Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dirty Harry (1971) review



Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Harry Guardino (Bresslar), Reni Santoni (Chico), John Vernon (The Mayor), Andy Robinson (Scorpio Killer), John Larch (Chief), John Mitchum (De Georgio)

Directed by Don Siegel

The Short Version: Clint Eastwood has been western heroes; then Italy turned him into a western anti-hero; and in 1971, that "nameless", hard bastard with a cool swagger was transplanted to a modern day setting. It's still the Wild West, but fought on streets of concrete and skyscrapers; and a .44 magnum, that would blow your head clean off. It's the maverick vs. the maniac in a film that produced four sequels, and multiplied countless imitations. If you've not seen it, now's a good time to feel lucky with DIRTY HARRY.

The city of San Francisco is gripped in fear after a serial killer calling himself Scorpio murders random victims till a ransom is met. Harry Callahan is a no-nonsense tough cop assigned to the case, but his superiors and a flawed legal system constantly impede his methods. Eventually capturing Scorpio after another brutal murder, the psychopath is let go on technicalities. He then goes about ruining Callahan's reputation before committing more indiscriminate crimes.

The progenitor of the 'Tough Cop' genre, and prototype for the modern day action hero is this riveting, intense thriller from director Don Siegel. Eastwood had already established himself as a superstar of the western genre; and now was branching out into the next phase of his lengthy career creating the character he's most often associated with.

Oddly enough, Eastwood had already played a character that was essentially a dry run for Harry Callahan in 1968s COOGAN'S BLUFF, also directed by Don Siegel. The tone was much lighter, and Eastwood's 'Tough Guy' cop is from Arizona as opposed to San Francisco. Despite some characteristic similarities, it was the '71 film that set this style of action picture in motion, and it remains a viscerally important film not just in Eastwood's oeuvre, but in cinema history. 

Clint Eastwood is fantastic in the role of Harry Callahan. He brings a cool swagger to this unorthodox, immeasurably honorable police detective who speaks his mind and occasionally lets his .44 magnum do the talking for him when the time arises. Eastwood might be a cop in a bustling metropolis, but his actions are straight out of the old west. Harry Callahan is a modern day cowboy; a reflection of his Leone gunslingers, but clean-shaven. With an aversion for street scum, Callahan is prone to play with his quarry in an effort to give him an excuse to shoot them dead; such is his famous speech giving a criminal a chance to reach for his weapon while gambling on whether Harry's gun has spent all six bullets. If some bank robbers had interrupted me and my lunch at Burger Den, I'd be a bit cranky, too.

Other actors were up for the role before Eastwood got it; which is odd considering he'd played a similar role in the aforementioned COOGAN'S BLUFF (1968). John Wayne and Steve McQueen were two to pass on the role. A few years later, Wayne would have a change of heart and star in his own 'Tough Cop' movie titled McQ (1974). All these years later, it would appear the stars were in perfect alignment for Eastwood obtaining this role.

Andy Robinson is absolutely terrifying as the Scorpio Killer. The actor was perfectly cast in this role of an unpredictable maniac who not only kills children, but taunts his victims and plays games with the police as they try to find him. Inspired by The Zodiac Killer, Robinson is a cunning, savagely evil bastard who takes delight in playing cat and mouse games with his pursuers; and even goes through the trouble of paying a man to beat him to a pulp so as to tarnish Callahan's career.

Three screenwriters are credited, and they all do a fantastic job speaking on a multitude of topics relating to the legal system, and the victims of said system. It's especially cognizant about giving us just enough details in getting to know our title hard-ass detective -- including why he's so "Dirty".

Lalo Schifrin's Hendrixian funk-rock score is one of the greats of gritty 70s cinema; and is likely just as influential in scores for 'Tough Cop' movies as DIRTY HARRY was for influencing other, similarly patterned films.

