Joe Kidd


How many westerns have you watched where the lead character (usually played by the charismatic human sneer known as Clint Eastwood) strides into town and handles any problems he encounters with an almost supernatural sense of confidence and an unwavering abilities to out-think, out-fight or out-shoot with the minimum of difficulty like he’s a walking, talking cheat code?
Well, guess what, Joe Kidd (not to be confused with one-time British model Jodie Kidd) is exactly that sort of movie, but its told in a way that’s quite unlike any of the other raspy-voiced anti-hero that Eastwood has portrayed that I’ve ever seen before.
Maybe it’s because this epically flippant western was directed by John Sturgess, the man who turned out multiple, iconic, boys-own style adventure flicks such as The Great Escape and Where Eagles Dare, or maybe it’s because the script was provided by none other than Elmore Leonard, an author renowned for putting a sardonic spin on things – or maybe Clint just fancied a change. Either way, Joe Kidd is a gunslinger with a tone of his own.


Waking in the town jail of Sinola, New Mexico, permanently non-plussed sharpshooter Joe Kidd feels a little worse for wear after obtaining a bumb on the noggin for illegally hunting on Native American land and disturbing the peace by pissing up the courthouse. However, his time before the judge is cut short when the courthouse is held hostage by the gang of Mexican revolutionary (and part time bandito) Luis Chama who have a legitimate beef with wealthy land owners using questionable (but technically legal) tactics to have them bumped off their rightful land.
Suddenly in the middle of a political brouhaha that he obviously couldn’t give a shit about, Joe manages to escort the judge out of harms way and then nonchalantly kills one of Chama’s men as he casually sips a beer in the local saloon and the repercussions take the form of another one of the gang screwing with Kidd’s ranch.
Before you can say “petty revenge”, Joe’s hitched his wagon to the wallet of unscrupulous land owner Frank Harlan who has put together a posse of amoral thugs to hunt down the Mexican and kill him if necessary, but it isn’t that long before Kidd realises that he may picked the wrong team when their sadistic methods are revealed.
Shifting teams again like everyone else’s business is his own personal playground, Kidd now comes to the aid of Chama, ironing out their differences and planning an all out assault on Harlan and his goons with the help of a well placed runaway train and a shit-load of bullets. Can Joe Kidd put an end to a feud that he not only personally escalated, but he never should have been a part of in the first place?


Joe Kidd’s an odd beast. If you take the thing out of context, there’s a very good case to make that the fact it features a lead character whose weird sense of entitlement and haphazard meddling in events that literally nothing to do with him is extremely off-putting. He’s literally just there and if anything, his unthinking blundering into shit that simply isn’t any of his fucking business.
However, if Joe Kidd had been portrayed by anyone else other than Hollywood’s most famous squint, everything I have just said would have been an overwhelming negative and yet in the hands of Eastwood, Joe Kidd’s antics end up being incredibly entertaining even when he carelessly plays with other people’s live on a whim.
It’s that damn, weathered charm and those glib comebacks that makes the misadventures of this swaggering prick work so well, verbally sticking a middle finger up and anything approaching authority whenever he can and leaving a string of death bodies and property damage in his wake with all the empathy of a emotionally stunted teenager.
A child of four could tell you that Robert Duvall’s brutal landowner is no good, but Kidd’s happy to tag along and shoot at some Mexican’s because he wants some payback and there’s 500 bucks in it for him. Of course, much like the majority of Clint’s gritty, morally compromised white hats, our hero finally gets his act together and does the right thing, but compared to the complexity of, say, the Man With No Name – character who you feel always has a grasp of right and wrong – Joe Kidd just feels like a psychopath.


Still, Leonard’s script and Sturgess keep things moving at a fair old clip and is broad enough to make its hero’s narcissistic tendencies feel like the good natured jabs of a knowing satire. How else can you explain Kidd’s showstopping solution to getting the drop on a couple of do-badders who are taking refuge in the local saloon by driving a fucking train through the thing? It’s a careless act of overblown destruction that’s worthy of Connery’s Bond and it all bust confirms that we shouldn’t taking any of this particularly seriously – well, certainly not as seriously as Robert Duvall is while tackling his rather one note villain and definitely not as serious as the sight of John Saxon in slathered in thick bronzer and sporting a Freddie Mercury moustache in order to play a Mexican revolutionary.
Anyone expecting a serious mediation on the revisionist western in the dystopian style of High Plains Drifter will no doubt be left scratching their head, however, if you can latch onto the feeling that Eastwood and everyone else is having a great time playing with an exaggerated version of his usual archetype then there’s a fair few chuckles to be had. Joe Kidd isn’t as broad a character as Philo Beddoe from Every Which Way But Loose, but the shot of a disheveled Joe leaning on a set of swinging doors, clutching a shotgun in one had and dangling a glass of stolen beer by the handle in the other immediately after getting the drop on a bandito tells you everything you want to know about the character in a single image.


A noticable precursor to the responsibility-free action heroes of the 80’s (a gang of similarly callous right doers who never have to atone for the repercussions of their violently destructive ways), Joe Kidd is an amusing flick that suggests that anything goes just as long as you have the luxury of being the main character in someone else’s story.
No kidding.


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