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Eastwood set makes our day, but watch out for spoilers

The first thing to know about the DVD set Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. is that Richard Schickel gives away a few of the endings.

Schickel, a former film critic and currently one of the go-to guys for knowledgeable documentaries and commentaries about Hollywood's past, has been a friend of Eastwood's for a couple of decades. He assembled the 88-minute career retrospective The Eastwood Factor that accompanies the 35 films in this set, and does a good job of drawing advice and anecdotes from the relaxed actor-director. But if you haven't seen Mystic River, or Unforgiven, or Million Dollar Baby, don't watch The Eastwood Factor first. He likes spoilers.

I asked Schickel about that when he visited Toronto recently. He was unrepentant. When he watches movies, he says, he can usually guess the endings. He just wants to know how the filmmakers will get there. "I'm not entirely sympathetic to that whiny thing that audiences have" about not giving away the endings, he said. Whiners, be warned.

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The second point of interest is Eastwood's range, not as an actor but as a director. He has directed romances ( The Bridges of Madison County), westerns (the great Unforgiven), comedies ( Space Cowboys), intense dramas ( Mystic River) and political thrillers ( Absolute Power), not to mention such unlikely bedfellows as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Rookie, an awful buddy-cop film co-starring Charlie Sheen.

The third point is how many of his best films he has made in late career (he turns 80 on May 31). In the introduction to Clint: a Retrospective, a coffee-table book by Schickel that also covers non-Warner Bros. films excluded from the box set (the spaghetti westerns, the stalker film Play Misty for Me, the ghostly avenger film High Plains Drifter), Eastwood says his goal is to make the retrospective out of date. He has already released one film that came too late for inclusion, Invictus, and is preparing another about the weirdness of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

The fourth point is his long association with a single studio. He made most of his pre-1976 films at Universal, but when his friend Frank Wells became a honcho at Warner Bros. and asked him to work there on a permanent basis, Eastwood showed up and said, "Okay, show me that permanent basis." It hasn't been an unbroken string; he made films like In the Line of Fire for other studios. And it hasn't always been a smooth ride. Warner was reluctant to support Mystic River and agreed to make Million Dollar Baby only after Eastwood secured half the financing elsewhere.

Eastwood comes across in the documentary as an intelligent guy who knows when to second-guess himself. He started tweaking the screenplay for Unforgiven, but stopped when he realized he was ruining the very qualities that had attracted him. Meryl Streep, his co-star in The Bridges of Madison County, says he's very good at separating his jobs as actor and director, but clearly it's not always easy. While directing The Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood says, he shared a scene with Chief Dan George, who had trouble with his lines. The scene appeared to go well, but the focus puller had to break the news afterward that, because he was rooting for George to get his lines right, Eastwood had unconsciously been mouthing the lines as George spoke them.

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