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Monday, June 23, 2008


"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?"
— Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood)

The above quote has gone on to become not only one of the most famous badassed lines ever uttered, but it has also entered the lexicon of general, universal manliness. Harry Callahan is a seriously bad motherfucker and you had damned well better believe it, Jack!

Coming as the peace & love era fizzled out and the Viet Nam conflict ground on as a seemingly-unending charnel house, DIRTY HARRY exploded onto American movie screens with the impact of a blowtorch to the nuts, a work of visceral cinema that seemed at odds with the socio-political climate at the time but was a return to a genre Americans had thrived upon for decades. DIRTY HARRY reimagined the laconic, gun-fighter sheriff hero as a world-weary San Francisco detective whose, er, unique style of crime-fighting often resulted in the nearby area looking like all Hell had broken loose and placed him in the bad graces of his superiors. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood in a career-defining performance) does not fight for the "law," but upholds and enforces justice in the most direct and no-nonsense way humanly possible, taking no shit from the vile creeps who infest his city, corralling them with extreme prejudice or dispatching them with his trusty .44 Magnum revolver (you know Harry's bad because he can fire shot after shot from that hand-cannon one-handed and not be affected by the recoil in the least). He's a John Wayne for the Viet Nam era, and such violent times call for an enforcer every bit as hard and merciless as the time in which he exists, and while we've seen eleventy-jillion "cop on the edge" types since 1971, this is the electrifying film from whence the whole genre sprung, and it's impossible to beat for sheer quality across the board.

Harry is introduced as he investigates a murder in an all-business, by-the-book way, but his proper introduction that tells us everything we need to know about him occurs while he's scarfing down a hot dog, looking like a worn-out old bloodhound with an Elvis 'do, and having his lunch interrupted by a bank robbery taking place across the street. As he continues munching on his dirty water dog, Harry strides out onto the street and begins non-chalantly firing at the getaway car, blasting the living shit out of the perps and their ride, scaring the bejeezus out of innocent bystanders, and driving up Smith & Wesson stock shares.

"You fuckers owe me a goddamned hot dog!!!"

By the time the scene is over we realize we're about to follow an urban hunter as he deals with the daily nightmare of the city and attempts to come to grips with the latest in a very long line of partners (Reni Santoni). During the bits with his new partner, we get to know and understand Harry as a loner and throwback to the days when the written law didn't get in the way of a peace officer using gratuitously violent means to get his job done, an aproach that comes in quite handy when psychotic sniper Scorpio (Andrew Robinson, delivering the textbook example of the seventies movie psycho) starts picking off people at random and demanding two-hundred grand to get him to stop his murderous spree. What follows is a brutal, suspenseful and absolutely gripping two-man war of balls, madness, and cunning as Harry's dogged efforts appear to have little effect on the clever loony while simultaneously putting Harry higher and higher on his superiors' shit list. By the time the film reaches its climax you'll be ready to blow Scorpio's head off yourself, and you won't be disappointed by the way the whole thing wraps up.

Directed by the awesome Don Seigel — the genius who helmed the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, inarguably one of the scariest movies ever made — DIRTY HARRY is a literal blast from start to finish, and its willful mutation of the classic Western formula works to great effect. Taut, mean, and surprisingly witty, the film proved to be a hit that spawned four sequels — of wildly varying quality, as we'll discuss when I get around to reviewing them — and gave birth to a genre whose classics are largely pale imitations of what Seigel and Eastwood pioneered, and now the film is out in a fuckin'-A excellent 2-disc special edition that features commentary, documentaries, trailers, and all kinds of other shit that makes this a bargain at the price — I picked it up new for $15.95 — and a n essential for any serious action film-lover's collection. No bullshit, DIRTY HARRY is the real deal, in all its fascistic, ultra-violent glory, and it's finally received the edition that it so richly deserves.

"Trust Yer Bunche, asshole, or I'll blow yer head clean off!"


Jared said...

My favorite quote is right after that famous one where the bad guy says, "I gots to know". "Gots" heh heh heh...

John Bligh said...

I always felt Dirty Harry was just a continuation of Eastwoods's character from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns made a few years earlier...

Just a tad more cynical.

"Gots"... huh, huh...

Anonymous said...

...both of whom were inspired by Toshiro Mufune's samurai from Yojimbo, which was inspired by Dashell Hammitt's story "Last Man Standing," which was inspired by badass westerns and later filmed with Bruce Willis in the lead role and directed by Walter Warriors Hill.