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Clint Eastwood

A Look at the 4 Distinctive Eras in Clint Eastwood’s Acting Career

If it seems like Clint Eastwood has graced Hollywood screens for an eternity, that’s not all that far off. Eastwood has been in films since his uncredited role in 1955’s Revenge of the Creature at the tender age of twenty-five. Often cast in the role of the outsider, he embodies a certain coolness that comes across effortlessly. From well-known films like Dirty Harry to underrated films like A Perfect World, Eastwood’s done them all. What is particularly interesting about his filmography is how, for the most part, his roles can be grouped into four distinctive periods: The Cowboy Era, The Rebel Era, The Haunted Era, and The Curmudgeon Era. There are exceptions, of course, like 1971’s thriller and Eastwood directorial debut Play Misty For Me, a film that falls right in between the Cowboy and Rebel eras without being a fit in either. Overall, though, the observation is true, four stages of a career, which has not only outlasted many of his peers but continues to enchant audiences world-wide.RELATED:Every ‘Dirty Harry’ Movie Ranked Worst To Best
The Cowboy Era


Image via United Artists

Prior to 1959, Eastwood’s film career was filled with a number of uncredited or minor roles, like ‘Jet Squadron Leader’ in the movie Tarantula. That all changed with the TV series Rawhide, where he had a lead role as Rowdy Yates, cowhand and right-hand man to Gil Favor (Eric Fleming). Rawhide told the story of a cattle drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Missouri, and all the adventures of the crew in between. Eastwood would be the only cast member to appear in all 217 episodes of the successful show, which ended in 1965. From there to 1970, the bulk of Eastwood’s work was in westerns, none bigger and more iconic than his role as ‘The Man With No Name’ in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti western Dollars Trilogy, consisting of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Mysterious, unflappable, sly, and instantly memorable, it’s the role that propelled Eastwood into movie stardom: the perfect storm of story, director and actor clicking as one.
1968’s Hang ‘Em High saw Eastwood portray Jed Cooper, an innocent man accused of cattle rustling and murder by a lynch mob, who hang Cooper and leave him to die. Cooper survives the encounter, though, and returns to his former profession as a lawman. His first mission – hunt down the vigilantes that lynched him and bring them to justice (making the movie somewhat atypical, a quest for revenge that involves bringing the wrongdoers in to face justice, as opposed to simply gunning them down). The era also included Eastwood’s first, and only, acting role in a Hollywood musical, 1969’s Paint Your Wagon, as Sylvester ‘Pardner’ Newel, who teams up with farmer Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin). They stake a claim and build a mining camp in the wilds of California during the Gold Rush after finding gold dust whilst burying Padner’s dead brother. The movie is far more memorable for its pairing of Eastwood and Marvin, two western legends, than it is for the singing abilities of the leads. Eastwood wouldn’t totally abandon the musical genre, however: he directed Jersey Boys, the 2014 musical drama based on the Tony-winning stage musical about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
The clear end of the era is 1970’s Two Mules for Sister Sara, where Eastwood plays Hogan, a man on reconnaissance for a mission to capture a French fort. On the way, he comes to the aid of nun Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine), who is on the run from the French (and not forthcoming on why she is being pursued). She needs his help, and he needs her information on the fort, so they help one another and become good friends in the process. It wasn’t Eastwood’s final western – Sara was followed a few years later by High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the only two westerns of note until he revisited the west with 1992s Unforgiven – but it was the point where his roles became more contemporary.
The Rebel Era


