Monkeypiece Theater: Any Which Way You Can (1980)
According to the good, and suspiciously knowledgable folks over at Wikipedia, Clint Eastwood’s “people” tried very hard, without success, to keep the future Academy Award winner from starring in the 1978 blockbuster Every Which Way But Loose, for reasons that undoubtedly went above and beyond concern for the actor's dignity.
Yet for some reason, something about the story of a fist-fighting dumbass and his sassy, beer-swilling orangutan sidekick spoke to Eastwood on a deep, profound level. This wasn’t just another screenplay. No, this was a story Eastwood needed to tell. He needed to use his gifts as an artist and an entertainer to breathe life into this seminal tale of monkeyshines, bare-knuckle brawls and lonesome honky tonks.
Sure, history might fuzzily remember Every Which Way But Loose as a bizarre mistake from an artist who generally exercises sounder judgment, but audiences of the time felt differently. They didn’t just making the stupidest possible movie Eastwood could have made a commercial success: they made it a goddamn blockbuster that trailed only the zeitgeist-capturing likes of Grease, Superman and Animal House as 1978's box-office champion.
Four decade on Every Which Way But Loose remains one of the worst, and most commercially successful things Eastwood has ever done. It wasn’t just an enormous smash whose success said terrible things about the intelligence and taste of the moviegoing public. No, it was a fabulously, disconcertingly successful series whose incredible success says horrible things about the intelligence and taste of the moviegoing public.
Because two years after Every Which Way But Loose struck box-office gold by pandering to the lowest common denominator, Eastwood and the low-wattage gang returned in 1980’s Any Which Way You Can, only this time Clyde was not played by the animal actor who portrayed the role originally but rather Bhudda, who according to the Los Angeles Times, was beaten to death for stealing donuts from craft services.
This inevitably colored the way I saw the film. Whenever Clyde does something sassy, I felt like was watching either the aftermath or the prelude to vicious physical abuse. This similarly casts the many, many scenes where Clyde drinks beer in a new light. Clyde wasn’t being a funky, party-hearty ape: he’s drinking away the pain.
And let me tell you, brother, Clyde does a whole lot of drinking in Any Which Way You Can. His alcoholism has gotten worse. Forget getting Clyde laid—Philo’s foremost preoccupation in these movies for some reason—what Eastwood’s character should do is stage an intervention to get Clyde help with his terrible drinking problem. Then again, considering what a shit show Clyde’s life is, what the hell does he have to sober up for?
Yes, Any Which Way You Can brings back all the characters the public hated-to-barely tolerated in Every Which Way But Loose back for more. Remember the Black Widows, the suspiciously elderly motorcycle gang comprised entirely of out of shape stunt men types in their fifties and sixties? Well they’re back and more pathetic than ever. At this point they’re like the Washington Generals of bike gangs: losing isn’t just the inevitable outcome of everything they do: it’s their whole reason for being. They live to fail, live to lose, live to screw up. But they’re so pathetic that you just end up feeling sorry for them.
Also back for some reason? Sondra Locke as charmless, deeply unlikable country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor, who embodies country music’s deep fear and suspicion of ambitious career gals. Every Which Way But Loose’s dumbass, wavering plot involved Philo chasing after the cold-hearted crooner even though she stops just short of having “I’m Just Not That Into You” tattooed on her forehead to convey her disinterest to the punch-drunk, love-struck, ape-loving palooka. The couple’s arc concluded gloomily with Lynn Halsey-Taylor telling Philo that she ditched him for a reason, and doesn’t even like him anyway, and why doesn’t he just go get lost?
That gave me false hope that we’d seen the last of a character who seemingly was only in the film because she was played by the star’s real-life girlfriend. So you can imagine my disappointment to discover that Any Which Way You Can brings her back once again as the love interest, despite the deplorable manner in which she treated our hero in the first film.
On a more promising note, Geoffrey Lewis returns as Philo’s manager/human friend Orville, only not only has he lost a love interest played by a young Beverly D’Angelo (who was several times more appealing than Locke’s character, yet maddeningly does not return), but he’s lost some of his managerial duties to Clyde.
At one point Philo, for example, gives Clyde 10,000 dollars in cash for safekeeping, which, to be brutally honest, seems like a bit of a mistake. Call me a fussbudget if you like, but creatures lower down the evolutionary scale from us should not be trusted with large amounts of money. I learned this the hard way when I gave a squirrel 20,000 to hide for me. I figured he’d squirrel it away, literally, but I never saw that money again and the next time I saw the squirrel he was clearly coked-up and wearing an expensive suit. True, it was adorable, but I wish I still had that money.
And, of course, Ruth Gordon returns as Ma, Philo’s loud, unbearable mother. Eastwood wouldn’t strike Oscar gold until after Any Which Way You Can. Gordon, in contrast, was already an Oscar winner for Rosemary's Baby and had three more nominations as a screenwriter.
Yet that still somehow did not keep her from accepting a role where her character spies a peeping tom in a cheap motel and yells, “Get away from there! It’s not right to watch folks go humpity bumpity!”
