User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Eastwood, tight direction by Siegel, tension, action
Cons:Tries a bit too hard
The Bottom Line: Not as fascist as some believe, this movie entertains in ways that todays action films could never hope to
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Well known, and much loved, Pauline Kael was one of the most important film critics ever to wield a pen. She called Dirty Harry "cheerfully fascist". I couldn't disagree more strongly with Ms. Kael's opinion. But more on that later.
The 1970's were a magic time. It was the last golden age of cinema. Barriers were being broken, new styles were being created, new voices were emerging, and movies were changing. Amidst all this excitement, even action movies underwent changes. The anti-hero, the Dionysian character, flawed, and hollow, jumped to the fore. Harry Callahan was the epitome of this new breed of movie protagonist. Had Clint Eastwood (Fist Full of Dollars, Unforgiven) not taken the role, one could easily imagine Steve Mcqueen in it.
Harry is a cop "on the edge", as the cliche goes. He's filled with anger, rage, sorrow for his dead wife, fear for the future of his city, and distrust of anyone different from him.
His strong arm tactics are right out of Chicago in the twenties. He likes to shoot first, and maybe not ask questions at all. He beats confessions out of "perps". In Harry's world there are no suspects. Everyone is guilty.
The city is being stalked by a madman. The film seems to suggest that the killer is only slightly more mad than the cop chasing him. This sniper threatens to kill one person per day, until the city gives in and pays him to stop.
When Harry gets close to catching him, the killer kidnaps a young girl, and tries to ransom her back.
The final act occurs after Harry catches the killer, and sees him released due to the illeagal, and brutal techniques employed to capture him.
Of course, that is merely the plot. The real story lies in the action, which is truly unrelenting. The pace of this film (as well as some of its specifics) would be re-used again and again by directors attempting to emulate its success.
Back to where we started. Pauline Kael saw Harry as a hero to a certain, slightly twisted, sort of American Male. She thought that the film espoused the lead character's belief system. In this, she was wrong. A close viewing of the movie shows that Siegel (the director) takes no political stance. In fact, the film goes to some extreme to show Harry in a poor light. And to suggest that cops like him (who certainly exist) cause more crime, by allowing the criminals to escape prosecution.
This film has no position, other than to entertain. In that aim, it succeeds beautifully.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening