Review Archives

1 | 2 | 3

Today's Date is:


Reviewed by: Christopher J. Jarmick
Genre: Thriller
Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French (DD Mono
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English (Captions Only), English, French, Spanish
Length: 102 minutes
Rating: R
Release Date: 11/20/01
Studio: Warner Bros.
Commentary: None.
Documentaries: 29 minute short documentary Dirty Harry: The Original.
Featurettes: Original behind the scenes featurette from 1971: Dirty Harry's Way
Filmography/Biography: None.
Interviews: Interview Gallery featuring sound bites from several Dirty Harry film actors, writers and guests like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Trailers/TV Spots: Original Theatrical Trailer is included.
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: Production Notes, Memorable lines (only two are quoted).
Cast and Crew: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Vernon, Andrew Robinson John Larch, John Mitchum, Mae Mercer
Screenplay by: Story by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink (as R.M. Fink). Screenplay by H.J. Fink, R.M. Fink and Dean Riesner.
Produced by: Don Siegel and Robert Daley
Directed By: Don Siegel
Music: Lalo Schifrin
The Review:


Dirty Harry is the film that created one of the most enduring action film formulas still in use 30 years later.-- The over-the-top lone wolf vigilante who will do the right thing no matter what the cost in the most no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, save the b.s. for someone else, fashion imaginable. It's an adult urban fantasy in which audience members can taste victory (at least vicariously) that someone, is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and is willing and able to do the right thing -no matter what the consequences may be. Anyone who's ever been frustrated by our system that seems at times to favor the rights of criminals over the rights of victims (not exactly true of course) will feel some sense of vindication from this film.

Inspector Harry Callahan is a good guy who seems to take on every dirty thankless job the San Francisco Police Department has to deal with. Harry isn't merely a cop who will break a few rules to get his job done, but is instead a cop who doesn't even think about rules or lines when doing his job. He seems capable and willing and able to do anything to accomplish his job.

The script writers, director Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood knew exactly how to position the film so it would delight audiences who were not put off by it's extreme violence (it was particularly violent for a mainstream film in its day- 1971). It showed us that Harry was not a lawless vigilante or a bigot, but simply a guy who was losing faith that he could do his job by following the rules by the book. We learn the playing by the rules got one of his ex-partners killed and another one is the hospital recovering. We also learn that Harry's wife died fairly recently when she was killed by a drunk driver who crossed over the center line. So Harry's crossed over the center line himself. He's a good cop, but he's on a mission to right the wrongs at least in his city and on his watch.. After all who among us wants dangerous wacko's running around killing people and molesting teenage girls. We don't really want a system that would put an obvious guilty, deranged and sick psycho back on the streets do we? Of course not. We need a hero like Dirty Harry whose character is above reproach and who can be counted on to do the right thing and rid the world of the nasties.

There is no doubt Dirty Harry's nemesis is a dangerous, deranged sicko. He never even has a name and simply goes by the name Scorpio. He was modeled a bit after the notorious Zodiac Killer but also after wacko's who would climb towers and shoot people. Andy Robinson plays the deranged Vietnam Vet called Scorpio as a cackling insane deviant without a redeeming trait showing. He's sick, he's twisted, he's devious and homicidal. He'll kill priests, rape teenage girls and kidnap young school children. He's a bad bad man. I've read a few reviews where a critic claims that Scorpio is a hippie. Ridiculous. His long hair and peace symbol belt buckle aren't proof of hippie-dom, they merely prove the guy knows how to fit into the neighborhood he hangs around in without sticking out like a sore thumb. We know almost nothing about Scorpio except he's real good with a scope rifle and machine gun, he's a loner and is nuts. The original screenplay, (entitled Dead Right) mentions he's a Vietnam vet. Hardly a hippie.

Harry meanwhile is one of the city's most effective and dedicated cops. He's terrible at brown nosing his superiors, but he's honest, and trustworthy. The Mayor, John Vernon is a career politician who needs to take control of the situation enough to keep any negative publicity off the air-waves. Beyond that, he'll delegate responsibility to almost anyone. Harry doesn't know how the system works but his superior (Harry Guardino) understands what to tell the Mayor. Harry doesn't have much patience for b.s. but he's not a complete idiot about the ways of politicians.

Like I said the film is a fantasy. A violent, adult male (at least in viewpoint), urban crime thriller fantasy. It wasn't the first film to deal with the elements it does, but it put all the elements together and created the archetype action movie. This is the film that's point zero for all the Death Wish, Exterminator, Die Hard, Arnold and Sly, Jim Brown/ Fred Williamson, Chuck Norris, lone wolf rogue cop thrillers we've seen from the mid-70's till the present. It's a Western updated to the late 20th century and moved from the Monument Valley to the city by the Bay. Inspector Dirty Callahan is the lawman brave and tough enough to fight the bad guys and convince the scared, spineless townsfolk to fight back against Evil. He'll cut through the red-tape and get the job done, fast and efficiently. And if he can't get the job done by doing his job within the system…then he'll get the job done outside of the system. That's the stuff of heroic myths not right wing fascism unless we want to argue there's not much difference between the two.


