Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry (1971)
 
 
 

Eastwood gets Down and Dirty

Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry: every dirty job that comes along - Harry Callahan

Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry

Can you imagine Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brandon saying "Do you feel lucky punk", how about Steve Mc Queen or Paul Newman as they were all considered for the roll of Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry". The role ended up going to Clint Eastwood on a recommendation from Paul Newman and thanks to that we got one of cinema's most iconic cops, the no messing, anti authority Dirty Harry Callahan. Ironically if you take away the element of Eastwood creating one dirty cop the actual storyline isn't that amazing. It's influenced by the true story of the Zodiac killer and basically follows the formula of a cop doing what ever it takes to get his man even if it means bending the rules and making it personal. But it works thanks partly to Clint Eastwood who is magnificent as Harry Callahan and partly because director Don Siegel makes it entertaining with a mixture of violent action and the cat and mouse games of the killer toying with the cops.

As a serial killer known as Scorpio (Andrew Robinson - Cobra) tries to hold San Francisco to ransom, Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood - The Beguiled) is put on the case thanks to his no messing, relentless attitude. But his methods of getting his man doesn't make him popular with all of those in authority especially as he's known as 'Dirty' Harry for a reason. But his attempts to track down Scorpio become a game of cat and mouse as the killer toys with him, pushing Callahan to the limits.

Andrew Robinson as Scorpio in Dirty Harry

"Dirty Harry" is very much a movie of two halves with the first half dedicated to establishing the character of the no messing Harry Callahan. We still get the element of the serial killer holding San Francisco to ransom with a magnificent opening scene which sees him killing an innocent swimmer from distance across the San Francisco roof tops but almost every other scene establishes how mean and nasty Harry is. We soon discover that he has little time or respect for those in power as he is a smart arse to the Mayor and we also witness his shoot first ask question later tactics as he single handedly stops a bank robbery in a scene which magnificently mixes humour with action as Harry calms walks out into the middle of the street and starts blasting away at the bank robbers in their getaway car. There is a lot more and his unique way of dealing with a suicide jumper is just as amusing as is his feelings towards anyone who has to partner him. But it works because despite being a cop who obviously bends the rules we warm to him because that is just the way he is, a no messing cop who does his job in his own way.

The second half of "Dirty Harry" focuses more on the cat and mouse games between Harry and the serial killer known as Scorpio. Now it has to be said that this side has a familiarity about it as it becomes personal between Scorpio and Harry in what is basically a game of cat and mouse. But it is entertaining because of the way Harry is, he isn't afraid to hurt Scorpio and break the rules to get him, even if that comes to torturing him. And because it goes back and fourth with Harry getting Scorpio and then him being released on a technicality makes it all the more interesting as the personal vendetta side of things gets cranked up.

A huge reason why "Dirty Harry" is so good comes down to director Don Siegel who makes the most of every single scene be it a big action scene or something which has a touch of humour and sarcasm. That opening scene as we watch Scorpio claim his victim, shooting her with a sniper's rifle is just magnificent. But then so are the close calls as Harry gets close to tracking him down and the violence which goes on between them feels raw and hard hitting. Yet it is also the inconsequential which makes "Dirty Harry" so memorable, watching Harry standing on a bridge waiting for Scorpio to drive under is so amazing, speaking volumes about how relentless Harry is that the image stays with you long after the movie has finished.

Of course Don Siegel is just part of the reason why "Dirty Harry" is memorable and the other half is that it is Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callahan. Other than a couple of dalliances with other genres Eastwood was best known for his westerns prior to "Dirty Harry" but he comes across so at home playing this mean cop, creating a character which is both likeable and dangerous. Maybe there are some familiarities between Harry and the various cowboys which Eastwood played but there is also something different about him and the fact that Eastwood makes him relentless makes him also quite terrifying as you never know how far he will go to get his man.

Clint Eastwood is not the only actor who makes "Dirty Harry" work and Andrew Robinson as Scorpio also play a big part. It is sort of ironic when you discover that Robinson is a pacifist with a dislike of guns and so seems so wrong for the part of a killer. But the nervousness he has during the gun scenes works in his favour because it make Scorpio both a very edgy character but also one who feels like an every day guy who has cracked for whatever reason. It's the same in the other violent scenes which don't feature weapons and that nervousness again makes Scorpio feel like a human being rather than some ultra cool and fake hitman.

What this all boils down to is that "Dirty Harry" is a very good movie, one which does have a very familiar serial killer - cop storyline but makes it work. And a big reason why it works is that Clint Eastwood delivers the aspect of a dirty cop who will do whatever it takes to get his man whilst Don Siegel delivers one great scene after another which stays with you long after the movie has finished.

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