This is a story that goes way back. It’s something that has always amused me and perhaps rather stupidly, often gets my mind thinking. It was no doubt rather a clever publicity stunt, and one that has certainly endured a degree of longevity.
The story appeared in the November 1970 issue of Film Review magazine, an edition which also carried a great cover shot featuring Clint. The article was entitled ‘Bang, Bang! Clint’s 1000th Kill’. The piece recognised that since Clint shot to fame as the man with no name in A Fistful of Dollars he has pretty much brandished a firearm in every subsequent movie and ‘mowed down’ countless enemies left, right and centre. According to the article, countless isn’t quite true. According to ‘the people whose job it is to attend to such matters’ (which is about as accurate as a newspapers ‘close source’) have actually counted the characters that have stopped Eastwood bullets. The story goes on to explain that in Clint’s latest film Kelly’s Heroes, the score enters the four-figure category. It continued:
‘On learning that the gunning down of a German officer was to be his 1000th screen killing, Clint secretly pocketed a 50-calibre machine gun bullet on his way to the set. After the slaying had taken place and the director had called “cut”, the victim (English stuntman Joe Dunne) found himself being helped to his feet by his ‘assassin’ and presented with the ‘Golden Bullet Award to the 1000th Man to stand in Clint Eastwood’s Way!’’
According to whichever 'in house' writer or MGM publicist wrote this piece - explained that ‘his tally of 1000 kings seemed to be well advanced by Where Eagles Dare in which he appeared to mow down and entire German force in helping to rescue an American general from a mountain fortress'
‘I just stood around trying to figure out the espionage tricks or operating my machine gun while Burton handled the dialogue.’ says Clint.
Now, I’m not perhaps the world’s greatest living mathematician, but 1000? Of course we live in a world today which allows us instant access to a movie, home cinema and the like, allows us to scrutinise over and over. Not that I’m ever going to sit down and meticulously count every one of Clint’s screen victims between 1964 and 1970. But one can see how easy it was to perhaps ‘sell’ this one to the public, especially without any retrospective means of looking at them all back and doing the math.
It was certainly something that MGM enthusiastically promoted. The scene in question turned up as a publicity shot and was actually used as one of the film’s Lobby cards. There were also several press stills released depicting the scene with the legend on reverse actually featuring the story. Photo information states:
‘Clint Eastwood presents “The Golden Bullet” award to his Thousandth victim’ according to the information this was shot in Yugoslavia, October 1969. It’s also worth noting that at this stage in production (and on the photos) the film was still referred to as The Warriors. (Right)
However, one might arguably question the validity of this picture at all? Where is it in the film? I’ve always believed this to be a staged publicity photo – Clint going into battle, without wearing a helmet? It just doesn’t add up to me? And I do wonder if the 1000th victim scenario was conjured up around this photo shoot – perhaps by a somewhat overzealous team of guys from within the MGM publicity department? I never did see any publicity photos of Clint handing over that anniversary bullet after all? If it was such a big deal, why weren’t there any photos taken, the presenting of the bullet?
Nevertheless, it remains one of those great little stories or myths as it were, that remind us all of a much more innocent and fun time that revolved around the whole publicity and promotion of a movie and days that are sorely missed.
Below: The colour lobby card depicting the scene and the '1000th victim'