Dirty Harry

Posted: May 13, 2012 in 70's Retrospective

The 70’s is a favourite era of mine for 2 reasons – some true classics were made and I got to see most of them on the big screen when first released. Two things invariably distinquish 70’s movies for me – the colour and the music. The colour still looks great today, the music tends to date them significantly. The background music in this film however adds dramatic effect to many scenes and is well used and rarely better in this era of films. I have clear recollection of seeing this first on the big screen although as it was released in 1971 and was R rated I must not have seen it on Premiere. I snuck into many an R rated movie before I turned the magic age but even I would not have tried it at 13! Many viewings subsequently and now this last Sunday night all in its Blu Ray glory. I have to say it never loses its appeal for me.

San Francisco makes a great set for movies with iconic structures and streets.Bullit utilised this perfectly. This movie tends to stay away from the obvious ones although we do have glimpses of Golden Gate Bridge at times including one powerful framed shot when the young girl’s body is recovered. One aspect of San Francisco alluded to in the early stages of this film was the growing gay subculture. The third installment (The Enforcer) uses Alcatraz extensively but suffers in all comparisons. This is clearly the original and best Callahan movie although Magnun Force has its moments and its message. There are some wonderfully framed shots in this movie from the first appearance of Scorpio approaching the cross in the park, the brutality of the stadium scene, Harry standing on the overhead bridge and even the final kick to the head from the thug earning $200 the easy way. Siegel is fond of the long distance fade away and it works well, none better than the final scene as police sirens approach in the distance and Harry tosses badge 2211 away. Don Siegel had earlier made Coogan’s Bluff with Eastwood but Callahan has evolved from the Raylan like Coogan into a more complex character. Early in the movie there are a couple of religous symbols – Jesus Saves, The Cross in the park – is Harry playing God? No, Harry is happy being Judge, Jury and executioner and has his own strong moral code. The movie raises the issues of civil liberties and the rights of all people not just the victims. This does not sit well in the black and white world Harry lives in. His wife was killed in a random drink driving accident while scum like Scorpio have rights? He understands why Chico should walk away from the job but cant explain why he stays.

Andy Robinson is a superb as the psychopath ably displaying the swift transition from seemingly normal to mental disintegration in the blink of an eye. The other star of the movie of course is the 44 Magnum which takes on a character all of its own at times in this and subsequent installments and as Scorpio quite succintly acknowledges “ooh its a big one”. Once again Siegel often frames the shot around this centrepiece and then slowly draws back to Harry – the final framing with just a single drop of blood on the gun sight works wonderfully well. There are many iconic scenes and the one most often quoted plays out in a suitably circular fashion. Have I fired 5 or 6 shots – well do you feel lucky punk? When it counts he always has the one bullet he needs – much like when there is a dirty job to be done we always have Harry to do it.

Eastwood knows films. In one scene we see Play Misty For Me (released same year) is showing at the cinema in the background. It is easy to dismiss Eastwood as always playing similar characters but there is always an extra dimension to his tough guy character that is difficult to pinpoint. A certain easy charm maybe but you always sense Eastwood subtly enriches the words on the page before they become images before our eyes which is why he became the director he is. Its a simple film – good versus bad – but there are layers there that make it a enjoyable watch on repeat veiwings.You know what you are getting and yet somehow find a little extra every time.

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