Clint Eastwood’s Rebel Era isn’t all that different from the Cowboy Era, truth be told. Swap out the cowboy hat and western gear for modern clothing, and the horse for a Ford Galaxie 500. But if we define rebel as one who opposes authority, then the era becomes that much more distinctive: the age of the western loner, meting out justice versus the modern, urban anti-hero. The Rebel Era begins with Eastwood’s infamous Detective Harry Callahan in 1971’s Dirty Harry, the no-nonsense cop who pushes the limits, argues with superiors, and disobeys orders, anything he can to stop the maniacal psychopath who is terrorizing San Francisco: The Scorpio Killer (Andrew Robinson). There is no more telling evidence that the Rebel Era had begun than Callahan throwing his badge away after taking out the killer. The era would end with Detective Harry Callahan, again, in Sudden Impact, the 1983 film that would be Eastwood’s second-last appearance as the detective.
In between the two, Eastwood brought a number of other rebels to the screen, including two additional Dirty Harry films: Magnum Force and The Enforcer (which co-starred a pre-Cagney & Lacey Tyne Daly). In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot he plays Thunderbolt, a bank robber who gathers his old gang back together to pull off a repeat of the heist that ended unsuccessfully seven years prior. As Detective Ben Shockley, Eastwood is instructed to bring Gus Mally (Sondra Locke), a prostitute, to testify at a mob trial in 1977’s The Gauntlet. it’s a task that’s easier said than done, as he is betrayed by someone in the Police Department. Refusing to roll over, he welds thick steel plates to a bus and carries out his assignment by driving through a barrage of firepower (the gauntlet of the title) to the courthouse. The action comedies Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can follow the adventures of Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe, truck driver and prizefighter, and his pet orangutan Clyde (fact: non-rebels don’t have orangutans as pets). Finally, Eastwood stars as Frank Morris, the true story of an inmate at Alcatraz who masterminds a highly detailed escape attempt, along with brothers Clarence (Jack Thibeau) and John (Fred Ward) Anglin and Charley Butts (Larry Hankin), from the famously inescapable facility in 1979’s Escape from Alcatraz.
The Haunted Era

In 1982, the Haunted Era began with the Cold War film Firefox, starring Eastwood as Mitchell Gant, an ex-Vietnam War pilot on a covert mission into the U.S.S.R. to steal a prototype jet. Throughout the film, Gant is haunted by his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which threatens to blow his cover and bring the mission to a crushing halt. A number of his films during this time featured a character that is haunted, like Gant, by something outside of their control.
In 1984’s Tightrope, Eastwood is on the trail of a serial killer as Detective Wes Block. As he draws closer to catching the killer, the killer begins targeting acquaintances of Block’s, including his daughters, deeply troubling the detective. White Hunter Black Heart cast Eastwood as John Wilson, world-famous director, who travels with his crew to Africa in order to film his latest movie. His interest in the movie, and those involved, becomes secondary as he grows fixated on hunting elephants, and one in particular that eludes him. Nick Pulovski, Eastwood, is a cop that is assigned a new partner after his previous partner is killed by the leader of a car theft/chop shop ring in the 1990 film The Rookie. The case is moved to the homicide department, and as a result Pulovski is taken off of it. Pulovski, however, insists on stopping the man, feeling he owes it to his deceased partner. His new partner, David Ackerman (Charlie Sheen), is dragged into Pulovski’s obsessive pursuit as a result. In the Oscar-winning film Unforgiven, Eastwood makes a successful return to his western roots as former outlaw William Munny, who is hired to help capture a bounty on the heads of those that horribly disfigured prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson). As the pursuit draws nearer to its end, Munny is hounded by the dangerous world he had left behind years before.
The Haunted Era would end with Eastwood’s turn as Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan in the 1993 film In The Line of Fire. Plagued by his inability to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he is taunted by former assassin Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) into stopping Leary’s attempt to assassinate the current president. His past drives Horrigan’s need to find Leary before it’s too late, spooking him into believing danger lies around every corner.

The Curmudgeon Era

Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brooke Chia Thao, and Chee Thao in Gran TorinoImage via Warner Bros.

