Clint Eastwood celebrates a B-movie hero -- The ''Million Dollar Baby'' director salutes Western legend Budd Boetticher

Clint Eastwood is one of many directors who sing the praises of a neglected colleague, Budd Boetticher (1916 — 2001), in the vibrant Turner Classic Movies documentary Budd Boetticher ”A Man Can Do That” (premiering Dec. 21). Boetticher is best known for the seven B-movie Westerns he directed between 1956 and 1960 starring Randolph Scott, and his films are distinguished by lean, mean plotlines and a moral clarity as crisp as the sun-fried Sierra Nevada Mountains where they were shot. (A prime example, 1956’s Seven Men From Now, will be shown following the documentary.) The Million Dollar Baby Oscar winner is paired with another Boetticher fan, Quentin Tarantino, who reveals that the name of Michael Madsen’s Kill Bill character, Budd, is a Boetticher homage. EW caught up with Eastwood to talk Boetticher, Tarantino, and his own upcoming film, Flags of Our Fathers, based on the best-selling book about Iwo Jima.

A lot of actors who’d been working in TV got juicy movie roles in these seven Westerns. People like Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Richard Boone. This was around the time you were starring in Rawhide [1959-66]. Did Boetticher ever approach you? I met him then, but those chips never fell that way. Years later, when he was obsessed with bullfighting, he approached me to do a movie with bulls, but I wasn’t interested in getting gored.

His Westerns are deceptively simple: low budget, small casts. But they have interesting recurring themes. Scott’s character is often attracted to a woman who’s unattainable, and the hero frequently finds common ground with the bad guy, the way Scott and Richard Boone share a wish to own a bit of land to farm in The Tall T. Those are nice little story elements that directors often overlook in B Westerns because they want to get to the shooting. I used that in Unforgiven with the Little Bill character [Gene Hackman] — an antagonist who wanted the simple life. What I particularly liked about Boetticher was the way he knew how to make the horse an important part of the picture.

What do you mean? The way Scott always dismounts, waters the horse, inspects the animal for any injuries — real cowboy stuff I appreciate. Boetticher realized how central a horse was to a man’s sense of himself — an extension of himself, without getting too Freudian about it.

How’d you get paired with Tarantino? Sometimes it seems as if you can’t get a word in edgewise… [Laughing] The producers had me there to get Quentin started, and believe me, it doesn’t take much. Quentin’s interesting; he’s followed [the careers of] lots of directors he never knew.

Boetticher and Scott worked on seven movies in a row. I guess today’s movie economics would prohibit such a collaboration between an actor and a director. Don Siegel and I did five movies together; I did three with [Sergio] Leone. But yeah, that would be almost impossible now. Even if you get along with a guy, his agent would be trying to separate you, to get bigger projects than just working with an old guy like me.