DIRTY HARRY is often linked to kicking off the 'Violent Cop' thrillers in Italy that began in the early 1970s with highly influential films like HIGH CRIME (1973) and a flood of similar pictures. Siegel's film inspired European producers to make their own versions that were frequently based on real life civic figures and scores of violent crimes those in Italy were living everyday. DIRTY HARRY itself was loosely based on real life crime, but the Italians made an art form out of it. Interestingly enough, the plot of MAGNUM FORCE (1973) mirrors that of the classic Steno film, LA POLIZIA RINGRAZI (1972), aka EXECUTION SQUAD released a year earlier.

Regarding the Italian variants, most of them were glaringly political; some of them rubbing your face in it much like Harry applying a size 12 compress to a leg wound. To this reviewer, DIRTY HARRY is less about politics than it is a modern day western. But since virtually no one can discuss this movie without bringing politics into it....

Some critics weren't all that impressed with HARRY upon its release amidst much controversy revolving around what they termed the films "right wing politics"; and tagging it as fascist -- the tried and true go-to label for leftists. They called it fascistic then, and they call it fascistic now. Fascism shares a great deal in common with communism -- government, or authoritative control over the populace. In the movie, Harry is constantly at odds with the AUTHORITATIVE system of law that, ironically, protects the guilty against the innocent. It is this authoritative system that he answers to. So exactly who is fascist here? Callahan is the common man. He doesn't live the high life. He's one step up from the proletariat, and his status on the social strata is who would be controlled by so-called fascists; and he's not the sort that can be bought, either.

According to left-leaning critics (which is most of them), Harry is fascist because he imposes his own law onto the criminal element; who have rights, too. No matter the severity of the crime, or if a life hangs in the balance, sentence is carried out in a court of law; and in the movies, just as in real life, sometimes the guilty goes free and the innocent suffer.

For example, there's a tense sequence where Scorpio has buried a young girl alive and gives the police a time limit to meet his demands before she dies. When Harry meets up with Scorpio (wearing a red ski mask), the sadist beats Harry up and decides he's going to let the girl die anyways. Harry gains the upper hand, stabs Scorpio in the leg, and chases him onto a football field. Pointing his gun at the killer, Harry asks where the girl is, to which Scorpio can only muster hysterically, "I HAVE RIGHTS" over and over again. So Harry applies pressure with his foot onto Scorpio's bloody leg wound. Later on, he's chastised for torturing the suspect(!) in addition to all sorts of minor details that end up working in the favor of the serial killing son of a bitch. Nevermind the prolonged torture of a girl whom was raped and buried in a well with limited oxygen.

It's worth mentioning that Feminists were naturally abhorred by this movie; despite the fact that in the film Harry tries desperately to save the above-mentioned woman that Scorpio had raped and buried alive.

"You're crazy if you think you've heard the last of this guy. He's gonna kill again.... because he likes it"; with that line, I would imagine leftist critics would make a connection that Harry was really talking about himself. To them, Harry is the villain while Scorpio, the sicko who utters lines like, "Hear me, old hag, I'm telling you to drive or I'll decorate this bus with your brains", would be called a victim of society; a poor soul not responsible for his actions.

Taking the unanimous amount of reviews that slam this movie for its right-wingedness, if you're a liberal, than most likely you will somehow find this a disturbing movie for its so-called scenes of police brutality; particularly in an age where the media (itself controlled by the left) is culpable in the spread of hatred and violence by propagandizing details before the truth ever comes out; or simply making up "facts" to suit a particular agenda. If you want to see a truly brutal, savage cop movie, then go watch something like BAD LIEUTENANT (1992). DIRTY HARRY is little more than a modern day cowboy flick dotted with pontifications on a judicial system that, like it or not, often works in favor of the bad guys.

Interestingly enough, the public sided with Harry (much like they did with Paul Kersey in DEATH WISH) and his free-wheeling approach to street cleaning (and rightly so), making his debut a box office smash that led to four more sequels between 1973 and 1988. Characters like Callahan are perfect representations of the types of heroes most people want to believe in, but seldom exist in real life. 

It's a safe bet that it would be difficult to make a movie like DIRTY HARRY in today's oppressively political environment -- what with the PC police ruthlessly monitoring, and shutting down any and everything deemed hurtful, or offensive to their view of society; and that, my friends, is fascism at its finest.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD.

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