I wonder if, at this point, Gordon took Eastwood aside and said, “You know, Clint, I co-wrote, among other films, Adam’s Rib. That had a pretty good screenplay. Maybe I can tweak the dialogue a little so I don’t have to utter the phrase “humpity bumpity?” and Eastwood assured her, “This script is like the bible, Ruth. I’m not changing a single world. The ape doesn’t get to improvise. Neither do you.”
It somehow gets much worse for the Oscar-winning screen legend. Being horny, as well as profane and loud and a terrible driver, Ma immediately blackmails this creepy sex criminal into having sex with her by encouraging him to get good and turned on by what he’s watching so they can go off and fuck.
It somehow gets even grosser than that, however, when the object of Ma’s impure desires looks at the geriatric actress and sees the famous shot of Bo Derek running sensually across the sand from 10, only with Gordon’s ancient face instead of Derek’s. The filmmakers did not recreate this iconic, oft-spoofed scene, as so many filmmakers have done since the film’s release, including the makers of Norbit. No, they licensed actual footage from 10 and incompetently and amateurishly replaced Gordon’s visage for Derek’s.
This is supposed to be cute and funny. Instead it is viscerally disturbing in the manner of the best J-Horror and the most horrifying sequences in The Shining. As someone in my Facebook noted, it’s got a bit of an Aphex Twin vibe as well, but seeing as this was a wacky gag in a broad comedy, I’m guessing they were not overtly angling for a Lynchian level of horror.
The one way in which Any Which Way You Can improves on its predecessor is in its depiction of the bare-knuckle brawling world. Every Which Way But Loose perversely had Philo square off against exclusively overweight senior citizens but its sequel is smart enough to actually give Philo a worthwhile opponent in Jack Wilson (William Smith), a formidable scrapper and bare-knuckle champion whom Philo is forced to fight in the film’s climax for a nefarious assemblage of ne’er do wells, particularly mob-related.
Jack is, like Philo, a man of honor and integrity, a good man in a dirty business who has his own code of honor that’s more important to him than any payday. Philo and Jack ultimately decided to opt out of the dirty game they’re being roped into and fight each other in secret, solely for the sake of honor.
Like having Philo choose to lose the climatic fight in Every Which Way But Loose it’s a plot twist that belongs in a real Clint Eastwood movie, not a desecration thereof. But this is not a real Clint Eastwood movie. It is, to use a technical film critic term, a stupid movie for babies so of course news of this mano-a-mano fight in private gets out to everyone and soon turns into just another garish cartoon brawl in a franchise full of them.
Any Which Way You Can seems to have figured out that audiences might prefer a fight movie where the fighters weren’t overwhelmingly fat and old and easy to beat, but otherwise it seems intent on repeating all of its many, many mistakes.
How wildly derivative of Every Which Way But Loose of its predecessor? The sequel doesn’t just bring back Clyde as a disconcertingly horny fuck machine literally brought to the States specifically for the purpose of procreation. No, it features yet another sequence where Philo Beddoe once again busts into a closed zoo for the purpose of finding Clyde a female orangutan to fuck.
The idea is for Clyde to give the ape he’d like to mate with a drugged banana but Clyde ends up shooting himself up with a powerful sedative and somehow, for some reason, Clyde and his seemingly unimpressed ape paramour end up in a cheap motel alongside Philo and his lady-friend and a pair of tourists played by Anne Ramsay and her real-life husband.
If Eastwood and company had yielded to the inexplicable demands of the market and completed the Every Which Way But Loose trilogy, I hope that it would have really leaned into the notion of Philo as an Ape pimp, a seamy procurer of the flesh for our simian cousins, and found him finding sex partners for other orangutans as well. Alas, Philo Beddoe’s Simian Whorehouse was never to be, even as the movie closes out the Philo/Clyde saga with some of its grossest sex jokes.
Flaunting its bad taste to the very end, Any Which Way You Can ends with Clyde, whose sexual hunger Philo is disconcertingly concerned with, showing Philo a picture of his latest object of desire, a naked centerfold. A human centerfold.
Phil chucklingly replies that that might be a bit of a tall order, what with bestiality being a more or less universal taboo, and also against the law, and gross, but Clyde “hilariously” waves around a banana. The implication is that he and Philo can use a drugged banana to knock out this human woman so that Clyde can have sex with her. Everyone in the truck finds this humorous intimation of bestial rape hilarious. If this were the sitcom it so often resembles, we would close with a freeze-frame of everyone frozen in a moment of laughter and jubilation. Silly ape! You can't have sex with humans! Especially not Playmates! That's reserved for sub-humans like Donald Trump.
Despite its execrable quality, Any Which Way You Can made another fortune. These two bizarre, terrible, bizarrely terrible films stand as weird anomalies in Eastwood’s legendary career. They’re almost like a nagging asterisk in its star’s incredible filmography. Yes, Eastwood made those Leone films. He starred in the Dirty Harry franchise. He made movies that won Oscars and established him as one of our greatest artists and auteurs in addition to one of our greatest and most popular and enduring entertainers, like Million Dollar Baby, a slightly different breed of Clint Eastwood fight film.
But Clint Eastwood will also always be the dude who made multiple movies costarring an orangutan and there’s weirdly beautiful and crazy, as well as depressing, about that bizarre digression in an epic, deep and complicated life and career.
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