I have a confession to make before I even get to my Traumafession: I have never seen the Clint Eastwood movie The Gauntlet. My dad took me to see other Eastwood-Sondra Locke vehicles, namely the goofy but fun Any Which Way films, but never this 1977 crime flick.
So how does a picture I’ve never watched end up as something that traumatized me as a youngster? Look no further than the 30-second TV spot.
Put aside for the time being that someone in a position of power at Warner Bros. decided that the advertisement for a tense, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting action film required a voiceover by radio’s American Top 40 host, Kasey Kasem. The really scary moment happens at around the 12-second mark in the ad.
It is then that the passenger-side door of a racing ambulance opens, and Sandra Locke spills out of it. She clings to the door for dear life while the freeway flashes by beneath her. She screams as she hangs scant inches above the tarmac. What makes matters worse is that she seems to be dressed in only a blue t-shirt and short-shorts. Talk about road rash!
Who is she? Who is chasing her? Why is she in an ambulance? Why is the ambulance driving so fast? Why isn’t she wearing her seatbelt? None of these questions mattered to my then 6-year-old brain. The only fact I gathered in that one-second-long clip was that car doors opened for no good goldang reason while you drove on the highway, so you better be ready at all times!
After seeing this ad for The Gauntlet, I was very wary of sitting next to the door while accompanying my parents to the grocery store, the mall, or to Grandma’s house. Remember: this was the 1970s. As a little kid, no one cared much about my safety. I didn’t have to ride in a special seat in the back of the car. Heck, my sister used to sit on the central fold-down armrest in the front seat of our Pontiac Grand Prix – sans seatbelt! The chances of being launched head first through the windshield or bouncing like a superball off the dashboard during a head-on collision were quite a few percentage points higher than the door inexplicably opening while being chased down Route 65 by evil cops who wanted to make sure I couldn’t rat them out.
Yet, as a little kid, I made darn sure that the door was shut firmly and locked tightly before we backed out of the driveway. I didn’t even like touching the door’s armrest or handle until the car was at a full stop. I assumed that when my dad took the car in for its yearly inspection, the first thing on the to-do list was “Make sure doors do not open on their own during high-speed chases.”
To this day, when I get into a vehicle, the image of Sondra Locke will flash through my mind, and I’ll keep as close a watch on the door as Woody Allen did on Christopher Walken’s hands on the steering wheel in Annie Hall.
-James Lewis of LARPing Real Life