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Film / The Gauntlet

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Ten million bullets. One man. Don't bet on the bullets. (Poster art by Frank Frazetta)

Clint Eastwood's Deconstruction of his own Cowboy Cop image, released in 1977.

Ben Shockley (Eastwood) is a Phoenix cop whose dream of hitting "the big case" has been ruined by a few too many glasses of Jack Daniels. Which, of course, means that he's the one being chosen to escort a prostitute named Augustina "Gus" Mally (Sondra Locke) across state lines to a "nothing" trial at which she is to testify. However, Mally is convinced that Shockley was only sent so they could get rid of him, and, after a few incidents involving a racehorse bet and the destruction of Mally's own house (with them in it), Shockley learns that Mally not only has mob ties, but also has incriminating evidence against a high figure in Phoenix society. And this figure has employed Shockley's own boss, the corrupt Police Commissioner Blakelock (William Prince), to ensure that neither of them return to Phoenix.

Compare 16 Blocks, in which Bruce Willis must also escort a witness to trial while struggling against Dirty Cops.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Eastwood's Shockley is so much a subversion of Dirty Harry-type Cowboy Cops that it's almost Playing Against Type (or Decon-Recon Switch). Malley herself is no good in a fight, although she manages to blow away Blakelock via headshot at the end.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Played absolutely straight with the group of bikers Shockley and Malley encounter at two points, which are louts who are not above raping Malley and beating up Shockley (a cop) to a pulp (although Shockley did steal one of their bikes at gunpoint)... which raises an interesting question: how did Shockley himself learn to ride so well?
  • Arc Words: Several times it's mentioned that the mission to bring Malley to court in Phoenix is a mission to being "a nothing witness to a nothing trial". The phrase just becomes more and more sarcastic as Shockley and Malley become victims of the Mafia's outright insane attempts to eliminate them.
  • Attempted Rape: Played straight with the biker gang. Not so averted with Blakelock in the backstory. See Groin Attack.
  • Blatant Lies: "A nothing witness to a nothing trial".
  • Bodyguard Crush: Shockley and Malley, by the end. Punctuated by Malley calling her mother and telling her about how wonderful Shockley is right before gearing up for the titular gauntlet (she says earlier that it's been a while since she's spoken to her mother and doesn't wants to do it unless there were some good news to provide).
  • Chase Scene: Shockley and Malley are pursued at some length by a helicopter containing some mafia mooks.
  • Cowboy Cop: Punctured wonderfully. Shockley's a disposable alcoholic who is sent out only so the people involved can get rid of him. Prior to that, he had been waiting for his big break… which never came. Not that it stops him from pulling all the stops on this case, though, once he knows the stakes.
  • Death Course: The titular "gauntlet": two major streets of downtown Phoenix, cordoned off and packed full of patrolmen armed to the teeth.
  • Defective Detective: Shockley, which is why he got this assignment in the first place.
  • Depraved Bisexual: A female biker joins in the attempt to rape Mally.
  • The Determinator: Shockley, in spades. Nothing, not even every Mob-affiliated gunman and trigger-happy patrolman in two states is gonna stop him from delivering his "nothing" witness to her "nothing" trial, if nothing else but out of spite to his opponents.
  • Don't Tell Mama: When calling her mother, Gus mentions working as a 'secretary'.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Done to Blakelock's Yes-Man Feyderspiel at gunpoint. Blakelock tries to shut him up by shooting him and Shockley. It doesn't ends well.
  • Escort Mission: The whole movie's plot revolves around Shockley's mission to escort Malley to court, come hell or high water.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Blakelock is your standard Da Chief in his first scene, but no better or worse a man and rather justified to chew Shockley out considering that he arrived to his appointment straight from the bar he's spent the whole night in (with the smell to match). The rest of the movie goes to show how much freaking sociopathic he is.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Subverted. When Shockley's friend dies via police sniper double-cross, Shockley growls out his anger towards Blakelock for doing this and starts his run down "the gauntlet". The movie ends shortly after.