The current stage of Eastwood’s career is the Curmudgeon Era, where the bulk of his roles have found the renowned actor in varying degrees of feeble, grouchy, hardened, and elderly. 2000’s Space Cowboys kicks off this era, featuring Eastwood as former Air Force pilot Frank Corvin, whose opportunity to go into space with his team was scuttled by N.A.S.A.’s Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) forty years ago. A Russian satellite has veered off course, and Corvin, who designed its guidance system, is pressed back into service with his former team (consisting of fellow elders Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner) to fix it before it enters the atmosphere.
In Blood Work, Eastwood is retired F.B.I. profiler Terry McCaleb, the successful recipient of a heart transplant, who is hired to find the killer of his heart donor. In his pursuit, he comes to realize the killer to be the serial killer he had fruitlessly chased for years, but the limitations of his age and health hinder his abilities. In 2004, multiple Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby starred Hilary Swank as aspiring female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, who eventually talks gruff, elderly boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) into training her. As her career takes off, the two grow a deep friendship until an unfortunate accident leads to a soul-crushing end. Gran Torino in 2008 cast Eastwood as malcontent Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, a deeply unhappy man who doesn’t get along with anyone. When teenage neighbor Thao Lor (Bee Vang) tries to steal Kowalski’s prized 1972 Gran Torino, he takes it upon himself to reform the young man, eventually stepping up to protect Lor and his family from gangs.
Another variant of the aged, stubborn crank is Eastwood’s role as baseball scout Gus Lobel in 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. With one last opportunity to scout for his team, Lobel heads to North Carolina. His estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) follows along to make sure he’s alright, and in doing so pushes him to explain why he pushed her away so many years ago. Eastwood’s most recent addition to the Curmudgeon Era is in 2021’s Cry Macho. He plays Mike Milo, a one-time rodeo star and former horse breeder, entrusted to bring the son of an ex-boss home, away from his alcoholic mother. Set in 1978, the weary horseman and the boy take a challenging journey back to Texas through rural Mexico, where Milo starts finding purpose again as he teaches Rafael (Eduardo Minett) what it means to be a good man.
Clint Eastwood – cowboy, rebel, haunted, curmudgeon, and more – has a legacy that cements his place as a Hollywood icon. Even at 92, he continues to excel in the cinematic world he has thrived in, and if he remains in this current stage of his career, or boldly goes headfirst into a whole new era, we can rest assured that Eastwood will deliver as he always has – among the best.

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Clint Eastwood

On This Day: Clint Eastwood Film ‘Honkytonk Man’ Loosely Based on Jimmie Rodgers Hits Theaters in 1982

Clint Eastwood is a honkey tonk man. It’s been years since the legendary actor starred in the country music pilgrimage “Honkeytonk Man.”

The film released on Dec. 15, 1982, and starred both Eastwood and his son Kyle. Eastwood plays Red Stovall, a famous if reckless musician determined to secure his legacy. His character is based upon famed musician Jimmie Rodgers. Red teams up with his nephew, played by Eastwood’s son, for a road trip odyssey to the Grand Ole Opry.

Clint Eastwood Stars as a Famous Country Musician

The film is a poignant look at the legacy of the musician as much as it is a coming of age story. For all of Red’s gruffness and swagger, there’s a vulnerability to him and a fear. The country singer has tuberculosis, a death sentence back during the Great Depression. So, he must confront his mortality head-on through his music and the relationships he leaves behind. But, Red’s relationship with his nephew is the heart of the film.

The character is helped by Clint Eastwood’s own legacy. The actor’s name is forever ingrained with the Western films he made as a young man. Eastwood helped create the stereotype of the hardened gunslinger and later the hardened detective with the “Dirty Harry” franchise. But later in his career, he dismantled these archetypes, giving performances filled with emotion and vulnerability. And in “Honkeytonk Man,” Eastwood examines the life of a performer.

The film featured the last appearance by legend Marty Robbins, who appears as the guitarist Smokey. Robbins died that December before the film’s release.

Jimmie Rodgers Also Faced His Mortality

Rodgers inspired Clint Eastwood’s film the narrative of the film. Many consider Rodgers to be the father of country music. The musician came to prominence in the 1920s and during the Great Depression. He won over audiences with his recordings, which continued after his death. Like Red, doctors diagnosed Rodgers with tuberculosis. The singer was only 27 and would fight the disease for another eight years.

