Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)

Well, “French Connection” it ain’t (hell, if “The French Connection” is the ultimate in compelling, realistic police procedural, then “Dirty Harry” is about as real as Indiana Jones), but damned if “Dirty Harry” didn’t at least entertain me.  And I’d say a good, oh…100 % of it was because of Clint 😛 .  Here’s a movie that set just about every precedent and cliché that you and I take for granted in shitty police procedurals made since 1971 (not to mention Kurt Russell as Snake in “Escape from New York” 😉 ).  First you’ve got Andrew Robinson, giggling and babbling and limping along as San Francisco’s Zodi…excuse me, Gemini Killer 😆 , a prototypical “villain” in every sense of the word: not a shred of depth, as maniacal as a mad renegade sniper can get, and really there for no reason other than to be your typical action movie bad guy that the badass hero has to stop at all costs.  You’ve got your usual curmudgeon police chief who’s sole purpose in life is to disagree with the badass hero detective, like so:

Ornery, asshole chief: “Have you been following that man?”
Dirty Harry: “Yeah, I’ve been following him on my own time.  And anybody can tell I didn’t do that to him.”
Ornery, asshole chief: “How?”
Dirty Harry: “‘Cause he looks too damn good, that’s how!”

Now, of course there’s spectacularly cheesy one-liners like that, delivered as only Clint can (yet another precedent set by “Dirty Harry”), but for god’s sake, is the disagreeable police chief not the most overused and clichéd stock character type, like, ever?  And good lord, there’s that weird production value.  I’m not sure if I should call it raw from an innovative and compelling standpoint, or raw from a just plain cheap standpoint.  The occasional quick camera movement as Dirty Harry and a maimed Scorpio become specks in the distance, or the huge “Jesus Saves” neon sign looming over a rooftop gunfight, or the low-angle shot of an immensely imposing Clint, cannon in hand, delivering his iconic line…it’s all like a cheapened “Taxi Driver.”  Or actually, it’s like the gritty hyper-realism of “Taxi Driver” meets the exaggerated, cheap absurdity of “Dawn of the Dead” 😕 .  Gave the movie an interesting spin, at least, so it wasn’t completely generic.

You’d expect an actioner like this with so many clichés to be pure crap, but then again, “Dirty Harry” does pretty much invent all the clichés, so can so many clichés in one place be done…effectively?  I guess so, especially since back in ’71 they were, dare I say, innovative.  And of course the clichés begin and end with Clint’s performance, imitated and downright plagiarized for years and decades to come.  It’s the performance that launched a new era of movie anti-hero, and you really have to consider it an immensely important one for shaping the film industry as we know it…if possibly for all the wrong reasons.  And you know what?  I got a damn kick out of Harry Callahan pretty much from beginning to end.  Clint certainly chewed the scenery in the Leone westerns, but he saved his scene-chewingly best for “Dirty” Harry Callahan: smugly defying superiors, waxing poetic about his beloved .44 Magnum (“the most powerful handgun in the world”) as he delivers one of the most famous lines in all of cinema with that über-masculine semi-whisper, stopping a burglary with not a shred of concern for bystanders while calmly chewing his hot dog, and of course taking matters into his own hands to nab the dreaded Scorpio killer.  They’re the traits of just about every single main character cop in movies and TV for the past 30+ years, and most of those performances are terrible.  But screw it, Clint did it first, when it was a fresh, new kind of no-nonsense anti-hero bursting on the action movie scene, so he makes it work.  Is it absurd?  Of course…it’s an absurdly over-the-top performance in an absurdly over-the-top movie.  So maybe I enjoy it to just roll my eyes at how cheesy it is by today’s standards, but it really is just pulpy, action goodness.

There’s not a shred of depth in Dirty Harry (don’t let the subtly-mentioned death of his wife fool you, that’s pretty much filler and nothing more), and certainly nothing even resembling depth in Scorpio, so you don’t have to worry about a deep message about the duality of man.  Hell, the only philosophy the movie does have seems to be “screw the Bill of Rights, vigilante justice is the only way to get things done.”  Okaaaaay…… But anyway, you don’t come into “Dirty Harry” looking for fucking depth, you want to see criminals getting shot, innocents getting shot, and Clint Eastwood being Clint Eastwood before he became all wishy-washy behind the camera.  This movie set some awful precedents for later action/police movies (starting with its own sequels that progressively got panned more and more), but “Dirty” Harry Callahan is eye-roll worthy, over-the-top…and iconic.  Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood must’ve felt lucky after all (I am SO sorry for that terrible and cheesy last sentence, but I had to get the line in somehow 😕 ).


3 comments so far

  1. ie on

    “it’s all like a cheapened “Taxi Driver.””
    And yet Dirty Harry came out first…

  2. ShotgunAndy on

    The French Connection is kinda shitty, if you ask me.

    I just felt that needed to be said.

  3. Simon M. on

    well duh, Dirty Harry came out first 😆 . Doesn’t mean I can’t compare their styles.

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