This is the first of five "Dirty Harry" films in which Eastwood stars as a San Francisco police detective. By the time the last appeared (The Dead Pool, in 1988), Eastwood had aged and times had changed but Callahan's values and methods remained essentially the same. When initially released, Dirty Harry was immediately controversial as was Death Wish (1974). Audiences tended to be divided between those who were offended by what they considered to be excessive violence and those who (like Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey) had lost confidence in society's willingness and/or ability to respond effectively to violent crime. After seeing each of the two films for the first time, I vividly recall joining those around me in the theatre as they rose and cheered...and continue to applaud for several minutes. I asked myself, "What's going on here? What's this all about?"
At least in the larger U.S. cities 30 years ago, residents had become totally fed up with traditional law enforcement initiatives. It was no longer safe to walk the streets at night. Even more dangerous to do so in public parks. Homes were robbed while people worked during the day. Many of the same homes were robbed again later after insurance coverage replaced the articles previously stolen. Racial animosities, drug abuse, and a widespread contempt for institutional authority all contributed to such problems.
Under Don Siegel's crisp direction, Eastwood and his associates in the cast bring R.M. Fink's screenplay to life (and yes, to death) as they focus on what is obviously an irreconcilable conflict between Callahan and his superiors who include the mayor of San Francisco. Callahan's motto seems to be "Whatever it takes." In some situations, it may take his 44 Magnum, "the most powerful handgun in the world." Callahan has not totally lost faith in his society nor in the importance of the legal system. However, he does feel betrayed. The mayor and even Lieutenant Bressler (Harry Guardino) just don't "get it." This is precisely the same point Jim Malone (Sean Connery) makes to Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in The Untouchables 26 years later: When orthodox ("by the book") crime-fighting strategies and tactics don't succeed, use others even if they are not (at least technically) legal. Countless other films (such as Magnum Force, The French Connection, and L.A. Confidential) also make the same point.
It is important to remember when seeing this film again, as I did recently, that it portrays elements of an urban society few of us ever experience. Also, that it is a drama, not a documentary. Its primary purpose is to tell a story. The plot focuses on a serial killer named "Scorpio" (Andy Robinson) whom Callahan is determined to eliminate. Even when he eventually does so, questions remain. Don't criminals also have rights? What would happen if all or most other detectives followed Callahan's example? To what extent (if any) should private citizens also be actively involved in law enforcement? I agree with several critics who claim that, with Dirty Harry, Siegel and Eastwood created a new film genre. Its influence proved to be substantial. Each viewer must decide for herself or himself how much social relevance it has retained after 32 years but almost everyone would agree that it has lost little of its entertainment value.
on August 15, 2001
Dirty Harry is, plain and simple, an outstanding film that is far deeper than its reputation. Those who denounce Dirty Harry as a fascist are so far off the mark it is pathetic. Because of his un-PC dialogue it is assumed he is a bigot. Because he defends himself and others with a S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum he is written off as a psychotic. And so on. As his hispanic partner points out, he is called "Dirty Harry" because he gets the worst assignments. Only the most pitiful, mewling moral weakling would consider this film an advertisement for fascism. It is an indictment of the weakening and -- far worse -- bureaucritization of law enforcement, of its growing concern with appearance over protecting the public. And, of course, a great flick.
The film makes plain that while he describes his vulgar world in vulgar terms, he is actually above it. We learn from the beginning of the film that his doctor, who he chats up with more warmth than his white bosses, is black. Remember, in 1971 it was still commonplace to just write off blacks as "monkeys" or worse. The idea of a black man being a doctor, period, was unusual... let alone a white man seeing him for medical care and considering him his equal.
It is cues like these that reveal the true heart of the picture. So many soft-handed worryworts miss the point of the film because they do not understand the CONTEXT. The film is full of signs that Dirty Harry is an egalitarian in a time (1971) where such a point of view was rarer than it is now. Dirty Harry says the word "Spic" and a certain class of people are all aflutter, even as he embraces (insomuch as he embraces ANYTHING) his hispanic partner and his black doctor, and is enraged by the murder of a black, and so on ad infinitum. Yet, of course, he is a racist and a fascist. Idiotic.
But enough of that. Dirty Harry is an outstanding combination of good acting, expert directing, action and suspense... as even most of its critics are forced to admit. See this movie.
on March 18, 2008
Dirty Harry is generally regarded as a classic, the beginning of a second larger-than-life persona for Clint Eastwood (after The Man with No Name). It's the source of the famous "Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" (The actual quote is "... you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" but the original doesn't quote as well out of context.)
