Friday, July 16, 2010

"Well I'm all broken up over that man's rights..."

By Russel D McLean

I recently started renting movies again. Thanks to local emporium’s poor selection. I kinda stopped a few years ago and started buying cheaply from secondhand stores and sales, but space concerns and money concerns overtook me to the point where I joined one of those rental-by-post outfits, and let me say I’m digging the rental game.

Which is a long winded way of getting to the point that I’ve been catching up on old movies I never saw first time around.

Like Dirty Harry.

Yeah, that Dirty Harry.

Yeah, I never saw it before.

I think part of it was the feeling that I had seen it. Harry Callaghan has become a part of pop culture, and we all think we know him even if we’ve never seen the film. One way or another we’ve heard that famous speech about how the Magnum’s the most powerful handgun in the world and it could blow your head clean off… but do we really understand it out of context of the movie?

Because I’ll tell you…

Dirty Harry took me by surprise.

Its no wonder its been taken so deeply into pop consciousness; Dirty Harry is a tight, clever tale of a cop on the edge. And sure, its clichéd, but the feeling you get watching it is that this is probably the film that invented the damn clichés. And a lot of that is down to Clint Eastwood, who is absolutely convincing here. With a minimum of dialogue, you sense his loathing for what he’s seen on his streets and his desire to do something right. He’s an avenging angel, but he’s not always right, and as much as you cheer him on, you can see the other side to the equation; that this is a dangerous man, one step away from the killers he stops.

Eastwood owns the role. Truly. As I mentioned, Harry is underwritten, but Eastwood convinces you utterly in a part that could very easily have been utterly one dimensional. Not that there’s a deep soul here, but there’s more going on than could otherwise have been the case.

Although you do have to wonder how the film would have turned out if Harry had been played by Frank Sinatra.

Easwtood aside, the film’s plot is fairly light (psycho killer holds city to ransom, something which paralleled the Zodiac killer as explicitly stated in David Fincher’s Zodiac where the cops attend a screening of Dirty Harry) but the atmosphere is brilliantly gritty. That 70’s vibe makes the whole thing come to life with a down and dirty realism that would never have got near the picture if it was made today. In fact, there’s a tough, hardboiled edge to the whole thing that skirts moral questions a film like this would never be allowed to ask now with such stars and prominence in release. And then there’s the fact its all muscle. No fat. No wasted moments. Everything you need to know is in there. There are no distractions. Like its central character, the movies goes straight to the point. No messing around. And it works. Dear God, it works.

I know that four sequels were release, but to be honest, Dirty Harry tells exactly the story it needs to. There is no need for any more. On its own, Dirty Harry is a damn close to perfect little hardboiled thriller. The ending provides a kind of closure (maybe not the kind you want) that renders any attempt to follow on superfluous.

Of course, they did follow on.

I just don’t know that I need to see what they did.

And that speech?

That .44 magnum speech?

You hear it twice.

And boy, you really wonder how lucky you are the second time around.


David Cranmer said...

A film that can still provoke strong emotions. Classic in every sense of the word.

pattinase (abbott) said...

In Paris recently, with no English TV, I bought a cheap copy of one of the sequels and wondered what the fuss was about. Now I will go back and rent the first one. Wish I had seen it first.

Ray said...

See, I love DIRTY HARRY, but I always found it a bit disjointed. I actually prefer MAGNUM FORCE - really solid script by Milius and Cimino, and it sets Callahan's vigilante tactics against even WORSE vigilantes.

John McFetridge said...

The 70's turning point was all about the sequels. That's where it went from making movies because people were telling stories like Dirty Harry and Rocky to making sequels for money.

Maybe Ray is right that Magnum Force is the better movie, but I remember being very disappointed sitting in a theatre watching it when it came out.

I'm so glad that Easy Rider sequel never got made...

Dave White said...

I love Dirty Harry, especially when Scorpio has Harry running from pay phone to pay phone (a scene that would be hard to pull off today). MAGNUM FORCE has a great setup, but I somewhat remember it being pretty campy...

Dave White said...

Though I could be wrong and am confusing MAGNUM FORCE with any of the other sequels.

Graham Powell said...

DIRTY HARRY is one of those films that could not be made at any other time in history. Harry's growing anger throughout the picture - especially revealed in that last snarling speech where he basically dares Zodiac to go for his gun - was probably shared by a lot of the audience.

I thought MAGNUM FORCE was interesting because it argued that Harry was *not* a vigilante. Not sure how successful it was at that, but it tried.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Dirty Harry is definitely a classic. I wonder though, what if Clint Eastwood had directed the movie also. Would we have more depth? More gravitas?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, boy. What a cool idea-having him direct it even now. I bet he could turn it into something with a lot more depth. Maybe a woman could play Dirty Harry. Maybe Dirty Sally. Just don't cast Hilary Swank.

Dana King said...

I love DIRTY HARRY. I haven't seen the whole thing for quite a while; caught the last 20 minutes on TV a month or so ago. Watching the trailer just now leads me to agree completely with Graham's comment. I'd forgotten how easy-going Harry was when he give the speech the first time. Chewing his hot dog, semi-smiling, this is okay with me either way. By the end he's disgusted, and does just about dare the guy to go for it.

A lot of people have said a lot of unflattering things about this movie (fascist comes to mind), but it's a taut and well executed film that doesn't try to be more than it is, and becomes more because of it.