Hard rock candy

Ornament

15 August 2009, 22.41 CET

Bullitt (1968):

Bullitt

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976):

The Outlaw Josey Wales

In Bullitt we see the early (and still vibrant) model for the so-called renegade cop film. Much of this film has been borrowed for other films, for example the outdoor airport scene at the end of Michael Mann’s Heat. It does however feature one of the best San Francisco car chases I’ve seen, especially the audio effects. McQueen is a cool, strong, sweet presence throughout the film, a reminder that they don’t make heroes (or police departments) like that anymore. Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much of “The Wire.”

Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales arrives near the end of a tradition of renegade films, and Western renegade films in particular. It’s a well-wrought example of the genre, with enough idiosyncracies and neat touches to render the film endearing, without being camp or excessive. For example, a great line that manages to be whimsical without mawkishness is “All I have is a piece of hard rock candy, but it’s not for eatin’, it’s just for lookin’ through.”

Both films are about individuals who get caught up in violence, and politicized violence. Both characters manage to stand their ground. Yet, while Josey Wales at first embraces the way in which the uninvited violence forces him outside of human society, by the end of the film he accepts that it is now time that he return to society, to a domestic situation, and to love.

Bullitt is more nuanced. Bullitt is a cop who seems unwilling to accept that his job and experiences separate him from civilized society generally, and from women in particular. Yet by the end of the film we see his belief that he can handle the violence without becoming “calloused” (as his girlfriend fears that he will) put to considerable test. The film ends with an ambiguous moment considerably different from the more clearly “happy” ending of The Outlaw Josey Wales.