Picks and Pans Review: Clint

updated 09/02/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Patrick McGilligan

Dirty Harry gets covered with mud in biographer McGilligan's life of Clint Eastwood. Employing a deceptively low-key style, McGilligan voraciously tucks into the actor's flings with such costars as Jean Seberg and Frances Fisher and gleefully tallies the number of children—four—Eastwood fathered outside of marriage. But for every example of Eastwood's bad behavior, which the author piles up in clumps to make his point, there's a quote buried unobtrusively elsewhere refuting the subject's alleged penny-pinching tendencies, temper and penchant for cinematic violence. Busy grinding his axe, the author gives short shrift to East-wood's great cinematic legacy—his admirable habit of casting strong female leads (Tyne Daly's powerful turn in 1976's The Enforcer) and exploration of the enduring mythologies of American strength and justice over a five-decade career—but very long shrift indeed to discussions of "rape and kinky sex" in the films.

Despite the scandalous suggestions, the smiling TV cowhand on Rawhide who became an Academy Award-winning director remains a fascinating, complex but ultimately unknowable American icon, a man who was solitary and watchful on sets and stayed away from parties. As A Fistful of Dollars cowriter Luciano Vincenzoni put it, "His personality was very quiet. He is exactly the mysterious guy with the cigarillo. In life." (St. Martin's, $35)

Bottom Line: Zooms in on the bad and the ugly

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