Tough cop "Dirty" Harry Callahan has his own simple, commonsense rules for dealing with crime, based on a strong sense of right and wrong and an impatience with needless details and constraints. The latter gets him into continual trouble with the system which, as portrayed in the movie, is more about politics and bureaucracy than doing what needs to be done. This reflected well the frustrations and fears of Americans in the '70s that criminals were taking over the streets and that the law was powerless to stop them because the "criminal-coddling" courts were holding them back. I personally value the Fourth Amendment and other such niceties and shiver to think of some of the political and moral ramifications of this movie (some of which are still very much with us), but whatever one's politics, Dirty Harry is very effective as a police-action thriller, largely because of Eastwood's unique persona. It's hard not to admire and root for him even if you think he's not always right. There are also the standard gunfights and car chases, and high suspense, all well done.
In the films that followed in the series, Harry became a somewhat more balanced, complex or confusing character, depending on your point of view, coming down clearly on the side of the law against rogue vigilante cops, for example, and learning to appreciate a female cop as a partner, but the basic idea of Harry standing strong despite the corrupt, wimpy system remained.
Whether those with the older DVD will want to upgrade is a matter of personal preference, but the special features look great to me:
-- new commentary by filmmaker and Eastwood associate/biographer Richard Schickel
-- new featurette "The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry," on the influence and legacy of Dirty Harry
-- "Dirty Harry: The Original," with Clint Eastwood and the film's creators looking back at the creation of the Dirty Harry character
-- "Dirty Harry's Way," a promotional short focusing on the toughness of the movie's main character
-- interview gallery, with Patricia Clarkson, Joel Cox, Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Evan Kim, John Milius, Ted Post, Andy Robinson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Urich
-- "Clint Eastwood: The Man from Malpaso," a 1993 TV program on his life and career, including scenes from his work and interviews with friends, fellow actors and crew members
-- trailer gallery: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool
This and the other four movies are available on standard DVD both separately and in a 7-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition, which has additional goodies.
They're also on Blu-ray in a 5-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition. Only the Dirty Harry Special Edition is available separately on Blu-ray (here); the other four movies, including this one, are available on Blu-ray in the set.
Here are the links for the Amazon pages for the new separate standard DVD releases of the other four movies in the series:
Magnum Force Deluxe Edition
The Enforcer Deluxe Edition
Sudden Impact Deluxe Edition
The Dead Pool Deluxe Edition
on July 5, 2000
Released in 1971 to luke warm reviews, "Dirty Harry" is without question one of the best urban police action films ever made, and is a classic piece of American Cinema that's as relevant today as it was then.
Beautifully filmed on location in San Francisco by Bruce Surtees, director Don Siegel's film captures the pulse and fears of the American public in a time of great social upheaval. The movie addresses those fears in a "law enforcement shackled by Miranda" theme, and draws the main characters in broad uncompromising strokes.
Enter Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department. Known as "Dirty Harry" within the bureau, Callahan works homicide and is regarded as a straight ahead, no nonsense investigator with a reputation for solving cases. Callahan is not politically correct and doesn't care for those who engage in its' posturing, which is the subtext and ignition point for the tension in this film.
As the movie opens, Callahan is investigating the murder of a woman who is shot while taking a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. The crime occurs in the downtown area, and Callahan theorizes the murder was probably committed by a rifleman from an adjacent rooftop at some distance. The theory pays off when Callahan checks a neighboring high rise to find spent rifle cartridge casings. Near the casings a note is found from a serial killer named Scorpio, who threatens to shoot others in sniper attacks throughout the city should the Mayor's office fail to pay the ransom demand.
This information is shared with the Mayor (played by John Vernon) who unhesitatingly agrees to pay the ransom to avoid a political firestorm of criticism should the demand ever become public knowledge. This only serves to further incense Callahan, who spends the rest of the film hunting for Scorpio as he battles internal pressure from the department as much as the danger on the street.
Sterling performances are handed in by Eastwood, Andrew Robinson as Scorpio, and Reni Santoni as Chico , a young idealistic officer newly assigned as Callahan's partner. The movie is also aided by an excellent musical score by Lalo Schifrin. The soundtrack is at times slow and ethereal, then accelerates, beautifully accentuating action sequences.
Reviews of this film in the early seventies (remember Pauline Kael?) were often wordy, unfair, and overly simplistic, concentrating on Callahan's worst personality traits and wringing them for all the sensationalistic print they were worth. But the film succeeds on several levels built around Eastwood's great performance as a frustrated cop who wants to put a murderer away.
DVD version includes a theatrical trailer that deserves Kael-like criticism (you'll see what I mean). Strong Buy.
on September 6, 2004
I can't think of a film before "Dirty Harry" that had the theme of "the maverick cop willing to bend a few rules and break a few constitutional rights to save the day." But there were plenty of them after, including the sequels to Dirty Harry itself. There was even a left-liberal backlash, in movies such as "The Star Chamber."