Inspector Harry Callahan is completely devoted to his job and he's willing to put himself in harm's way and sacrifice himself for the well being of others. The film throws us images of Harry and his partner trying to overcome evil (Scorpio) while perched under the Jesus Saves sign. Scorpio (Evil) even shoots the Jesus Saves sign because nothing is sacred to evil. Scorpio will try to get Saint Harry again while they are underneath a giant cross. Callahan is not just a mythic Western hero but he's positively Christ-like in how he's willing to save mankind from itself. He stops people from committing suicide, prevents daring daylight bank robberies and pursues utterly insane and dangerous homicidal maniacs to protect the innocent and meek even when the system itself tries to stop him from doing so. Harry works long and ridiculous hours and doubts he'll ever be paid over-time for his efforts. He's a frugal guy (look at the clothes he wears and where he eats). He's not in it for the money or the glory.

The only thing that prevents us from calling Harry a saint is his bad-ass sense of humor.

When it was originally released, several critics believed the film was making a dangerous fascist- based political statement. It was anti-ACLU after all. This film showed a cop who nearly becomes judge, jury and executioner doesn't it? "Look that bank robber is Black and Harry sneers with delight the first time he uses his "Do you feel lucky, punk." Line." The naysayers proclaim. They can point to some workplace banter where Harry is accused of being a grouch who hates everyone equally: " spades, hebes, dagos, wops.." When his new partner (Rene Santoni) asks him what he thinks of Mexicans, Harry says he especially hates "spics"…. Is Harry, Archie Bunker? Hardly. Harry's just engaging in what is sometimes called workplace or morgue humor. Harry has compassion for all kinds of people and has good relationships with black doctors and feels the pain of a mom who loses her child. The charges of racism and fascism against the film and especially the people who made it are ridiculous. The critics were over-reacting to the films brutal violence and it's central character being a cop.

We've since seen all kinds of groups attack various films, books and music, but it's usually conservative religious groups who attack films for their sex, violence and perceived blasphemy. Dirty Harry was a film attacked not be conservatives but by the more liberal intellectuals because it was too violent and right wing.

Harry though isn't making any actual political statements. The film opens with a tribute to San Francisco Police Officers and then delivers a Western where the lone wolf good guy, guided by his own convictions does what has to be done. Dirty Harry would certainly qualify as a politically incorrect, violent, adult fantasy but none of the right wing political messages it was accused of spouting were intentional. Hell, in one scene Harry's even asked when he's going to get a haircut. "Who has time" is his answer.

The first Dirty Harry broke a few rules, went a little too far and became a beloved genre classic spawning copy-cat films, and four authorized sequels. A few scripts that were supposed to be Dirty Harry movies became vehicles for people like Fred (The Big Score -1983) Williamson. The film has dated in several ways but over-all it still works. Inspector Harry Callahan is one cool, tough son of a….

Some of the set pieces from the film have been lifted and re-used in other films without apology. The running from phone booth to phone booth was used in the recent "15 Minutes", once again. We've seen some of the film's scenes redone poorly in so many films they play like tired cliché's. Just remember this was where it started. It was all set into stone and became the accepted and expected formula for cop shows and crime thrillers. Its conventions are still being used and you'll read reviews from me that accuse today's film-makers of being lazy when they give us recycled versions of this film 30 some years later. The film also boasts a memorable Lalo (Bullitt, Mission Impossible) Schifrin score.

In subsequent Harry sequels, writers and filmmakers worked hard to come up with catch phrases or bits of business for Harry to use. They were forced and obvious. Whether it was constantly talking about how powerful the 44 magnum was in Magnum Force, or simply using the 'Marvelous" line in The Enforcer, or the Go Ahead and Make My Day line that a President adopted. Whether it was dealing with a female partner (the Enforcer) or a psycho revenge killer (Sudden Impact) or a Miniature radio controlled car that led the filmmakers to parody the Bullitt car chase (Dead Pool). The sequels blew more things up or had more conventional chase sequences. In subsequent films, Harry's roguishness was softened and tempered. He broke rules, but he always had a clear reason for breaking them. He never quite went as far as torturing a suspect like he did in the original Dirty Harry.

His political incorrectness became a running gag, rather than a character flaw. The second film stumbled in trying to soften and re-invent Harry and show the audience the difference between what bad vigilantism and good lone wolf cop material really was. It made Harry more political then he ever was in the first film in fact and self righteous too. The third film turned him into almost a fish out of water, playing up how no-nonsense Heroes were unfashionable. It made a few political commentaries and statements (which make some of the 1976 sequel: The Enforcer truly dated and cringe-worthy) All of the sequels lack Don Siegel's direction which pretty much insures they pale in comparison. Eastwood directed Sudden Impact himself and created an entertaining formula sequel. But Harry was a bit too much removed from any resemblance to a real life character by the time if was made. It was also still trying to make excuses for anyone who took Harry Callahan's vigilantism seriously.

