Every Which Way But Loose, by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg
January, 1979 Warner Books
Here’s another one to file under, “They did a novelization of that?” The Every Which Way But Loose tie-in is kind of special, though, in that it was written by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg, who not only wrote the script but also had a minor role in the film as a biker. Kronsberg also wrote the script for the 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can, but didn’t write a novelization for it (and also didn’t appear in the movie).
I’ve never seen Every Which Way But Loose, or if I did I was very young and don’t remember it. I was aware of it and the sequel, though. Actually, it’s the sequel I was probably more aware of, as I was 6 in 1980 but only 4 when Every Which Way But Loose came out in late 1978. I knew the name of the movie, though, and also that there was an orangutan in it. I grew up in West Virginia, and you can just imagine how popular these movies, with their country music-listening heroes and redneck shenanigans, were with us “poor, illiterate and strung out” West Virginians. I seem to recall these movies making a big impact at the time, and I probably just figured they were along the same lines as The Dukes Of Hazard, which I also wasn’t really into.
Despite the rural vibe, the movie (and novel) takes place in Los Angeles, and Kronsberg brings the place to life, calling out specific spots and locations. But really it feels more like a smalltown than a big metropolis, particularly given that so many of the characters are redneck yokels. For one there’s hero Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood), a truck driver of sorts who listens to country music on a radio he’s taped to the dashboard. When he isn’t truck-driving he’s either working on cars at his place or getting in fights in country bars. He’s tall and described as being more brawny than Eastwood himself was (6’4” and 220 pounds); in fact, with the redneck vibe and muscular protagonist, I got the impression that Every Which Way But Loose was more suitable for Burt Reynolds. I had a hard time picturing Clint Eastwood in many of the scenes in this novel, but obviously audiences didn’t, as I’ve read that this was his highest-grossing film.
But then, that could be just because the movie so tapped into the zeitgeist. Every Which Way But Loose, at least in the novel, is very ‘70s; not so much in the sleazy shag rug aspect, but in its loosey-goosey approach to “plotting” and its burned-out, mind-fried characters. I was well into the novel before I realized there really was no plot, and in fact what passes for one is cribbed from innumerable country songs: a guy keeps getting burned by his untrustworthy girlfriend, all while other problems pile up on him. The problems are a gang of bikers, a pair of sadistic cops, a hot-tempered old lady, his girl’s jilted ex-boyfriend, and a horny orangutan. Philo deals with all this stuff while trying to get his woman back – that’s pretty much the entire plot.
Kronsberg treats his story on the level in this novelization, but it’s clear he’s intended it as a light comedy. Those sadistic cops, for example; while at one point they get some guns with the intent to take out Philo permanently, there’s never a moment where you are concerned for our rangy hero. And for that matter, Philo’s frequent – very frequent – fights, while almost apocalyptic at times, are never overly violent or have any repercussions. I mean the dude walks through the movie getting in a jillion fights without barely a dent, sort of like the average Bruce Le movie (that’s Le, not Lee, ie the star of the most bottom-of-the-barrel Bruceploitation flicks). But then the novel doesn’t become a slapstick farce, either, as despite the lack of tension things actually matter to the characters themselves.
And Philo is a very ‘70s hero; he’s so comfortable in his zero-goal life that he’s achieved a sort of zen. He doesn’t even have his own place, living in the back yard of his toothless pal Orville and Ma, Orville’s grumbling mother who spends the entire novel trying to get a driver’s license. Then of course there’s Clyde, Philo’s orangutan, which he won in a fight. Philo fights for money, but really for “fun;” in a rare bit of backstory we learn that he could’ve gone a professional route, but prefers fighting for self-entertainment or such. There’s no bitter history or personal loss Philo’s hiding from, as there would be in one of today’s over-thought films; he’s just a guy who likes to listen to country music, drink beer, and get in fights. That all changes the night he sees singer Lynne Halsey-Taylor performing at a country club.