  • Gender-Blender Name: When Shockley first turns up for his prisoner, he's told there's no guy called Gus Mally.
  • Getting Sick Deliberately: Detective Shockley is sent to Las Vegas to retrieve a witness from the city jail. The witness is Gus Mally, who knows that she has been marked for murder, so she put cigarette ashes in her coffee to make herself too sick to travel. Shockley sees right through her ruse, and allows her a few hours to recover before hauling her tail back to Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Not played for fanservice, a police officer starts talking to Gus about how he'd like to see her having sex with another girl; Shockley loses his temper and starts Pistol-Whipping him. Later when Gus is molested by the bikers, a female biker gets in on the action too.
  • Good Policing, Evil Policing: Detective Ben Shockley has been sent to Las Vegas to collect "a nothing witness to a nothing trail," according to his Chief. It turns out that the Chief, the District Attorney, and some others on the force are actually mob Double Agents. Mob assassins try to waste Shockley and the witness Gus Mally, and when they fail, the corrupt Chief gets the regular patrolmen to form a death squad to stop them. Fortunately, the patrolmen are still honest, and abide by arrest protocol, so that Gus Mally can finger the Chief as The Mole.
  • Groin Attack: A rare (although thankfully only told about after the fact) female example: Gus' backstory involves having been hired to have sex with Blakelock… who forced her to lay on a bed naked and held a gun to her groin while he was jerking off.
  • Hellish Copter: The mob guys' chopper flies into some powerlines.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Subverted; Shockley bluffs some bikers at gunpoint into handing over their bikes; he later runs into them again and gets beaten up. Played straight (and at gunpoint) with the bus used for the final run into Phoenix.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Augustina "Gus" Mally is a hooker but really wantsto quit, especially after the events that led to her becoming a major witness in a case.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Gus to Ben, near the very end, after Blakelock shoots Ben repeatedly to try to silence the lot of them and Feyderspiel.
    Gus Mally: [In tears] Ben Shockley don't you die on me! Open those fucking eyes!
    [Shockley rolls his eyes and opens them]
    Ben Shockley: Nag, Nag, Nag!
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
    • A Mob sniper in a chopper (the airborne kind) is chasing Shockley and Malley on a stolen chopper (the two-wheeled kind) and never scratches either. Close to Truth in Television, in that a swooping helicopter is not a stable firing platform for someone with a rifle and a motorcycle is a fairly maneuverable vehicle and thus a tough target. On the other hand, he does manages to hit the fuel tank, which brings in Accidental Aiming Skills.
    • When the bus is driving down the street, hundreds of Phoenix cops are letting loose with everything they have, from handguns to sniper rifles. Some bullets do hit the steel plating that Ben used for makeshift armor, but not one hits the tires.
  • Improvised Armour: Shockley builds an armored compartment around the driver's area of the bus, which protects him and Gus from the thousands of bullets fired by the Phoenix graduates of the I.S.M.A. (see above).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ben Shockley. The man is a drunken jackass, but once the stakes are fully known, he becomes more appreciative of his companion.
  • Kill on Sight: Detective Shockley is sent to Las Vegas to extradite a witness to Phoenix. However, the witness can identify The Mole within the police department, so mob assassins all aim to silence her. Further, The Mole convinces the Phoenix police that Shockley has gone rogue, and must be taken down with extreme prejudice.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Minor example. Malley turns out to be a pretty good shot with Shockley's Magnum at the very end, taking Blakelock out with it.
  • The Mafia: The Greater-Scope Villain of this plot. Blakelock is in their pocket and enjoying the fringe benefits (such as hookers and people he can send to take out someone he doesn't likes covertly), and they even run bets on Las Vegas about the odds of people appearing in court to testify against them (disguised as horse racing).
  • MacGyvering: Bus + welded iron plates = improvised APC for the final run into Phoenix.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Nag, nag, nag". Once used by Shockley as a sarcastic reply to Mally, used again to answer to Mally's How Dare You Die on Me! rant.
