Dirty Harry

1971, Movie, R, 102 mins

Review

DIRTY HARRY
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A fascist film, or a film about a fascist cop? Either way, this is suspenseful, energetic stuff, directed with urgency and style by Cahiers du Cinema favorite Don Siegel; embellished with some of Lalo Schifrin's coolest electro-jazz confections; and driven by the inimitable Clint as Detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan, last line of defence against the assorted hippie liberal types who, in the early 70s, threatened the very fabric of Western civilization.

Maverick San Francisco cop Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is ordered by the city mayor (John Vernon) to stop the serial killer who calls himself Scorpio (Andy Robinson). The psycho wants $100,000, or he will continue his bloody work. The mayor and others are willing to give in, but Eastwood disagrees, sensing it would be just the first payment. Eastwood bristles when teamed with young Chico (Reni Santoni) against his wishes (Chico fails Callahan on three counts, by being new to the force, Mexican-American, and, perhaps worst of all, college-educated); but he reluctantly begins to accept the junior partner. Scorpio says he's buried a teenage girl somewhere in the city and will let her die unless the town comes up with $200,000. Eastwood gets the job of delivering the money (backed up by Chico), but eventually pursues his own, extralegal route to nail Scorpio.

DIRTY HARRY proved popular, controversial, and influential. With uncredited screenplay contributions by John Milius, the film represented, via its title character, the apotheosis of the maverick cop figure that Siegel had portrayed in films from HELL IS FOR HEROES through MADIGAN. Harry Callahan is both more openly scornful of the law--his nailing of Scorpio is basically a critique of the concept of "criminal rights"--and, thanks to Eastwood's perfectly calibrated performance, more compelling an individual, than Siegel's earlier neo-vigilantes. The film propelled Eastwood to his second round of stardom, left its mark on countless urban cop dramas to come, and marked the beginning of one of the most celebrated director/star relationships in American cinema--one movingly recalled by Eastwood-as-director in the joint dedication of his 1992 masterpiece, UNFORGIVEN, "to Sergio and Don." Sequels: MAGNUM FORCE, THE ENFORCER, SUDDEN IMPACT, and THE DEAD POOL. leave a comment

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