There is perhaps no more iconic cinema ‘cop who gets the job done’ than Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. He made the first of five appearances in Dirty Harry (1971) dishing out justice and spouting one-liners like a rogue James Bond.
Not always the most professional of cops, Harry is on the trail of a serial killer in San Francisco. The lapses in professionalism are not all that surprising. What is though is the repeated incompetence of Harry and his colleagues. There are a number of times right from the start of the film where they have the bad guy totally cornered and he manages to give them the slip. So the tension is not from working out whodunit, but rather from the repeated failures of Callahan and co to get the sucker. It sounds awkward and like a film scattered with logic gaps, but it actually works really well and makes for a different feel to the standard collection of clues with a late reveal. It is a crime film where you could say the focus is not particularly on the crime. There is a little less tension and intrigue as there could be as a result but that is not really what the film is geared towards in any case.
The thing that Dirty Harry nails best is the feel of it all. It is a lean film with sparse dialogue that feels accurately streetwise. It is hard to know how much of the film is innovative, or if it is just really well done. There is definitely a lot here that has become part of the crime film vernacular. The film takes on a really ominous bent during its latter stages. It continues to experiment with the traditional narrative arc of a crime film and also fleshes out the villain, who morphs into a really creepy presence. The film comments on the relationship between the fuzz and the public and the ways that this relationship can break down if trust is violated (or even if that is just the perception). It is also through these later moments that Eastwood comes to really inhabit his ‘man against the system’ (anti)hero. Aside from all those Westerns where he was utterly perfectly cast, you kind of feel that this is the role Clint was born to play. Tonally, the film is overwhelmingly masculine. There are not really any women to be seen here, not even a token, obligatory love interest is bothered with. Rightly or wrongly, this totally masculine environment does seep into the film and the story, informing pretty much all of it.
Less bombastic than a contemporary crime film would ever dare to be, Dirty Harry makes the most of Eastwood’s ‘iconic-ness’ and a willingness to be both classic and daring in its approach. It is perhaps a little too slow at times but overall but this is more than cancelled out by the occasional flash of intensity in narrative and performance.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
2014 Progress: 2/101