Dirty Harry (1971) – Don Siegel

“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 kind of 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?”

That iconic monologue cemented a place in cinema action history for Clint Eastwood, no longer just a western star, Dirty Harry turned him into an action superstar. This classic film from 1971 is a most enjoyable entry on the 101 Action Movies list.

Eastwood is ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan a San Francisco homicide detective that constantly seems to get the worst assignments. He’s more than a bit of a loner, the concepts of justice firmly set in his mind, though the grayer shades of the legal process seem to have absolutely no place in his life. Which of course leads to difficulties in doing his job, he’s more than aware of the difference between right and wrong, but legalities seem to constantly get in the way.

harry1He’s not above beating a confession out of a criminal he knows is guilty, or yelling ‘freeze’ once before letting loose with a round of fire, or as we also see, torturing a guilty crook to get the information he needs.

Callahan’s assignment is to track down a sniper who is holding the city ransom, demanding $100,000 or he’ll kill one person every day.

The sniper, Scorpio, is played to creepy perfection by Andrew Robinson. He just seems completely round the bend in this film, and it’s more than a little frightening. From beating the crap out of Harry, to having the crap beat out of himself so he can frame Callahan, to hitting, threatening and singing with a bunch of hostage children on a school bus.

The film is violent, tightly edited and features a 70s era score by Lalo Schifrin. It also allows Eastwood to walk around exuding a manner of cool folks have often imitated but never equaled since.

It’s rather telling, when one reaches the film’s end, SPOILERS (for a 42-year-old film no less), and he tosses away his badge after finishing off Scorpio.

andrewCallahan is very much a western character transplanted into a modern-day police thriller, working to deal justice as he sees fit. He carries the death of his wife with him everywhere, and seems more than willing to take it out on anybody, regardless of race, creed, age or sex.

He’s cut off from everybody, and is a completely solitary character, though his partner Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) comes to his rescue when Scorpio is laying into him.

In the end, it is the game played between Scorpio and Harry that engages the viewer. You want to see Scorpio get his just desserts, and you know Harry is going to serve it up for him…

DirtyHarry29It had been awhile since I saw this one, so I was happily stunned (all over again I’m sure) of an aerial shot that starts in close on Harry and Scorpio. Scorpio is sprawled on the football field, clutching the leg Harry has just put a hole in with his Magnum, and is applying painful pressure to it with his foot. He’s trying to find a 14-year-old girl Scorpio has kidnapped and buried somewhere. As Scorpio yells and screams, demanding his rights, his lawyer, an ambulance, Harry keeps pushing, demanding to know where the girl is, and the camera just keeps pulling back away from the field, away from the stadium, up into the air above San Francisco, leaving us wondering how far Harry went to get the girl’s location.


The lone cop would be a resurfacing motif through action movies for years to come, but few can do it as well as Dirty Harry. (Except maybe John McClane in Die Hard).

Yes the film can bring into question ethics, moralities, rights, and one can debate those endlessly, and I’m all for it, these subjects  are always up for discussion, but it’s also a kick-ass little film.

Who’s your favorite action movie cop?


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