The Harry Callahan Series: Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry (1971)


Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven) is a San Francisco cop assigned to capture a vicious serial killer (Andrew Robinson, Charley Varrick) who calls himself “The Scorpio Killer.” When conventional methods prove to be ineffective, Callahan decides to the ignore the rules and go after the vicious criminal using his own “techniques.”

Reaction & Thoughts:

Iconic action thriller holds up well after all these years. Dirty Harry, written by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink and Dean Riesner, and directed by Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Beguiled), is a suspenseful, diabolically funny thriller, effectively pandering to our romanticized view of rugged individualism — in an increasingly conformist society we tend to gravitate towards characters with personal vision. Complex issues are presented in black & white, making the story accessible, and easy to enjoy.

The movie’s skewed moral universe has always ignited endless conversations about law and crime. Dirty Harry seems to suggest that the solution to crime is rouge cops. Eastwood himself has questioned the message of the film (Gran Torino has been interpreted as Eastwood’s “mea culpa”). Any intelligent person understands that the story’s point of view can’t be taken too seriously. It’s a movie fantasy that appeals to our most primitive instincts — a two-hour thrill ride where good prevails over evil.

The film’s pace is fantastic, and there are many eye-popping moments along the way. This is familiar ground for Siegel, who spent most of his career making gritty films. It’s no shock that he’s able to infuse the story with contagious energy. He also gets a superb performance out of Eastwood. This is the fourth of the five films Eastwood made with Siegel. Eastwood has always acknowledged Siegel’s influence on his own directorial ventures — they do make a marvelous director-actor team.

The jazzy score by Lalo Schifrin (Cool Hand Luke and The Amityville Horror) is irresistible. Yes, it screams “we-are-in-the-70s,” but it really elevates a couple of scenes to a higher level of excitement. Also, cinematographer Bruce Surtees (Play Misty for Me and The Outlaw Josey Wales) does a great job capturing San Francisco’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I have always enjoyed the movie. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, Dirty Harry can be a lot of fun if you don’t think about it too much. If you’re able to put its morally dubious message aside, you’ll enjoy the film’s many exciting action set-pieces. Also starring Josef Sommer (Witness), John Vernon (Animal House) as The Mayor, and Harry Guardino (Lovers and Other Strangers) as Eastwood’s boss. Director Don Siegel has a cameo as a pedestrian. Color, 102 minutes, Rated R.

Followed by Magnum Force (1973)


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