His Characters Speak Volumes in Two Lines or Less
While brevity may not be the soul of wit for those movie characters of a pedantic nature, the weapon of choice for the less loquacious are short, powerful quotes.For over half a century, Clint Eastwood has understood and demonstrated this fact. His characters have entertained audiences with a mixture of dramatic, comedic and self-revealing short dialogue.
His greatest lines come from a portrayed sense of nonchalance, savoir faire and a pure, although understated, “Devil may care” attitude. Indeed, his characters have been given some of the most powerful lines of short dialogue in all moviedom and Mr. Eastwood has never failed to deliver the message in its most acute and resounding manner. Here are five of his best and most character-defining lines from the past five decades:
1960s – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Indeed, it’s hard to describe “…” as a great line but the inimitable Mr. Eastwood, as Blondie, wrings every ounce of menace out of a mean look, an expectoration and a grunt. With Eli Wallach and Lee van Cleef providing stellar performances and innumerable great lines, it is difficult to find the very best one. Still, one has to be chosen, and the movie has no finer line than when Blondie explains the state of the business arrangement to his partner, Tuco, with the words,
“You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend, those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”
1970s – Dirty Harry
Mr. Eastwood breaks character and wears a suit for this role. Otherwise, he remains the stalwart non-conformist with very little to say. As the San Fran police detective, Harry Callahan, Mr. Eastwood finally corners a particularly cutthroat bank robber who is within reach of a loaded shotgun. Callahan’s challenge to the man is brutal and direct,
“I know what you’re thinking, "Did he fire six shots, or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But, being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question, "Do I feel lucky?" Well do ya, punk?”
The bank robber backs off but in a fit of curiosity croaks the soon-to-be regretted words,
“Man, I gots to know.”
Mr. Eastwood’s character, already on his way out, turns back and then delivers the best line of the movie. He takes careful aim at the criminal’s head and pulls the trigger,
1980s – Pale Rider
There’s nothing new to this movie except it’s unbelievably great. Mr. Eastwood, as the misnamed Preacher, once again plays the troubled loner who can solve everyone’s problems but his own. He arrives, saves the miners in spectacular style and then moves on. The best line comes in the denouement when he gives a nod to the only man to back him up in the film’s climactic battle.
Upon surveying the damage from the back of a horse, the Preacher merely comments,
It’s the story of every one of Mr. Eastwood’s characters in a nutshell.
1990s – Unforgiven
Mr. Eastwood’s character, Will Munny, goes through hell and back twice to finally relate the moral of this tale. At the beginning of the movie is a teetotaler whose has renounced his violent and criminal past. Reality intrudes and he becomes a vicious and unethical bounty hunter. Halfway through the movie, his partner kills the the man they have been hunting and confesses that he has no more stomach for it. Munny responds,
“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.
Many viewers would pick the line as the best in the movie but it doesn’t capture the truth of the man’s heart. It is simply a statement of fact. After a moment the kid responds that the man they killed probably “had it comin’.” Munny responds with a world weary stare and five beautiful words,
“We all have it comin’ kid.”
There will be no more battling with fate for Mr. Eastwood’s characters. Que sera, sera.
2000s – Gran Torino
“Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have messed with? That’s me.”
At this point in the movie, Kowalski is unabashedly unrepentant but, as always, things will change.
Much happens to soften the increasingly old, Kowalski’ demeanor. In the climactic scene that follows, Kowalski confronts the Asian gang that has tormented his neighborhood. His final words to them are
“Yeah, I’ve got a light.”
Then, he sub vocally intones a Hail Mary and meets his fate.
Many view the ending to Gran Torino as some type of twist as the lead character dies. This is simply not the case and, instead, is the culmination of the development of all of Mr. Eastwood’s “hard case” characters. In all their earlier iterations, these characters were quite willing to die if the situation warranted it. They would avoid dying, however, if they could and they invariably had the luck, skill or pure meanness to come out on top.
In Gran Torino, Mr. Eastwood’s character is there TO die and possibly give a hopeful, markedly Christian, bent on the meaning of life. It may, indeed, be the salvation that every one of his characters from the Man with No Name onward was searching for.
A Great Joke About a Man of Few Words
Credit: Peter RimarAfter a life of wickedness and sin, a ridiculously wealthy bon vivant realizes that the material world no longer offers anything of worth. Instead, he decides, he will join the most ascetic monastery in the world and devote his life to more ethereal pursuits. With some searching, he eventually settles on the perfect one nestled in the hills of Shangri La.
The next morning, he leaves his private jet on the runway, leaves his old self behind and enters the monastery. He first meets the rector who explains that life in Shangri La is difficult. There is no play and only work, no sex and only prayer. In addition, the novitiate is only allowed to utter two words every decade. The rector asks if the novitiate understands. Upon his acceptance, the playboy is accepted into the community.
Ten years pass and the former playboy is brought before the rector who says,
“I see you have lasted ten years. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Bed hard,” is the only reply and the novitiate returns to his room.
Ten years later, the scene plays out again. The only words uttered by the novitiate are,
The rector nods and the novitiate leaves.
For a third time, thirty years after their initial meeting, the novitiate stands before the rector who speaks first,
“What do you have to say?”
With a look of defiance the novitiate bangs the table and says, “I quit.”
The rector unperturbed, looks up and says, “I‘m not surprised. You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.”
A Final Thought
If you love Westerns check out this great article on some that didn't include Clint Eastwood.