Ben Shockley, an alcoholic cop from Phoenix, is well on his way to becoming a down-and-out when he is given the task to escort witness Gus Mally from Las Vegas. His superior, Commissioner Blakelock, says that it's a "nothing witness" for a "nothing trial." Mally protests that they are both set up to be killed in a hit, which a jaded Shockley doubts. Mally soon reveals herself to be a belligerent prostitute with mob ties and is in possession of incriminating information concerning a high figure in society.
Her suspicions are confirmed when the transport vehicle is bombed and Mally's house is fired upon. Shockley and Mally are then pursued across the open country with no official assistance and with the police force regarding them as fugitives. They kidnap a local Constable, who they then let go, as Mally knows there'll be another hit. The Constable dies at the hands of several men armed with machine guns. They eventually run into a gang of bikers whom Shockley threatens with his revolver sending them on their way, confiscates one of their modified Harley-Davidson motorcycles and takes off on it with Mally.
It is revealed that Shockley's boss, Commissioner Blakelock, wants both of them dead, because Mally knows about Blakelock's secret life. Assistant District Attorney Feyderspiel is involved with the plot to kill Shockley and Mally. Both of them are also blamed for the death of the Constable.
The two ride the commandeered motorcycle into a town where Shockley and Mally are ambushed by a helicopter filled with cops sent by Blakelock who pursues the two away from the town and onto the open road, firing at them from above. During the high-speed pursuit, the helicopter accidentally crashes and explodes and the two then ditch the damaged motorcycle and hop on a train on which, coincidentally, the same two bikers whose machine they had "borrowed" are riding. The bikers attack and assault Shockley and later attempt to rape Mally, whom they pin to the floor but the wounded Shockley soon grabs hold of his gun and subdues the bikers, roughly knocking them and their girlfriend off the train. Shockley and Mally both realize that going back to Phoenix will be suicide, but it's the only way to prove their innocence.
The two hijack a bus and outfit it with a crude set of armor made from scrap steel, now aware of what awaits them in town. They are about to enter Phoenix when Maynard Josephson, an old friend of Shockley's, warns the two of a gauntlet of armed police officers that Blakelock has set up to "welcome" them. Josephson convinces Shockey to turn himself in to Feyderspiel whom he thinks is an honest broker. As the pair follow Josephson out of the bus, Josephson is shot from a nearby building and falls, presumably dead, and Shockley is hit in the leg.
With no other option, the two return to the bus and enter the town and the bus is shot at as it runs the titular "gauntlet" of hundreds of armed officers lining both sides of the road, firing thousands of rounds into the bus, until the bus reaches the steps of City Hall, finally immobilized. The two emerge from the riddled bus and surrender, but Shockley uses Feyderspiel as a shield, in order to have him confess that Blakelock is corrupt. The enraged Blakelock shoots at both Shockley and Feyderspiel, wounding the former and killing the latter. Blakelock is in return shot dead by Mally. Realizing Blakelock's crime and having witnessed his wanton killing of Feyderspiel, the rest of the assembled officers do nothing to stop the pair as Shockley and Mally walk away safely from the gauntlet.Clint Eastwood as Detective Ben Shockley
Sondra Locke as Augustina "Gus" Mally
Pat Hingle as Maynard Josephson
William Prince as Commissioner Edgar A. Blakelock
Bill McKinney as Constable
Michael Cavanaugh as District Attorney John Feyderspiel
Carole Cook as Waitress
Mara Corday as Jail Matron
Doug McGrath as Bookie
Jeff Morris as Desk Sergeant
Roy Jenson as Biker Leader
Dan Vadis as Biker (wearing white newsboy cap)
Samantha Doane as Biker Chick
Michael L. Cooley as Biker
Marneen Fields as Blonde Biker Chick
Mike Mangiaruca as Tall Skinny Dark Haired Bearded Biker (wearing denim vest & sunglasses)
Dennis Jenkins as Biker
The Noblemen Motorcycle Club as Various Bikers
Written by Dennis Shryack and Michal Butler, the film was originally set to star Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand; Brando subsequently withdrew, replaced by Steve McQueen. However, differences between Streisand and McQueen ultimately led to their joint departure in favor of Eastwood and Locke. The Gauntlet was filmed in Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as in nearby deserts in both states. For the house scene, it was built at a cost of $250,000 and included 7,000 drilled holes that would include explosive squibs for its demolition. The helicopter chase scene included a helicopter that was built without an engine for the crash sequence. To simulate the gunshots from the gauntlet of officers at the end of the film, the bus was blasted with 8,000 squibs. From the total budget of $5.5 million, $1 million was spent on the various action sequences.
Frank Frazetta painted the super-stylized promotional billboard poster for the film. The poster features a "muscled colossus Eastwood, brandishing a pistol, and scantily clad Locke, her clothes teasingly shredded, clinging onto her hero".
The Gauntlet grossed $35.4 million at the box office, making it the 14th highest-grossing film of 1977.
Although a hit with the public, the critics were mixed about the film.
Judith Crist of the New York Post wrote that the film was "a mindless compendium of stale plot and stereotyped characters varnished with foul language and garnished with violence".
Roger Ebert, on the other hand, gave it three stars and called it "...classic Clint Eastwood: fast, furious, and funny". David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "You don't believe a minute of it, but at the end of the quest, it's hard not to chuckle and cheer".
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 82% based on 17 reviews.
The film score was composed and conducted by Jerry Fielding featuring soloists Art Pepper and Jon Faddis and the soundtrack album was released on the Warner Bros. label in 1978.
The AllMusic review by Donald A. Guarisco states: "All in all, The Gauntlet is a strong, consistently engaging album that is well worth a listen for any soundtrack buff whose tastes lean toward the "crime jazz" sound".
All compositions by Jerry Fielding
Art Pepper - alto saxophone
Jon Faddis - trumpet
Unidentified orchestra conducted by Jerry Fielding
- "Bleak Bad Big City Dawn" - 3:21
- "The Pickup" - 2:35
- "Exit Tunnel, Roaring!" - 3:08
- "The Gauntlet" - 4:38
- "The Box Car Incident" - 3:32
- "Closer Look at a Closer Walk" - 3:20
- "The Black Sedan" - 2:29
- "Manipulation on the Center Divider" - 2:44
- "The Delivery" - 2:50
- "Postlude" - 2:04