Sudden Impact (1983) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive violence, sexuality, rape, nudity, drug use, and language
Running Time: 117 min.

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Paul Drake, Audrie J. Neenan, Jack Thibeau, Michael Currie, Albert Popwell, Michael V. Gazzo
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Joseph Stinson
Review published September 15, 2006

Sudden Impact is the fourth entry in the "Dirty Harry" series, and the one in which his character finally turns into a caricature.  The film itself plays out more like a parody of the series thus far, with Harry (Eastwood, The Gauntlet) constantly getting chewed out, blowing bad guys away, and opting to use guns that grow hilariously larger the more pissed off he gets.  Although the previous two sequels, Magnum Force and The Enforcer, tried soften the "fascist" image that many criticized the original Dirty Harry for, Sudden Impact fully embraces it, pushing the limits on just how far Harry would go to see justice served to the criminal scum walking the streets.  While it is certainly entertaining from an action and humor standpoint, this is a film that is written more with audience expectations in mind.  It proved to be a successful formula, as it became the top grossing "Dirty Harry" film, but it forever erased Harry Callahan's humane side from the collective memory of American pop culture.

The story involves a series of murders of various men from the same handgun, with a similar style of killing -- a shot to the head and one to the genitals. For various unrelated reasons, Harry gets himself in trouble by constantly going too far on the job in blowing away the criminals, so to cool him off, he's sent out to a nearby coastal town, where he begins making some interesting connections between the serial killing case he was first introduced to and the local yokels.  Meanwhile, he gets involved with a local artist (Locke, The Outlaw Josey Wales) that takes a liking to Harry's way of going about police business --and why not??  She is the one committing the murders, getting revenge on the men (and one lesbian) involved in the heinous raping of her and her sister!

In essence, this is Dirty Harry meets Death Wish, as we finally learn just what Harry would do when confronted with a vigilante killer who he thought was actually doing the world good by getting rid of the vermin of the streets.  It does represent a 180 degree turn from his position of the vigilante killings that repulse him in Magnum Force, but one could argue that as time went on, Det. Callahan would probably have grown more disillusioned with the criminal element he had nothing but disgust for, as well as the system of justice that would allow the thugs free on technicalities.

Although Eastwood is rumored to have played a major hand in helping direct all of the other Dirty Harry sequels, this is the only one in which he takes the director's credit.  He does deliver the most stylish of the films since the original, infusing the movie with interesting flashback sequences that are eerily similar (close-up to frame the eyes, etc.) to the way Hitchcock presented them in Vertigo, with the Lalo Shifrin (Doctor Detroit, The Big Brawl) score that resembles Bernard Herrmann's almost note for note.  Eastwood's attitude toward his character is to merge him somewhat with the men of more questionable morality he portrayed in his Westerns, who deal out their punishment without much regard for the law.  Luckily, the intense, graphic violence and disturbing rape scene are tempered with a good sense of humor, lightening the mood at just the right times.

Sudden Impact isn't the best of the series, but it is probably the most accessible for those that are not huge fans.  The plot is straightforward, if a little too convenient in its use of happenstance to resolve issues, and it does contain some memorable dialogue that seeped its way into popular culture (President Ronald Reagan parroted the movie's most famous line, "Go ahead. Make my day", to admonish Congress about to send him legislation that would raise taxes).  It is a bit overlong, with underdeveloped characters, and stereotypical maniacal villains, but for those only looking for action, suspense, and for Harry Callahan to return to what he does best -- kick criminal ass, the goods are delivered and then some.

-- Followed by The Dead Pool.      

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo