Published on May 16th, 2013 | by Clint Davis

The Gauntlet [1977]

The Gauntlet [1977] Clint Davis

Summary: Clint Eastwood's overlooked action extravaganza is foul-mouthed, funny, and way over-the-top. It may not be artful, but it's a mean machine.



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R  |  109 min.

Director: Clint Eastwood  |  Screenplay: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, William Prince

Studio: The Malpaso Company  |  Distribution: Warner Bros.

As burned out cop Ben Shockley, Eastwood is right at home.

Ben Shockley is like Harry Callahan with a bolo tie and a shittier attitude.  Clint Eastwood’s character in 1977’s The Gauntlet is a broken down Phoenix police officer who’s watched all of his colleagues get promotions and settle down with a nice family–while he’s still patrolling the bricks having long ago given up on getting what he calls “the big case”.  To put it simply, he’s got absolutely nothing to lose, which makes him an ideal action hero.

Unlike the aforementioned Dirty Harry series, which carried themselves with swagger and respect for authority–The Gauntlet is a bitter-tasting look at the abuse of power that was a theme of the 1970’s.  Some may watch this flick and see nothing more than a shoot-em-up death race across the desert, but there are certainly some major politics at work in the midst of the chaos.

Shockley is tasked by his department’s new Commissioner with safely escorting a “two-bit witness” from Las Vegas to Phoenix so she can testify in a “two-bit trial”.  The witness, Augustina “Gus” Mally (Sondra Locke) is a college-educated prostitute who the officer quickly discovers is wanted dead by just about everyone in the bi-state area.  As the pair travel by ambulance, police car, motorcycle, train, and eventually a steel-enforced bus–they face an endless string of death traps set up by gangsters, bikers, and even dirty cops.

Like most action flicks, The Gauntlet is all about long odds, with Shockley and Gus playing the ultimate Cinderella team.  The screenplay practically beats you over the head with this idea as bettors at various sports books in Vegas are literally placing bets on whether or not they will make it back to Phoenix alive (100-1 odds at one point).  If I said this film was subtle, I’d be lying through my teeth.  In course of the film, cars explode, a house gets destroyed by 4-minutes of gunfire, a helicopter-motorcycle chase ends in flaming death, and the climactic sequence features more bullets fired than every Rambo film combined!  Meanwhile, our two protagonists go tit for tat with verbal haymakers.

Shockley and Gus are a motley pair that have a decisively love/hate dynamic.

The best part of this film is watching Eastwood and Locke destroy each other with brutal insults.  There’s a reason the actress was cast in most of his films of the period (besides the fact that she was dating him), because she’s one of the only women who could believably keep up with his smart ass mouth–and even surpass him.  I found Gus becoming one of my favorite female characters in recent memory because she’s even more of a hardass than her pistol-packing escort, and just as much of an outsider.  There’s a constant stream of tough talk and biting one-liners passed between the pair, such as when Shockley says of his companion’s looks, “On a scale of ten, I’d give her a two…and that’s only because I haven’t seen a one before.”

Most of The Gauntlet is absolute mayhem but as I mentioned, there seemed to be some overt political themes in the background.  The dirty Commissioner Blakelock (William Prince) represents the worst of megalomania, using his power to control those under him into doing his bidding.  Blakelock uses every method at his disposal to cover up a criminal secret of his past–he may as well have been named Commissioner Nixon.  Also, the image of Shockley in a white shirt and black tie scaring the Hell out of a group of bikers with only a pistol in his hand seemed to be a statement of old-fashioned conservatism finally getting over on the counterculture.  Finally, the bullet-riddled bus could have been painted red, white & blue as it kept churning past thousands of rounds of ammo being fired into its frame.

…Okay, maybe I’m over-thinking this a bit.

Does the bullet-riddled bus represent classic American values or simply a badass death machine?

At almost two-hours, some fat could have certainly been trimmed, specifically most of the scenes not taking place in a vehicle of some sort.  Also, the film is mostly amusing with the exception of a scene depicting an attempted gang rape–which firmly grinds the action to a halt for about 15-minutes.  The bottom line on The Gauntlet is that it’s a fun, ballsy trip with two interesting characters and a buttload of firepower.

Buy The Gauntlet on Amazon

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at

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