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CLINT EASTWOOD--A WOMAN'S BEST FRIEND?

When I interviewed Clint Eastwood in 1976 for The New York Times, he expressed approval for Women's Lib and promised there would be a big part for an actress in his next film, "The Gauntlet." He kept his word, and the role went to Sondra Locke, who no longer regards Eastwood as a woman's best friend.--GUY FLATLEY


"Harry is a fantastic character," said Clint Eastwood, his husky voice cool and reasonable. "Nobody knows what Harry does. He cuts right through the bull, tells his boss to shove it, does all the things people would like to do in real life, but can’t."

The lean and muscular movie star is just wild about Harry Callahan, a bull-tempered police detective with a penchant for taking the law into his own trigger-happy hands when faced with the red tape and time-consuming intricacies of the democratic system. Detective Callahan, of course, is the puritanically violent hero of Mr. Eastwood’s potent box-office hits, "Dirty Harry" and "Magnum Force," and now "The Enforcer," opening here on Wednesday.

"Harry is a terribly honest character and I like that," said Eastwood, calling from Hollywood. "He’s not a political animal, and he doesn’t understand political intrigue. He’s like the moderator in ‘Network’ who goes on television and says the public has taken all the bull it can take and it won’t take anymore. Harry just wants to do his job."

According to some alarmed observers, Dirty Harry’s shoot-now-ask-questions-later approach to his job smacks of fascism.

"That’s silly," Eastwood said with polite pique. "In 1971, when ‘Dirty Harry’ came out, people were coming off of that big ‘60s concern with the rights of the accused, but after a while they began to ask, ‘What about the rights of the victim? What about the woman who was raped, the child who was murdered? What about their rights? ‘Dirty Harry’ was ahead of its time.

"Harry thought that if a homicidal maniac could be sent back into the streets because of a technicality, there was something wrong with the law. The fact that you don’t agree with every law in this country doesn’t make you a fascist. Harry believed in a higher morality, just as the Americans did at the Nuremberg trials when we convicted people because they didn’t believe in a higher morality, people who conducted themselves according to the climate of the time."

The current climate in America has been conditioned immeasurably by the women’s movement, and Dirty Harry himself is bowled over, albeit reluctantly, by the prowess of a policewoman under pressure in "The Enforcer." Although the role of the forceful female, played by Tyne Daly, is a supporting role, Eastwood promises there will be a substantial part for a woman in "The Gauntlet," the adventure story that he will direct and star in next spring.

"I’m always looking for parts for ladies," he declared, "but I do think it would be kind of sad if women’s lib was the thing that influenced you to like the feminine species. When I was a kid, I loved all those movies with Davis and Crawford, and the ones showing a brisk relationship between a woman and a man, like Stanwyck and MacMurray in ‘Double Indemnity.’ If one or two movies like that come on the market again and make it big, there’ll be lots more of them. Movie financiers will jump on any bandwagon that works for them."

Lately they’ve jumped on the violence bandwagon, prompted perhaps by the enriching ride of such rapid-fire, bang-up thrillers as "Dirty Harry" and "Magnum Force."

"I don’t think violence is the sole selling point of any film," Eastwood said. "If a story is tough and violent, it has to be told that way. The basis of any story is conflict, and a lot of conflict is violent. If we begin to censor violence, then we’d better take a serious look at the Old Testament, and then go on to the Greeks, with their gruesome disembowelments, and to Shakespeare."

Speaking of the classics – Steve McQueen, another high-salaried macho star, recently shook Hollywood to its platinum roots by announcing that he would play the plodding, bespectacled protagonist in a low-budget movie of Ibsen’s "An Enemy of the People." Does Eastwood share his fellow actor’s craving for culture?

"I’ll try anything if the story makes sense," he said after a moment’s reflection. "For McQueen, it’s a noble effort, but I’m not sure that particular role would be right for me. I happen to like adventure films. I’m in the entertainment business, and I don’t want to play to an empty house."