Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Dirty Harry Chronicles: Dirty Harry (1971)

Like his Man with No Name character from the Dollars Trilogy, Clint Eastwood's performance as Dirty Harry has become iconic.  Starting off as a rather brutal take on the police procedural, the character eventually was morphed into another tool for Clint to have fun with his persona.  We'll get to that in the other movies, for now let's get right into pure, raw, unadulterated Dirty Harry Callahan.

  • Opening scene with Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) gunning down a random lady at a swimming pool is nicely done.  The opening credits (and the rest of the score) by Lalo Schifrin are also pretty nice.  Good 70's action music.  I think it may also be the most regular police work we see Dirty Harry do in the series.
  • Right from the start, this is Clint Eastwood's movie.  He's spot on in just about every scene and he manages the task of making a fairly brutal cop into someone we can root for and to an extent, sympathize with.  Giving him a scene where he talks about his dead wife helps greatly, a plot point that would become a cliche rather quickly when it wasn't being simply tossed to the side in order to have a borderline sociopath as a hero (some of the Italian cash-ins that followed)
  • The first aspect of Eastwood's performance I want to touch on is the humor.  Clint's best roles generally have at least a faint strain of dark, subtle humor to them and this one is no exception.  Like The Man with No Name, Harry isn't one for small talk Clint gets some entertaining facial reactions here and in the rest of the series whenever someone around him is being a general pain in the ass.
  • The iconic bank robbery scene comes about ten minutes in and is just a wonderfully staged bit of business by director Don Siegel.  In terms of sheer character building, you get pretty much everything you need to know about our lead (the scene preceding it in the mayor's office does this too) as he orders lunch, notices a robbery in progress and reluctantly foils it in typical brusque fashion.  In general, Clint is just a total badass in this film.  Cool, funny and tough as one would expect from the man.
  • The film more or less establishes the tropes future action movies would use with an independent-minded cop who goes by his own rules; the unwanted partner who eventually comes through in the end, the angry chief (in this case, it's an angry mayor played nicely by John Vernon, Harry's actual boss is a little more mellow) and of course, the rather conservative viewpoint on stopping crime any way one can. The difference here is that Clint helps make and keep things palatable just by being likable.
  • On the other side of the law, we have Andrew Robinson in a role that both made and broke his career.  Scorpio is a splendidly nasty piece of work: cold and ruthless but also violently psychotic.  The film doesn't get too much into why he's doing what he's doing which in most cases would be a flaw but here, it makes him even creepier.
  • Action is pretty solid as well with some nice stunts including a leap onto a moving bus that Eastwood did himself.  The final showdown with Scorpio is also a nice, more tense callback to the robbery scene in the beginning.
  • The film is not without flaws, some aspects of the film are rather badly dated (though its forgivable) and to be honest, the scene where Harry tortures information on a kidnapping victim from Scorpio is probably a bit much but apart from that, the film is simply a fun, smash mouth 70's action film.
  • I also really don't want to get too much into the politics of the film as frankly, I sort of feel the film doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the critics took it when it came out.   It certainly is nowhere near the level of the Death Wish films which seemed to seriously feel vigilante behavior was okay.  Dirty Harry tends to take matters in his own hands when doing the job the right way doesn't cut it but there's always a sort of wink to the audience which I will go more into as we continue to the sequels.
Clint Eastwood really hit it big with Dirty Harry and in the ensuing sequels, the character would morph slightly, as would the amount of creative input from Clint.  It's an iconic film, though not the best of the series.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.