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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 19:15 GMT
Dirty Harry turns Hollywood sage
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News entertainment reporter

Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby
Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby won two Golden Globes
Actor and director Clint Eastwood has won the best director Oscar for his latest film Million Dollar Baby.

But how did an actor typecast as a Hollywood hardman turn into one of America's most respected directors?

There are few film-makers working in Hollywood who can claim they are making their most important work in their 70s. Clint Eastwood is one of them.

The movie star who played flint-eyed mavericks in films like Dirty Harry and High Plains Drifter has reached his golden years achieving a respectability and critical kudos befitting Hollywood's elite.

Scowling performance

Few could have imagined that the gravel-voiced actor who scowled his way through a collection of 1960s spaghetti westerns and cop films would turn into one of Hollywood's most bankable - yet respected - directors.

But since 1993, when the self-directed and self-starring gothic western Unforgiven caused an Oscar-winning stir, the Eastwood of Dirty Harry fame has been eclipsed by Eastwood the master director.

It is a mantle that has been further strengthened by last year's Oscar-winning Mystic River, a film of contemporary America that won two Academy Awards for actors Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.

Clint Eastwood in 1976
Eastwood began directing Westerns in the 1970s
His latest film, Million Dollar Baby, has already won Eastwood a Golden Globe for best director at this year's ceremony and a best actress award for star Hilary Swank.

On top of this, Eastwood is an accomplished musician and served as mayor in his home town of Carmel in California in 1986.

Aside from his busy film career, he also is a father of seven children and is married to his second wife, Dina.

Eastwood was born in 1930 in San Francisco, the son of working class parents, and dropped out of a business degree to take up acting.

He appeared in 1950s b-movies including the sci-fi thriller Tarantula, but got his first break with the TV Western series Rawhide.

Classic Westerns

It kick-started the stereotypical view of Eastwood as a macho hardman, best suited to roles that required expressions as hard as granite, scant dialogue and a rolled-up sleeves attitude towards getting things done.

But even while he was playing Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry and its sequels, Eastwood was directing morally ambiguous Westerns such as High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). The latter is now regarded as one of the all-time classic Westerns.

Eastwood has been a complex figure for decades now, said Ian Nathan, features editor at film magazine Empire.

His early films were much more complex than history might have you believe
Ian Nathan, Empire
"It does feel quite weird that he has managed to make this change from acting icon and action hero to possibly the most revered director in America at the moment," he said.

"But if you boil it down he's had a strange lifecycle. As the 1970s began he became quite an interesting director with films like High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales.

"He wasn't just this studly actor, he was something more. His early films were much more complex than history might have you believe."

The intervening decades saw Eastwood balance weighty acting and directorial roles - he was behind the critically-lauded White Hunter Black Heart - with throwaway movies such as Every Which Way But Loose and some tired Dirty Harry sequels.

But Unforgiven, the 1992 Western where Eastwood played a retired gunfighter returning for one last job, was "a profound treatment from a man of his career, as well as being a great Western," Mr Nathan said.

Clint Eastwood and daughter Kathryn at the Golden Globes
At the age of 75, Eastwood shows no sign of slowing down
He also said the last few years have seen the birth of Eastwood as a "tremendous" actor. "He's playing his age really well," Mr Nathan added.

He believed Eastwood had struck a chord with audiences as a director because his style was "gimmick-free".

"His doesn't rattle through all these edits or stylish wipes," Mr Nathan said. "He is very austere."

Despite being in his eighth decade, Eastwood is not slowing down. His next project is a film based on the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, one the director apparently plans to cast with young unknown actors who are the same age as the 19-year-old soldiers who fought there.

Eastwood may not have anything left to prove, but he still seems to have plenty left to say.


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