Dirty Harry (1971)
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Julian Fink & R.M. Fink and Dean Riesner
Produced by Don Siegel
Some movies are timeless. Others are time machines, and in the case of Dirty Harry, the Flex Capacitor is set to the summer of 1971. If the jazz soaked funk of Lalo Schifrin’s kinetic musical score or some of the haircuts didn’t transport you back, then the spectacle of Inspector Harry Callahan blowing away four black bank robbers might hip you that cultural sensitivity will not be a going concern. Or, maybe you’ll get to witness PC in its infancy. When another cop cracks that Callahan despises everyone — “Limeys, Micks, Hebes, Fat Dagos, Niggers, Honkies, Chinks” — Eastwood smirks as if parodying Archie Bunker as opposed to honoring him. But after 30 minutes, Dirty Harry puts politics in its rearview and floors it into a majestically made, immensely entertaining, classic cat and mouse game between a flawed good guy and a great bad guy.
While Pauline Kael spent years trying to divine Eastwood’s political agenda, Dirty Harry delivers intense audience appreciation for those in the mood for a damn good movie, from captivating action pieces, tasty one-liners, a crafty villain played by Andy Robinson as a hippie/Vietnam vet/Zodiac killer hybrid, and vivid use of the Bay Area as a location. In a testament to the brass tacks realism of director Don Siegel, Dirty Harry effectively documents a West Coast city undergoing epic social change during the Vietnam War. In the center is Eastwood, taking a role Paul Newman passed on and Frank Sinatra was perhaps welcomed to vacate by Warner Bros. Instead of looking burned out, Eastwood’s youth feels just right for a cop whose idealism for the law becomes cracked as it tilts away from victims to favor their assailant. Eastwood personifies just the type of anti-hero who knows how to respond.
After a madman issuing the moniker of Scorpio (Andy Robinson) shoots a sunbather from a San Francisco highrise, Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is put on the case. In a note addressed to The Mayor (John Vernon) Scorpio demands $100,000 and threatens to “kill a Catholic priest or a nigger” if ignored. Bristling at answering dumb questions at City Hall, Callahan is incredulous that the Mayor wants to play along with Scorpio in a bid to buy time. While on lunch break, Callahan foils a bank robbery with the help of his best friend, a .44 Magnum revolver — “the most powerful handgun in the world” — and while thankful, his lieutenant assigns Callahan a human partner, college boy Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) who’s eager to find the meaning behind Callahan’s nickname “Dirty Harry”.
After a couple of detours through the nocturnal streets of San Francisco, Callahan and Gonzalez shoot it out with Scorpio on a rooftop. Their nemesis escapes and kidnaps a 14-year-old girl. Put in charge of the ransom delivery, Callahan wounds Scorpio and chases him to his hideout at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park. Rather than give the punk his constitutional rights, Callahan attempts to beat the girl’s location out of him first. Discovering she was already dead, Callahan watches as Scorpio is set free due to police brutality. To ditch his surveillance, Scorpio contracts a thug to work him over with bruises, which the psycho blames on Callahan. For his next stunt, Scorpio hijacks a school bus and demands cash and a getaway jet from the Mayor. Callahan and his best friend take over negotiations.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 38 users: 95% for Dirty Harry
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
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