Review of Drucilla Cornell, Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity

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Review of Drucilla Cornell, Clint Eastwood and Issues of American Masculinity (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009) 216 pp.

The world easily recognizes acting idol Clint Eastwood (b. 1930). This American cultural symbol and veritable living legend was originally famous as ramrod Rowdy Yates within TV's Rawhide before earning filmic fame with his tough-guy charm and loner persona within Sergio Leonie spaghetti westerns, his Dirty Harry cop franchise and assorted genre pictures. However, Eastwood the film director is just as important for his morality tales of astonishing maturity, sensitivity and insight; albeit, less researched. And so it is to Drucilla Cornell's considerable credit that she turned her critical attention to the directorial accomplishments of this international symbol of effortless masculinity (alongside John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Sean Connery) to explore modern-day American masculinity.

If wanting a blow-by-blow criticism of Eastwood's filmography or a hagiography full of facts and figures then this book will not satisfy your "Go ahead, make my day" (Sudden Impact) demand. One is better off reading Aim for the Heart: The Films of Clint Eastwood (Howard Hughes, 2009), American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood (Marc Eliot, 2009) or Clint: A Retrospective (Richard Schickel, 2010). But if primarily interested in director Eastwood (and sometimes concurrent actor and producer), along with a critical psychoanalytical-philosophical portrait of his virility-cum-vulnerability within the cowboy, boxing, police, romance, western and war genres, then "you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'" (Dirty Harry), with the answer being "Yes!" with a bullet. Cornell's text that "is as much about freeing men as it is about freeing women" (p. 77) definitely eschews film fluff and sits comfortably alongside Heroes, Antiheroes and Dolts: Portrayals of Masculinity in American Popular Films, 1921-1999 (Ashton D. Trice & Samuel A. Holland, 2002), Extra-Ordinary Men: White Heterosexual Masculinity and Contemporary Popular Cinema (Nicola Rehling, 2009), Shadows of Doubt: Negotiations of Masculinity in American Genre Films (Barry Keith Grant, 2010) and many others.

Structure-wise, her book consists of fourteen sections examining director (producer and actor) Eastwood, namely: Preface, Acknowledgments, Introduction: Shooting Eastwood, 1. Writing the Showdown: What's Left Behind When the Sun Goes Down, 2. Dancing with the Double: Reaching Out from the Darkness Within, 3. Ties That Bind: The Legacy of a Mother's Love, 4. Psychic Scars: Transformative Relationships and Moral Repair, 5. Parables of Revenge and Masculinity in Mystic River (Roger Berkowitz & Drucilla Cornell), 6. Militarized Manhood: Shattered Images and the Trauma of War, 7. Shades of Recognition: Privilege, Dignity, and the Hubris of White Masculinity, Conclusion: The Last Take, Notes, Filmography: Clint Eastwood as Director, and Index.

Her Introduction identified four major themes that connected together his diverse genre offerings, namely: (1) the horrifying impact of trauma upon our shared ethical life, (2) the struggle with evil as a possibility for each of us, (3) the powers of moral repair and repentance and their implicit dangers, and (4) the relationship between masculine narcissism (enforced via castration threats) and violence engendered by an exaggerated sense of control over oneself or nations (pp. 7-8).

Chapter 1 examined disruption, trauma and violence within Eastwood's westerns: High Plains Drifter (1973), Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992) that utilized mystery, conflict and brutality to blur the boundaries of heroism with villainy, and man with myth. Eastwood's The Stranger was a personification of hellish violence, Preacher was a mythical angel of death, and the fatigued and remorseful Bill Munny was a re-commissioned former gunslinger. All three films undermined the cowboy mythos with rapist heroes, crying gunslingers and compassionate killers as it simultaneously glorified violence and revenge as a masculine trait. …

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