Dirty Harold

I sometimes forget the impact that Dirty Harry had on me as a kid. I was expecting it to be some stupid exploitation flick from the 70s, but it turned out to be much more.

Unlike other gritty crime films from the 70s, like The French Connection or The Taking of Pelham 123, director Don Siegel and DP Bruce Surtees shot the movie like it was a western. Clint Eastwood looms large in mythic form over the screen, but he never completely dominates it. Like how the rough and tumble deserts and mountains are a major character in westerns, the streets of San Francisco play a similar role.

But Dirty Harry was slightly ahead of its time. While westerns were fading away, and with it the gunslingers delivering justice on the prairie, Clint Eastwood was offering the a audience a new hero: the pissed off cop that’s tired of rules and regulations and the constant whining from bureaucrats over the rights of individuals. Dirty Harry fit the mood of white conservatives during the age of Nixon and those that wished to return to a simpler ethos of good guys vs bad guys. In short, Dirty Harry was the predecessor to the Cannon Film craze of the 70s through the 80s.

But in my view, the unsung genius of the film is Andrew Robinson as the crazed villain. Even now, it’s an unnerving character…one that no one could get away with today. The closest comparison that I can think of is Heath Ledger’s Joker, but no sensible writer would permit Batman’s arch nemesis to kill, rape, and abduct children. THAT would be crossing the line. But Robinson’s Scorpio does it numerous times throughout the film.

Which is why the ending was so effective. Sure, it’s a cliche to hear Eastwood utter “do you feel lucky?” before blasting his last round into the bad guy. But you actually feel his rage as he asks Scorpio “well do ya? PUNK!!”. In my view, that was Eastwood’s finest moment as an actor.

While Dirty Harry might be synonymous with Clint Eastwood, I think it would be interesting to see the character return to the screen given its political undertones. Obviously Clint Eastwood is too old, and casting someone like Karl Urban to replace him would seem like parody. But now that the nature of masculinity on film has come under scrutiny, and the zeitgeist has turned skeptical towards law enforcement, it would be fascinating to see Harry Callahan return…especially to such a divisive city as San Francisco.

deadpool

I pride myself on having watched most of Clint Eastwood’s films. Yet for some reason, I’ve avoided watching The Dead Pool, which was the final installment for the great Dirty Harry franchise, for the longest time.

Until last night.

And it made me wonder why they didn’t make another Dirty Harry movie. Clearly Eastwood was going out on top of his game. Maybe at the spry age of 92, Clint will pull out .44 Magnum and terrorize the streets of San Francisco once more. But until then, we’re left with The Dead Pool, co-starring the delightful Patricia Clarkson and a ponytailed Liam Neeson.

Now Buddy Van Horn does a pretty solid job here. You’re probably wondering ‘who the fuck is Buddy Van Horn?’ And the answer is simple: he was a stunt man who Clint Eastwood inexplicably chose to direct this picture. But he handles the romance between Harry Callahan and Patricia Clarkson, who is 30 years Eastwood’s junior, with a particular delicacy. It’s very easy to understand why a young, attractive, and ambitious journalist would fall for a crabby, old San Francisco cop that everyone is trying to kill.

Not only is Liam Neeson particularly Irish in this picture, we’re also treated to an early performance from Jim Carrey, who, though on the screen for only five minutes, poorly lip synchs to Guns N’Roses and overacts his way through a drug overdose.

Now if Clint Eastwood is good at one thing, it’s engaging in sensitive cultural issues, especially regarding Asian-Americans (see Gran Torino). For this installment, Harry Callahan is paired with Evan C. Kim, an actor born to Korean immigrants, this time playing a Chinese-American. The shootout in a Chinatown restaurant is superbly handled as Callahan fires away after reading from a fortune cookie.

So how does this picture stack up to other San Francisco based action flicks? Pretty good. Especially if you’ve ever wondered how the chase from Bullitt would have looked if it featured a remote controlled toy car. 👍