Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 23, 1971
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, and Dean Riesner
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Vernon, Andrew Robinson, John Larch, John Mitchum, Mae Mercer, Lyn Edgington, Woodrow Parfrey, Josef Sommer, Ruth Kobart, Albert Popwell, Max Gail, Debralee Scott
If you’ve never seen a Clint Eastwood movie, and are wondering where to start, I’d say Dirty Harry would be your best bet. It’s probably his most well-known and popular role, and the one that really put him on the map: that of San Francisco homicide inspector ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan. The part solidified his status as a Hollywood star, and defined his cinematic persona: tough, no-nonsense, a dry sense of humor, and a penchant for roughing up—or disposing of—criminals, hoodlums, no-goods, and any number of jerks who found a few too many ways to annoy him.
Eastwood played Harry in five films between 1971 and 1988, but this appearance was of course the iconic first, and best. A serial killer named Scorpio is on the loose in San Francisco, and Callahan is given the job of stopping him. After thwarting a bank hold-up, Callahan is assigned a new partner, and the two begin their investigation and search for Scorpio as the killer continues his reign of terror throughout the city. It’s then a cat-and-mouse game as Callahan finds himself not only battling Scorpio, but bureaucracy and the limits of the law as well.
Eastwood establishes his character’s attitude and demeanor almost immediately, during an early scene where he trades acerbic barbs with the mayor, then shows us his sharpshooting skills and unorthodox crime-fighting methods during the bank robbery he foils with his booming .44 Magnum. When Callahan asks a wounded suspect if he knows how many shots he fired, and if he feels lucky enough to take a chance at finding out, an iconic Eastwood moment was born. And let’s not forget the work of Andy Robinson as Scorpio, who was flat-out fantastic in his role; he was dangerous, psychotic, creepy, and pathetic all rolled into one, and really knew how to scream when taking a knife to the leg.
This was the fourth of five films Eastwood and director Don Siegel collaborated on (the fifth being Escape from Alcatraz eight years later), and I loved what both brought to the film to make it so enjoyable, and memorable. Eastwood, of course, made Callahan, but Siegel took full advantage of his widescreen camera and the early-70s backdrop of San Francisco to give the film its visual appeal. It was amazing to see what and how much Siegel used to fill the space between the foreground and background of each shot, and how the story allowed him to take advantage of such city landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Davidson Park, City Hall, and old Kezar Stadium.
And speaking of Kezar Stadium, this was by far my favorite sequence of the film, where Harry tracks a panicked Scorpio to the dark, abandoned ballpark and chases him down like a wounded animal, wasting no time in using a bullet to help prompt a confession to the whereabouts of a girl he’s kidnapped. Though Callahan breaks all the rules, and eventually spoils his case against the killer, I love how he’s determined to not only stop this psychopath, but to punish him as well. The final shot at the stadium, where Harry is torturing Scorpio in the middle of the field, and the camera pulls up into the foggy, nighttime sky as Lalo Schifrin’s eerie string score plays behind it, could be my favorite movie shot of all time.
From his hard-boiled attitude to his understated comments to his dazzling jump from an overpass onto a moving bus, this film was pure Eastwood, and if you’re a fan of action thrillers, crime films, neo-noir mysteries, or Eastwood in general, you should have no problem having a blast with Dirty Harry. I think everyone who’s seen all five of these films will agree that this one is far and away the best…but that doesn’t mean those who haven’t should skip the sequels. Well, except for Sudden Impact, perhaps. (9/10)