Dirty Harry (1971) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, nudity, and language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Andrew Robinson, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Vernon, John Larch, John Mitchum, Max Gail (cameo), Richard Lawson (cameo), Don Siegel (cameo)
Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Reisner
Review published August 17, 2006
"Dirty" Harry Callahan (Eastwood, Kelly's Heroes) is among the most disgruntled of San Francisco's police force. He doesn't like the fact that criminals seem to have more rights afforded to them than their victims. Now a ruthless sniper (Robinson, Hellraiser) is on the loose and is making demands or else continued assassinations will take place. The tables get turned on Harry when the savvy sniper uses these rights to literally get away with murder and make the good guys seem bad.
It would become Eastwood's most famous of roles, and the one that cemented his place as the monosyllabic bad-ass that didn't take crap from anyone. Dirty Harry is more than just another cop movie. It is a film created to spark discussion, thematically grappling over the way justice may not actually be served by affording too many rights to the criminals, who are literally set free when cops overstep their bounds in order to make sure that these bad guys don't get away with more crimes.
Dirty Harry was branded as "fascist" by several prominent critics at the time of its release, but given its many imitators, its style has been completely enveloped as standard loose-cannon cop fare. However, even with the myriad of rip-offs, it is remarkably still a strong movie, with a keen sense of style, surprisingly pungent violence, and a truly heinous villain that might have some viewers wishing Harry would step completely over the line and just blow away without immediate cause.
Eastwood would become a superstar after this film, earning that sense of mystique and consummate strength that audiences admired and loved, intense but still able to maintain a healthy sense of humor despite his outrage. However, even with his landmark performance, the film equally succeeds due to the energetic and stylish direction by Don Siegel (Coogan's Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara). Although decades old, the in-your-face style still feels remarkably fresh, with some moments of violence that are still quite strong. Complementing Siegel's style is a memorably funky, psychedelic score by Lalo Schifrin (Cool Hand Luke, Joe Kidd), and gritty, haunting cinematography from Bruce Surtees (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Beverly Hills Cop).
Among cop action films, Dirty Harry ranks up near the very top ever made, practically must-see for anyone that considers himself a fan of the genre, and of Clint Eastwood.
-- Followed by Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988)
©1998, 2006 Vince Leo