It was only after I finished the novel that I realized Kronsberg was likely parodying the subject matter of most country songs, as Lynne is forever leaving Philo in the lurch and he’s always going after her. She is a very curious lead female character, as she has none of the expected qualities: she’s self-involved, she lies, she’ll drop Philo without a moment’s notice or even an explanation. But at least she’s pretty, and apparently this is why Philo becomes so hooked on her; plus he enjoys her singing. Ultimately we’ll learn that Lynne is from Colorado and has a goal to open her own bar, where she’ll of course be the featured entertainer, but she needs a few thousand dollars for the down payment. She’s always in search of this, while Philo is always in search of her.
We get an idea that this won’t be your standard romance when Philo meets Lynne after he sees her singing, and they hit it off, and she invites him back to her place…and then informs him when they get there that she has a boyfriend, but Philo can come on in anyway. A stunned Philo backs off, and spends the next several pages pining over Lynne and trying to figure out how he can steal her from her boyfriend. Meanwhile he runs afoul of various people: first the Black Widows, a biker gang, and then a pair of cops who get in a bar fight with Philo. In both cases the other parties start it: first the Black Widows throw a cigar in Clyde’s face, and later the two cops are drunk and start hassling Philo. However they’re not in uniform, and the fact that they’re officers is only revealed later.
In each case Philo is so superhuman that, again, there’s no tension. The “action scenes” are the only part of the novel that truly approach slapstick; for example, when the two bikers toss a cigar at Clyde, Philo rounds them up, beats the stuffing out of them, and jams them headfirst into a garbage can. Later on, when the cops finally track down Philo and grab their guns to wipe him out permanently, Kronsberg plays out the scene for laughs, with Philo about to land a big trout and more annoyed at the interruption than concerned about being shotgunned to death. And once again, his fate isn’t at all in doubt. No one’s killed in the novel, and in fact blood is rarely mentioned. It’s basically just a goofy comedy about a guy who enjoys fighting a lot, and doesn’t have any of the darker connotations that such a story would have today.
Even the sexual material is inexplicit; when Lynn and Philo actually “do the deed,” it’s kept off-page. Kronsberg for that matter doesn’t much exploit his female characters, and overall the novel has a very PG mentality. It’s almost like a slightly more “mature” Dukes Of Hazzard, now that I think of it. Much of the narrative is taken up with Philo and Orville trading goofy banter, but there are also several sequences from the perspective of lesser characters, for example the Black Widows. In many ways the novel reminded me of Sylvester Stallone’s novelization of Paradise Alley, not in content but in tone. Both books are almost liked warped representations of reality in which street bullies grow up to be adults but keep acting the same. There are no real-world concerns and everything can be solved by an old-fashioned fight.
Kronsberg opens things up with a multi-state journey in which Lynne abruptly takes off, Philo follows after her (Orville and Clyde coming along – and on the way they pick up a hippie-country chick named Echo, who takes to Orville), and meanwhile both the cops and the Black Widows follow after Philo. Even here the romance doesn’t pan out as you’d expect; there’s no emotional reunion between Philo and Lynne (she literally just drives by him as he’s walking along a road), and the untrustworthy babe again leaves Philo in the lurch. She’s a quite unlikable character and it’s hard to understand Philo’s obsession with her.
We also get a nice climax in which Philo takes on the legendary bar fighter Tank Murdoch, whose legend is occasionally mentioned throughout the text, Kronsberg craftily setting up the novel’s climactic confrontation. This is the only part of the book where Philo shows much depth, as he realizes that, if he were to win, he’d be plagued with endless challenges, like Tank himself now is. Otherwise there’s no big wrap-up for Every Which Way But Loose. Overall the novel was pretty good, and I appreciated the downhome, easy-going way Kronsberg told his downhome, easy-going story, but truth be told the novelization didn’t have me raring to finally see the movie itself.