DIRTY HARRY (1971) 

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Clint Eastwood
Harry Guardino
Reni Santoni
John Vernon
Andrew Robinson
John Larch

Don Siegel



Time: 102 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

I recently saw this for the first time all the way through and I have to say that it's still a good movie. Dirty Harry is the quintisential good-hearted, bad-tempered cop that filmmakers have been ripping off for the past 25 years. I don't know of any other actor who could've made Harry into the action star icon he is today other than Eastwood. I think I can safely say that this film was one of the ones that created the action genre we know and sometimes love today. The car chases, the big guns, the sarcastic one-liners, they all began with Harry.

The film opens with Detective Harry Callahan doing his job, fighting crime in the city of San Francisco. He thwarts a bank robbery, saves a jumper and tosses off some memorable dialogue – "Do you feel lucky, Punk?" It's all in a days work for "Dirty" Harry. The cop who gets all the assignments no one else wants to take, but who gets the job done anyway. Which is why he's chosen to hunt down a psychotic killer named Scorpio (Robinson), a sniper with a body count and an agenda. He's already murdered 2 people and he's going to kill more if the city doesn't come up with two hundred thousand dollars.

Disgusted, Harry wants to catch this guy and is given the assignment of apprehending Scorpio before he kills again. So with his new partner, Chico (Santoni), he takes to the rooftops and sets a trap. Though Scorpio takes the bait, he gets away and turns the screws even tighter. He kidnaps a young girl, sending her clothes, including underwear, to the chief of police and threatens the Mayor once again. The girl will die from lack of oxygen at 3am that evening if the money isn't delivered to him exactly when and where he says. Harry is again called to be the front man. With the money in a yellow gym bag, he is forced to run all over the city to satisfy Scorpio's paranoia that he not be followed. Fortunately for Harry, he's wearing a wire and his partner is tracing his every move.

"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"

When he finally gets to the drop off, Scorpio pistol whips and beats Harry. Just before delivering the coup-de-grace, Scorpio whispers to Harry that he's going to let the girl die anyway. His anger pushes Harry to the edge, allowing him to break through the pain and grab the switchblade he had taped to his leg. When his partner finally arrives on the scene, distracting Scorpio, Harry plunges the knife up to the hilt into Scorpio's leg. Deranged with pain and anger, Scorpio manages to escape yet again, but not before shooting Chico. Harry is too injured to follow, but he refuses to give up. Not while there's still a chance, though slight, that the girl is still alive.

Using good detective work, he checks with the park first aid station and discovers that a man matching Scorpio's injuries came in earlier that evening seeking medical attention. What's even better news is that the doctor recognized Scorpio as a worker in a local sports stadium. It turns out that Scorpio didn't get very far and Harry has no trouble catching him this time. Scorpio turns into a complete cry-baby, demanding his lawyer, trying to claim his rights, but all Harry wants to know is where he hid the girl and he doesn't care how long or what methods he needs to use to extract the information.

Unfortunately for Harry the girl is dead when they find her and the DA cares very much about Harry's interrogation methods. Scorpio is let go because Harry violated his rights and searched his apartment without a warrant. This injustice pushes Harry over the edge. Though he is taken off the case and warned by his superiors to leave Scorpio alone, Harry refuses to stop until this madman is either dead or behind bars. When Scorpio kidnaps a bus of school children to force the mayor to give him the money, Harry puts a stop to his reign of terror once and for all. It just wasn't Scorpio's lucky day.

Though you can't help but love Harry for his sense of justice, his methods are often as brutal as the criminals he's trying to stop. In this PC world, I fear his character would never have gained the foothold in cinema history that Harry holds today. His power is obvious in every fiber of his being, from the gun he uses to the words he utters. Harry is one mean, son-of-a-bitch and I'd hate to cross paths with him. But he's not a one-dimensional character. Eastwood gives him not only an amazing physical presence, but a heart as well. This is a man who's driven to violence only when he has no other choice in order to protect the innocent and bring down the guilty.

Many of the aspects of this film don't really hold up over the years – the music and Scorpio's whining are extremely over-the-top – however, the cinematography of the chase scenes, especially the money drop-off and bus hijack sequences, is fantastic. One thing does hold true. The powerful image of a man who refuses to let injustice take over. Not on his watch. If you're interested in how the action genre got its' start and want to see Clint kick some major ass, then this is the movie for you. Accept no substitutes.

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