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Dirty Harry (1971)

Action & Adventure movie directed by Don Siegel starring Clint Eastwood

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The Urban Cleanser

  • Oct 6, 2003
This is the first of five "Dirty Harry" films in which Eastwood stars as a San Francisco police detective. By the time the last appeared (The Dead Pool, in 1988), Eastwood had aged and times had changed but Callahan's values and methods remained essentially the same. When initially released, Dirty Harry was immediately controversial as was Death Wish (1974). Audiences tended to be divided between those who were offended by what they considered to be excessive violence and those who (like Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey) had lost confidence in society's willingness and/or ability to respond effectively to violent crime. After seeing each of the two films for the first time, I vividly recall joining those around me in the theatre as they rose and cheered...and continue to applaud for several minutes. I asked myself, "What's going on here? What's this all about?"

At least in the larger U.S. cities 30 years ago, residents had become totally fed up with traditional law enforcement initiatives. It was no longer safe to walk the streets at night. Even more dangerous to do so in public parks. Homes were robbed while people worked during the day. Many of the same homes were robbed again later after insurance coverage replaced the articles previously stolen. Racial animosities, drug abuse, and a widespread contempt for institutional authority all contributed to such problems.

Under Don Siegel's crisp direction, Eastwood and his associates in the cast bring R.M. Fink's screenplay to life (and yes, to death) as they focus on what is obviously an irreconcilable conflict between Callahan and his superiors who include the mayor of San Francisco. Callahan's motto seems to be "Whatever it takes." In some situations, it may take his 44 Magnum, "the most powerful handgun in the world." Callahan has not totally lost faith in his society nor in the importance of the legal system. However, he does feel betrayed. The mayor and even Lieutenant Bressler (Harry Guardino) just don't "get it." This is precisely the same point Jim Malone (Sean Connery) makes to Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in The Untouchables 26 years later: When orthodox ("by the book") crime-fighting strategies and tactics don't succeed, use others even if they are not (at least technically) legal. Countless other films (such as Magnum Force, The French Connection, and L.A. Confidential) also make the same point.

It is important to remember when seeing this film again, as I did recently, that it portrays elements of an urban society few of us ever experience. Also, that it is a drama, not a documentary. Its primary purpose is to tell a story. The plot focuses on a serial killer named "Scorpio" (Andy Robinson) whom Callahan is determined to eliminate. Even when he eventually does so, questions remain. Don't criminals also have rights? What would happen if all or most other detectives followed Callahan's example? To what extent (if any) should private citizens also be actively involved in law enforcement? I agree with several critics who claim that, with Dirty Harry, Siegel and Eastwood created a new film genre. Its influence proved to be substantial. Each viewer must decide for herself or himself how much social relevance it has retained after 32 years but almost everyone would agree that it has lost little of its entertainment value.

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More Dirty Harry (1971 movie) reviews
review by . December 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Well how do you like that?!  You get the brass ring in your sights, after a long and painful journey and someone hits the reset button on you.  They say those are the rules and they had to do it, MAYBE you can see they're argument but you know you just got screwed badly.  It stings having to do your job ALL OVER AGAIN, but not as much knowing that it's going to do more harm then good.      Dirty Harry is THE cop movie.  No wisecracking buddies or gimmicks, …
review by . April 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****       In many ways, "Dirty Harry" is just like all the other run-of-the-mill revenge flicks out there, although there is, in fact, a slight catch; "Dirty Harry" was pretty original at the time. It's the kind of film that sets the stage for a certain part of a certain genre, preferably here, the action sub-genre known as the "cop film", but this does not mean that we love it. I find it just as hard to love "Dirty Harry" as I do to hate it. There's an …
review by . August 15, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Clint Eastwood     Cons: full of cons and he's putting them in jail     The Bottom Line: _______________        "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, did he fire six shots or only five? Well to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: do I feel …
review by . May 15, 2003
"Well, do ya, punk?"  If you recently watched this film, I'm sure you do. "Dirty Harry" is a legendary action film and a classic Eastwood flick, definitely among his greatest. Eastwood is "Dirty" Harry Callahan, a cop who always gets the job done - anyway it takes. Well-directed with a dynamite script and a funky score; definitely not something you should miss. Now what else was I gonna say...  "Well to tell you the truth I've forgot myself in all this excitement."
review by . January 04, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
Action-Packed this movie definitely is. Clint Eastwood delivers his own brand of justice in tracking down a serial killer to plagues the city of San Fransisco. The plot certainly has many exciting twists and turns as the elusive villain (Andy Robinson) is able to dodge a conviction because Eastwood's anger gets the best of him. However, Robinson to hijack a bus full of school children and Dirty Harry spots the opening and tracks his man down. Was it five shots or six, but Mr. Robinson sure was not …
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Robert Morris ()
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Whether or not you can sympathize with its fascistic-vigilante approach to law enforcement,Dirty Harry(directed by star Clint Eastwood's longtime friend and directorial mentor, Don Siegel) is one hell of a cop thriller. The movie makes evocative use of its San Francisco locations as cop Harry Callahan (Eastwood) tracks the elusive "Scorpio killer" who has been terrorizing the city by the Bay. As the psychopath's trail grows hotter, Harry becomes increasingly impatient and intolerant of the frustrating obstacles (departmental red tape, individuals' civil rights) that he feels are keeping him from doing his job. A characteristically taut and tense piece of filmmaking from Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers,The Shootist,Escape from Alcatraz), it also remains a fascinating slice of American pop culture. It was a big hit (followed by four sequels) that obviously reflected--or exploited--the almost obsessive or paranoid fears and frustrations many Americans felt about crime in the streets. At a time when "law and order" was a familiar slogan for political candidates, Harry Callahan may have represented neither, but from his point of view his job was simple: stop criminals. To him that end justified any means he deemed necessary.--Jim Emerson
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Director: Don Siegel
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 1971
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: November 20, 2001
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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