Rodgers kept recording until his death in 1933, aided by a nurse in the recording studio. To bookend his career, he recorded “Years Ago,” which was one of his first songs.

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Clint Eastwood

Marty Robbins Died Today in 1982: Relive His Time on Screen with Clint Eastwood in ‘Honkytonk Man’

Marty Robbins did a lot during his time on earth. From singing, songwriting, stock car racing, playing instruments, and even acting, Robbins’ resume was impressive. It also includes stepping in for legendary actor Clint Eastwood.

Perhaps Robbins’ most memorable role was in “Honkytonk Man” alongside Eastwood. Clint Eastwood produced, directed, and starred as Red Stovall in the classic. Robbins was cast as one of Stovall’s band members named Smoky. Eastwood’s son, Kyle, also stars in the film as Stovall’s nephew, Whit.

The storyline features Stovall’s dream of making it to the Grand Ole Opry in the Great Depression era. Stovall finally arrives in Nashville after a cross-country journey with his nephew and gets his chance to perform in front of Grand Ole Opry scouts.

However, Stovall can’t escape a coughing fit that’s brought on by his tuberculosis illness. This is where Robbins, the side guitarist, steps in for Eastwood.

His true talent shines while Smoky unintentionally steals the spotlight. Watch the scene below.

“Honkytonk Man” was released on December 15, 1982. Robbins passed away seven days earlier, making this his final appearance on the silver screen. He was 57 when he died on December 8, after suffering his third serious heart attack.

More About Marty Robbins

Robbins was one of the most popular and successful country-western singers for most of his nearly four-decade career that spanned from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. 

Over the course of his career, Robbins’ resume continued to grow. Classic Country Music cites that he recorded more than 500 songs and 60 albums and won two Grammy Awards. Furthermore, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and was named the 1960s Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music.

Robbins was obsessed with El Paso, both the name and the town grown-up. So naturally, he sang a song titled “El Paso.” The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a love s story. Robbins went on to win a Grammy Award in 1959 for his signature song.

Not only did Robbins love the sound of music but he loved the roar of a stock car machine. His success in country music allowed him to fund his NASCAR team. Robbins had 6 top-ten finishes in his career, with a personal best top 5 finish at the 1974 Motor State 360 in Michigan.

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Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood: Here’s How the Cowboy Icon Landed His First Role in a Western

Arguably one of the best actors to ever grace Western cinema, Clint Eastwood is an icon. His work in Westerns over his career has been outstanding. But, how did he get his start in that particular part of the industry?

It is fascinating how Clint Eastwood landed his first role in a Western. However, the first Western that the legendary actor was in was an uncredited role in a little-known movie. He played a ranch hand in the 1955 movie called Law Man, which is also known as Star in the Dust.

While the role was small, it got Clint Eastwood excited about the prospects of acting in Westerns. As everyone knows today, it seems that he was destined to play a cowboy in his career. As a tough-looking, tall, handsome man, he fits the role exceedingly well.

Clint Eastwood Got His First Role in a Western Almost By Accident

According to IMDb, Eastwood got into Western movies because he looks the part. Reportedly, he was visiting a friend at the CBS studio when an executive spotted him. During the exchange, Eastwood was told that he “looked like a cowboy.”

Even though this is absolutely true and fits the role to a tee, it is impressive that’s how he landed a role. The first credited movie that he was in because of this exchange was a 1959 Western television show called Rawhide.

Clint Eastwood was cast as Rowdy Yates in the show. Rawhide ran from 1959 to 1965, and Clint Eastwood was in the show for its entirety. In fact, he had the most episodes of anyone in the show. This is somewhat surprising, considering his extensive cinema work outside the show.

Rawhide essentially launched his Western movie career. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was filmed in 1966, certainly a direct result of his work on the television show.

So, it is safe to say that the CBS executive who pegged him as a man fit for Western’s was definitely correct. You can thank that man for the wonderful work that Clint Eastwood has done ever since.

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