Dirty Harry wasn't meant to be a great film or put up on a pedestal. It's merely a well done genre film- more fantasy than reality--that relies on too many unlikely coincidences. It's an effective visceral film which gave audiences an old fashioned kind of hero, when it looked liked the real world was so topsy turvy, there was no more room for old fashioned heroes. Harry had some conservative values, but he wasn't a right wing nut… Harry was cool. He was designed and does appeal to a pretty wide demographic. If you insist on trying to find meanings below the surface to support claims that it's a film spouting a right wing fascist messages--go right ahead. The film-makers intended no such thing and John Milius had little to do with this script (he had a lot to do with Magnum Force however).

Director Don Siegel and Eastwood had established a good working relationship by the time Dirty Harry was made. They teamed up in the influential Coogan's Bluff (1968) which spawned the t.v. series McCloud (starring Dennis Weaver), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), the somewhat appreciated, risky The Beguiled (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), and Escape from Alcatraz (1979). Siegel's the guy Eastwood credits with helping him become a successful director. Siegel even shows up in Eastwood's directorial debut; Play Misty for Me (1970). Yeah, they were very busy for a few years there. Siegel first became known directing a few b movies in the 1950's so well they rose from their modest roots to become minor classics--Films like Riot in Cellblock 11 (1954), The Lineup (a film from an early crime t.v. series in 1958) and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Dirty Harry is the best in the series. It does not have a huge set piece where some piece of real estate blows up, or even a truly thrilling car chase, the stunt type scenes are what you might get on a t.v. cop show, but the script has memorable lines and the film offers audiences a mythic hero in the tradition of a John Wayne, or Gary Cooper type hero updated into an urban one named Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood was never better dishing out the memorable lines in his low whispering voice, complete with the well-timed sneers and cold icy glares.

Image and Sound This is the second DVD release of Dirty Harry by Warner Brothers and this time they have done an excellent job. However the box on the new and old versions look very similar so make sure you're buying the DVD that says "all new 2000 digital transfer and all new 30th Aniversary Documentary Dirty Harry: The Original on the back of the package. Dirty Harry is presented in Anamorphic 2.35:1 Widescreen. The colors are vibrant, the black levels are strong. A bit of grain is visible, and is slightly more prounounced during night-time scenes but it does not detract from one's enjoyment. The film looks better than you've ever seen it before. It's a vast improvement over the previous mediocre release. Kudo's to the re-mixed Dolby 5.1 audio engineers who have done a marvelous job of opening up the sound on the disc and using the surround capabilities of the Home DVD to it's best effect. Dialogue is alays clear, the sound effects, and gun shots are rendered as perfectly as you would hope. You'll have to remind yourself you're watching a 30 year old film.
The Extras

This new Dirty Harry release boasts several features including the all new 30th anniversary Documentary Dirty Harry:The Original. It's a total puff piece celebration of all things Harry Callahan and has quick interviews with a wide range of people who were part of the various Dirty Harry films discussing how great and influential the Dirty Harry films were. We don't see any archive footage of Don Seigel, but we get Clint and Andy Robinson and John Milius, Evan Kim, Hal Holbrook, Patty Clarkson and Harry fan: Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about all things Harry. Robert Urich (who was in Magnum Force - Dirty Harry 2) hosts the puff piece as he visits the sites of several of the films' original locations. Lots of clips from the Harry films are included.

The original promo piece from 1971 is under 7 minutes, called Dirty Harry's Way and is fun to watch containing a few Behind the scenes shots and glimpses of Siegel and company at work making the movie. There is also an Interview Gallery which shows slightly longer and different interview snippets than the ones used in the new documentary for everyone mentioned above. You also get the films original theatrical trailer (which looks nearly as good as the film does itself), production notes and a screen containing two of the films most memorable lines typed out for your reading pleasure (gee thanks). There's nothing of any real substance to these extras, but if you're a fan of any of the films you'll enjoy them.

Commentary None.
Final Words:

Dirty Harry is a genre classic. You'll find most of the modern day action movie cliché's present in the film. Most of them worked better in Dirty Harry then in any of the sequels, copy-cats or wannabes. You might also be reminded how bereft of new ideas the action film genre really is. The film is dated, but in ways that might improve your enjoyment of the film. It's still a pretty violent and brutally effective visceral experience as a movie. Warners second DVD release presents the film in a pristine form and offers some crowd-pleasing extras to the package. Now I can't remember if there's 6 extras or just 5. . . So do you feel lucky, punk? Well do ya?


Christopher Jarmick, is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller. For more information visit the web site at:

Original portions of this review Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2001. The above work is protected by international copyright law.

Send all Comments to Teakwood Productions
December 5, 2001