarr.” Stroud, who was the drummer in “The Buddy Holly Story” with Gary Busey, spits out his lines like staccato gunfire (with the most emphasis on the last word of a sentence) and is physically comical when he’s wearing city clothes with the long hairstyle of the early 1970s. Stroud has done much better, such as in “Murph the Surf” (click here to read my review) or even briefly in “Django Unchained” (look close because you won’t recognize him), but it almost become painful to watch him here. He’s a prolific performer and has 161 credits in a career spanning six decades (through the updating of this blog review).
  • Cool, violent and threatening are the hallmarks of two other supporting actors, James Wainwright as “Mingo” and Paul Koslo as “Roy.” Both do workmanlike jobs here. Wainwright was also in “The Survivors” but most active with TV roles. Koslo was in “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston and the somewhat seminal and little remembered “Vanishing Point” and its anti-hero.
  • Excellent with his emotion and earnestness is Golden Globe winner (not for this one) Saxon, who played alongside Bruce Lee in the martial arts classic “Enter the Dragon.” As “Chama,” Saxon shows the passion as well as the willingness first of allowing the sacrifice of others to ultimately making a sacrifice of himself (but not in a deadly way). Saxon was also in Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and Robert Rodriguez’s gorefest “From Dusk Till Dawn” (click here for my review).
  • Stella Garcia, who plays “Helen Sanchez” (Saxon’s love interest as well as female alter ego), does a great job with a very small role and her character should have been expanded. She was also in “Eye for an Eye.”

As Duvall tries to find Saxon and kill him, his team takes hostages, including turning Eastwood into one, and finally winds up back in “town” (called “Sinola”) for the climax and denouement.

One neat scene from Sturges, who was at the helm for the World War II classic “The Great Escape” (click here to read my review) and for the adaptation of the Jack Higgins novel “The Eagle Has Landed” (click here for my review), is a long-rifle shootout where you see an opponent’s gun’s puff of smoke, hear the slug strike or ricochet and THEN hear the report of the gunshot. It’s some neat filmmaking in that scene that would remain under-noticed and under-appreciated from a fresh audience today.

Joe Kidd” was tops at the domestic box office for two straight weeks in the summer of 1972 and ultimately brought in $6 million in receipts. The No. 1 film was, of course, “The Godfather” with $133.6 million. Here are the films from 1972 that I’ve reviewed:

Additional cast notes (via

  • One supporting cast member apparently likes to get punched by Eastwood. Gregory Walcott, who does a commendable job as “Mitchell” the town constable, gets a punch on the nose at the end of the film. In the mountain-climbing thriller “The Eiger Sanction,” Walcott played “Pope,” who was Eastwood’s antagonist and got his clock cleaned by Clint in that one, too. Walcott has been in a string of TV shows as well as “Midway” (click here for my review), “Norma Rae” and “Ed Wood.”
  • Directly from “This is the last time someone else (John Sturges) directed Clint Eastwood in a western. Eastwood’s next four westerns would not only be his last, but were all directed by Eastwood himself.”
  • Finally and directly from “In an interview given to French student Emmanuel Laborit in 1990, John Sturges told he had lot of problems directing Clint Eastwood and regretted not to have resign during the filming.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2017.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner
is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that
full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples
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