And Dirty Harry is even better when weighed against the zeitgeist of the early 70s. Considering that bleeding-heart liberalism was in its ascendency and maybe even at its peak, the storyline, generous violence, bashing of criminals and civil rights alike, and indifferent attitude towards racial slurs and racial stereotypes, marks it as a high point of counter-counter-culture. Even John Wayne took note of Dirty Harry's success, and created the lesser, but still eminently watchable, "McQ" in response. Like "Forrest Gump" 23 years later, Dirty Harry proved that immortality, and a lot of money, awaits for the Hollywood producer, director, writer or star who is willing to buck the ingrained, inbred, left-wing Hollywood herd.
on June 22, 2008
I'm not the kind of viewer that some people would identify as a fan of Dirty Harry (I'm a proud liberal who always votes Democratic and who owns no weapons) but I love this film without reservations. First, let's give it up for Don Siegel, one of the best US directors of the post-WW2 era. The man knew how to make a movie. And he did with first-rate craftsmanship that never calls too much attention to itself. This police thriller is as lean, mean, and no-nonsense as its flawed hero, played with the understated brilliance that only Clint Eastwood has mastered. Yes, he's a damn good actor and that's mainly because he doesn't ACT--rather, he behaves as this character, who is a fantasy figure, would behave. Siegel also gets solid acting across the board from his veteran cast, and with the help of Andy Robinson, who's as over the top as Clint is restrained, gives us one of the best, most vile villains committed to celluloid. There are interesting psychological dimensions to the film and I found myself wondering if Scorpio represents everything Harry represses and fears in himself, taken to a hideous extreme. Bruce Surtees found a one-of-a-kind look for Siegel's classic, with his inky San Francisco nightscapes making the hunt for Scorpio as strangely beautiful as it is unnerving. As to DH's politics, they are more complicated than most people assume. Dismissing this movie as reactionary, right-wing, or even as fascist as some have done, overlooks the nuances of Harry's conflicts with various institutions. The film makes the point that our institutions, especially law and government, often pay lip service to protecting the common people while ignoring their victimization and their victimizers. I see Harry as an embodiment of social and institutional breakdown who is overtaken by the idea that only extreme measures will work to make things right. And when you consider DH in context with the follow up Magnum Force, in which Harry takes on a band of renegade cops who truly are fascistic, the controversies over DH's agenda and messages become even more complex. P.S. the set is beautifully packaged with great extras at a reasonable price.
on December 8, 2002
A lot of nonsense has been written about this movie, and as someone with a little experience in law enforcement at the urban level, I'd like to add my evaluation - not only was Dirty Harry dead on when it was released, it still pretty much sums up the real world of police work in the big city.
Eastwood's portrayal of Dirty Harry accurately reflects the disillusionment any cop who cares about other people feels after enough time spent trying to work within a system that pushes violent felons through a revolving door back onto the street while hamstringing cops and honest citizens with useless and even dangerous laws which seem only to protect the criminal.
The main difference between reality and the film is that the character Dirty Harry is in a position to actually do the things many of us who were involved in police work have wanted to do - dispense with the niceties and deal with the bad guys.
Having said this, I think I'll just stay anonymous, otherwise I'll never see the end of the hostile Email :-)
on March 3, 2015
It's funny, but in the first few minutes, I actually thought, "Clint Eastwood does a really good Jim Carrey doing a really good Clint Eastwood!" But then I realized how wrong I was, because even though Jim Carrey is really funny, Clint Eastwood is even funnier.
Most people know the iconic lines from this film, although if you watch the film again -- as I just did in the last day -- you'll realize that the lines that are most "remembered" aren't remembered much at all; those lines are spoken somewhat differently. But then again, whether Mr. Eastwood says "punk" at the beginning or ending of a sentence really doesn't matter anyways. It's all in the delivery.
And the delivery is always spot-on with Mr. Eastwood, of course.
But I don't think that a film such as this could be made today, what with all of the ridiculous political correctness going on. As the most popular review for this film discusses, this was made in a time where people were getting sick and tired of being mugged -- or worse -- and the police doing nothing. So they wanted to take the law in their own hands and do something. Of course, in reality, they lived life safely through Dirty Harry and let him do, well, the Dirty Work. That way, they kept their hands clean.
But now, as America has moved decidedly Left, they don't care anymore really. People don't care if people get mugged anymore, unless it happens to them. But they are quick to judge others who don't take a liberal stand on justice, and in this sense, this is where America is probably failing. When people don't care anymore is when a society begins to fail, and I think that you are seeing that firsthand nowadays.
