NOTE MR. JARMICK ALSO REVEALS THE
ENTIRE DIRTY HARRY COLLECTION
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
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
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.