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.