Well, you can still watch "Dirty Harry" and get a laugh. A really good laugh. If you have a sense of humor, that is. And while I enjoy watching Mr. Carrey do a spot-on imitation of Mr. Eastwood, after watching this film again after so many years, all I've got to say is: I'll take Mr. Eastwood anytime. After all, I'd rather hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
on June 28, 2008
Forget the caricature that developed with the sequels. This picture is a standalone classic of American film making that has move in common with The Conversation and Taxi Driver than it does with Lethal Weapon. And as an anti-heroic portait of a cop I think it holds up better than French Connection. It redefined the big-screen police thriller and - unless I'm forgeting something -- virtually invented the realistic serial killer genre.
Don Siegel's in the zone here -- this is his best film and it's never looked this good, partly because it's never looked this dim. The night scenes are restored to such lustrous blacks you have to sit up and pay attention. His work is completely thrilling and the portraits of both cop and killer he creates are filled with provactive ideas.
The film caught flak for suggesting that Harry was no better than a deranged vigilante -- as if the filmmakers didn't know that. The film opens with Scorpio stalking a victim and killing her long range. When Harry shows up he instinctively locates the killer's stalking place and we see him standing in the same spot looking at the scene of the crime within seconds. Note later as well that Harry will knowingly speak on behalf of the killer. ("You know she's dead, don't you?" "He won't stop killing. He likes it.") At those moments it's clear from Clint's face that he knows he and the killer have much in common. (It's also plain that Harry's a voyeur as we get scenes of him as an ignoble Peeping Tom.) The film seems to be saying that these two are remarkably similar and yet essentially different and for it's own good society had better understand the difference.
As iconic as Eastwood's performance here has become, I don't think the film would have the impact it has were it not for the astonishing performance of Andy Robinson. This is before Lawrence Sanders wrote The 1st Deadly Sin or Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon. It has to be the first truly remorseless, psychotic, sadistic fiend in American pop culture. He's completely believable and there's no ironic wit or psychological justification. His performance is still terrifying, it hasn't dated at all and it stands as one of the great screen performances of all time. (He gets a great assist from Lalo's sensational score.)
The extras here are a little light on insight into the development and filming of this first film and instead provide a survey that covers the whole series. Schickel's commentary track is okay, but still has his patented air of snobbish condescension. He neglects to provide any insight into the film's curious religious symbolism -- the first three encounters between Harry and Scorpio involve crosses. Nor does he draw any connections between the film and the real Zodiac killer who obviously inspired much of the detail of the criminal and his crimes.
To answer Harry Callahan's twice-posed rhetorical question: it was only five.
When producer/director Don Siegel returned to San Francisco for DIRTY HARRY (1971) he was warmly welcomed by the city's administration. A dozen years or so earlier, Siegel used San Fran as backdrop for his late-era noir, THE LINEUP. His many inside and outdoor location sequences showed the "City By the Bay" at its best, and the film's "crime doesn't pay" plot gave an equally flattering patina to SFPD.
One of the first things you notice about Clint Eastwood's Inspector Callahan is that his suit pants and dress trousers are all tailor-pegged. He isn't some indifferent flatfoot in baggy rumpled serge flapping around in stiff San Fran breezes. No, it's clear that Callahan, with impeccably coiffed hair and those cool shades, is more concerned about his appearance than he is about keeping the peace. In fact he's often the catalyst of mayhem, a foiled bank heist that occurs early in the story being a prime example.
In this scene Harry sits at his favorite hotdog diner, suspecting there's a 211 in progress across the street. When sure enough the bank's alarm sounds he reluctantly drops an ungarnished footlong dog, saunters outside, quickly kills three would-be hold-up men with his trusty .357 magnum pistol and wings a fourth. This leads to a classic Eastwood line, spoken with an impish grin: "...you've gotta ask yourself, 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
This bon mot is aimed at bit player Albert Popwell, here a downed bank robber who says to Callahan, "I gots to know." In director Siegel's 1973 follow-up, MAGNUM FORCE, Popwell plays a garishly attired pimp that forces DRANO down his girl's throat.
Under close examination, Andy Robinson's portrayal of the serial killer IDed only as "Scorpio" doesn't quite hold up. His take on the guy's insanity is too much over-the-top nervousness to appear sinister. His best moment acting-wise may be the liquor store scene. Robinson plays it restrained and straight but when he suddenly bashes the clerk's head with a fifth bottle of whiskey it startles you.
The central plot of DIRTY HARRY is simple yet effective. San Fran's mayor (John Vernon), chief of police (John Larch) and Callahan's immediate supervisor (Harry Guardino) all object to his violent tactics but he refuses to modify his way of law enforcement to accomodate them. Young "Chico" (Reni Santoni), Harry's new partner, sees how he operates and quickly figures out why he's been tagged with the "Dirty" label. In the end the might of Callahan, and that long-barrelled gun, triumph and we fade out after a watery HIGH NOON moment.
Over 40 years later DIRTY HARRY holds up magnificently.
This is where the modern cop thriller begins, thus it's required viewing for all fans of the genre.