  • More Dakka: Three times, no less! First a mob of cops mows down Mally's house with only guns. Then later, the Mooks fill a cop car (and the poor Dirty Cop inside) with more lead than a Chinese toy factory. The final time, Eastwood drives a bus to the city hall with heavy metal plates over the driver seat while the entire Phoenix police department gets trigger happy.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: A Nevada Dirty Cop is torn apart by gunfire by a bunch of Nevada mafia triggermen who think Shockley and Malley are with him. The movie also showcases some nice examples of this pretty much done to vehicles and a house.
  • Odd Name, Normal Nickname: Detective Shockley arrives at the Las Vegas jail to retrieve Gus Mally. Shockley is told, "There's no guy here by that name." He's then taken to a woman in lock-up named Augustina Mally.
  • Public Secret Message: The Bet about whether Gus Mally will make it alive to Phoenix to testify against The Mafia is done as a made-up horse race with a horse called "Mally No-Show".
  • Pull the Thread: The first sign Shockley gets about The Mafia's involvement is when he notices someone taking bets for a horse called "Malley No-Show" at a Greasy Spoon, with the odds against it winning already being astronomical to begin with and increasing at an absurdly high pace.
  • Posters Always Lie: Subverted. The poster is pretty faithful to the movie, although Eastwood does looks like a modern Frazetta Man (bonus points for having been made by Frank Frazetta).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Double Subverted. Blakelock asks Feyderspiel about why not just request his Mob connections to blow up the bus while it's en route to Phoenix, only for Feyderspiel to mention that blowing up a bus right in the middle of a major highway is a bit too blatant for the Mob to wish to perform. He then goes on to advice about the titular "gauntlet", which they can create with their capacity to pull rank on the local police.
  • Secret Sex Worker: During a phone conversation with her mother, Mally, the prostitute Ben is escorting so she can testify in an upcoming court case in Phoenix, mentions her work as a secretary, indicating that Mally is hiding her actual work from her mother.
  • Show Some Leg: Mally opens up her shirt to distract bikers from beating up Shockley. Accompanied by I Shall Taunt You to make them look.
  • Side Bet: Done as a plot point with "Malley No-Show". By the third act, Mally decides to bet on herself.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: Wanting to remove the witness who could bring them down, Commissioner Blakelock asks Assistant District Attorney Feyderspiel why not just use their Mob connections to have the tourist bus the witness is being transported on blown to kingdom come whilst its on route to Phoenix. Feyderspiel bluntly points out the Mob would never agree to do so, as blowing up a bus whilst on a major public highway would attract far to much attention.
  • Stopped Dead in Their Tracks: Bereft of vehicle, Detective Shockley makes camp in the desert near the Arizona border. Augustina "Gus" Mally has no intention of bedding down overnight with him, so she starts off in search of a road or a town. As she disappears into the darkness, Shockley advises, "Watch out for rattlesnakes." Mally freezes with a confused "What?". Shockley explains, "Rattlesnakes are nocturnal; sleep all day and hunt at night. Try not to get bit." Quickly changing her mind, she walks back to Shockley and his makeshift camp.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The villains' attempts at killing Shockley and Malley are completely insane: of the five times they try to kill them through the film, only two sound sane (shooting up the ambulance they are in from a car, and a sniper on a helicopter) and the other three involve shooting whatever Malley and Shockley are in or assumed to be in (from smaller to bigger: a patrol car, a bus and a house) until it's falling to pieces.
  • Title Drop: Near the end, when it comes time to run the gauntlet to get to the courthouse, it is referred to as such.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Blakelock during the final scene, screaming to the Phoenix patrolmen to shoot and kill Shockley and Mally and opening fire upon Shockley and Feyderspiel while the latter is confessing the reason for the "gauntlet", putting solid proof to Feyderspiel's confession… and not living long enough to regret it.
  • Would Hit a Girl: the female biker who beats Shockley and almost rapes Mally herself has the nerve to say "You wouldn't hit a girl, would you?" when Shockley gets the upper hand. His nonverbal answer is yes, right in the face, and hard enough to knock her off a moving train.