Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Five Toughest Tough Guys of the 1970s

1. Clint Eastwood - He had already appeared as a grimacing, wisecracking detective in 1968's urban action pic Coogan's Bluff. But the 1970s established Eastwood as the decade's definitive tough guy with the first three Dirty Harry films and The Gauntlet (my personal favorite). It helps, of course, when your most famous role comes with a classic quote, as when Harry Callahan quips in Dirty Harry: "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking: "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Bronson in Death Wish.
2. Charles Bronson - He didn't play a prototypical tough guy in his best-known film of the decade, 1974's Death Wish. It featured Bronson as a "normal guy" transformed into a vigilante killer by family tragedy. Still, he starred as more conventional tough guys in The Stone Killer, St. Ives,  Mr. Majestyk, and The Mechanic. Indeed, he may have been the decade's busiest tough guy. His best quote is actually delivered as a voiceover when Jan-Michael Vincent finds this note in his car at the end of The Mechanic: "Steve, if you read this, it means I didn't make it back. It also means you've broken a filament controlling a 13-second delay trigger. End of game. Bang! You're dead."

Wayne with a big gun in McQ.
3. John Wayne - The Duke only starred in two urban action films in the 1970s: McQ and Brannigan (which send Wayne to contemporary London to retrieve an American mobster). Neither film was stellar, but it was fun to watch the 68-year-old Duke dealing with urban scum. Plus, Brannigan features the great scene when Wayne kicks in a door and quips dryly: "Knock, knock."

Roundtree as John Shaft.
4. Richard Roundtree - While other African American tough guys also made an impact (e.g., Fred Williamson, Jim Brown), none could match Roundtree as the super cool John Shaft. Roundtree played the macho private eye in three films and a watered-down CBS TV series. The best of the bunch was the second film, Shaft's Big Score. Of course, Roundtree's character had something his contemporaries lacked: Isaacs Hayes' hip, Oscar-winning song. It memorably asked: "Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about?" (The answer is Shaft...can you dig it?)

Burt Reynolds and his trademark
1970s moustache in Shamus.
5. Burt Reynolds - His propensity for lighthearted roles eventually diluted his tough guy image. Yet, for the first half of the 1970s, he played a steady stream of likable, but still macho, types in movies like Deliverance, Shamus, White Lightning, and Hustle. Best tough guy quote (from White Lightning): "Only two things I'm scared of. Women and the police."

Honorable Mention: Roy Scheider (The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, Marathon Man).


  1. This amazing five guys were really the toughest of 70's that had the best action classic movies, but my favorite was Clint Eastwood. He have many great action movies that i been watched.

  2. Eastwood's ability to stay rele vant is amazing. Currently directed the record-breaking #1 movie, and Jordan's King Abdullah just quoted him in Unforgiven as a way of dealing with ISIS.

  3. Maurizio Merli? He'd have that lot for breakfast. Also, have you seen Jean Paul Belmondo in Fear Over the City? The bloke could eat nails! As an American-centric list goes though, it is pretty uncontrovertial, the names you list are solid action figures. But most countries with cinema scenes would have had their local equivilents. After all, the seventies were a golden age for the whole tough, gritty action hero.

    1. That's a great point. One could even make the case that
      Lee would rank among the biggest international tough guys of the decade. He wasn't "tough" in the traditional sense, but any guy who takes on 30 baddies singlehandedly makes the grade for me.

    2. Yes. Agree about Lee. I thought of him too. I didn't really want to stray too much from the formula here - the urban gritty types for examples. The more I think about this though there are so many- Baker in Walking Tall, both Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin in Emperor of the North. This is a great topic! Great post to stimulate debate.

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  4. Great list, but Robert Duvall in The Outfit makes these guys look like boy scouts.

  5. I'm glad to see that John Wayne made the list, and at his age, too.

    Clint always had the best hair of the bunch.

  6. If it were the 1960s, Lee Marvin would top the list on the basis of POINT BLANK and THE KILLERS alone.

  7. James Colburne was cool AF in everything he did. Steve McQueen was pretty great tool.