Friday, April 23, 2010
Dirty Harry (1971)
Dirty Harry (1971)
“Something you gotta ask yourself. Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” This is what everyone thinks of when Dirty Harry is mentioned. It really is a cool line, so cool in fact that Dirty Harry Calhoun (Clint Eastwood) says it twice during the course of the film. This film is truly a guy’s film: a beat-em-up shoot-em-up Eastwood western which is taken and transplanted into the modern day. This film is more than just a mindless action film though, this film sends a message about law vs. need, and if there are situations in which torture is acceptable (sounds quite relevant, doesn’t it?)
The film opens to a woman taking a dip in a rooftop pool. It then cuts to a sniper scope whose crosshairs are trained on the woman, before she is eventually shot. Cut to our main character, Harry Calhoun, played by Clint Eastwood, who arrives at the scene to look for any evidence. From the beginning, it is quite obvious that Calhoun is what one would describe as a badass. It’s the same character Eastwood plays every time, and the same character I will be reviewing several more times to come throughout this list. He’s a soft-spoken, quick drawing, shoot first ask questions later kind of guy. This is made obvious from the start where he is sitting in a hot dog stand when a bank robbery brakes out across the street. In lieu of any police nearby, Harry goes out on his own, and single handedly takes out all of the bank robbers, leaving one alive, who is reaching for his shotgun, leading to the famous line of the movie. Harry brings the remaining robber in, and we are introduced to the story: the man who shot the woman is threatening to shoot more unless he gets paid a ransom. Calhoun gets put on the case, and is given a new partner because all his standard partners are hurt. The rest of the film is a wild ride to try to bring the bad guy in, that goes through several interesting twists and turns through the picturesque city of San Francisco.
The acting in this movie is quite good, especially from Eastwood, who by this time, certainly knows how to deliver them. The performance of the antagonist Andrew Robinson is equally good. He doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time until the end of the movie, but what he does is very good. You really do end up hating him, and are happy when Eastwood, inevitably catches him. The action is also very good. There are several of them, and the director Siegel does a good job with them. For every single one of them I found myself on the edge of my seat. The best of these was the one in which the little girl was taken hostage, and the antagonist Scorpio had Harry running all over San Francisco with limited time to get from checkpoint to checkpoint.
The shooting was equally incredible. The film already does itself a plus by setting the film in San Francisco, which is my favorite city. The filming takes place all over the city, and a lot of it looks like a tourism advertisement for San Francisco, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are also a lot of very cool shots, such as the one with the scope zeroing in on the woman, the shots done where Harry is running all over San Francisco, and the chase scenes which cut to the face of the shooter, followed by a quick show of the effect, which does a good job of creating tension in the shootouts.
The film is more than just a mindless action film, however, the film also has an important message, and a couple interesting references. The fact that the film takes place in 1971 San Francisco and the central antagonist is named Scorpio is an interesting reference to the Zodiac Killer. Additionally, the film has a very poignant message firstly about getting the job done versus doing things by the book, and secondly about torture. This occurs late into the film where Calhoun manages to pin down Scorpio, and gets a confession out of him, but does it by torturing him. Because of this, the evidence is thrown out, and Scorpio gets off scot-free. Naturally, Scorpio goes back to his life of crime, and Harry is forced to catch the man a second time. With all of today’s talk about water boarding, torture, and treatment of POWs today, this makes the film even more relevant today.
So why is this film on the list? There are several reasons, actually. Firstly, this is a Clint Eastwood film. Clint Eastwood is so archetypal, so titanic in his defining of the action film genre, that it would be a major crime to leave the big Clint Eastwood films (this one, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, for example) would be a crime as bad as leaving out a Hitchcock film. Additionally, this film is on the list because it established what a good cop film is. This film paved the way for such films as Die Hard (also on the list). This film really is a must-see for any lover of action films!