Poor Harry Callahan – a.k.a. Dirty Harry; misinterpreted as everything from a brutish Neanderthal, dragging his bruised knuckles on the Linoleum, to a sexist/racist pig (figuratively and literally – ‘pig’, of course being the derogatory slang for ‘cop’) and vigilante who enjoys the self-righteous kill. When Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry debuted in 1971, it touched off a powder keg of liberal debate over the state of the country and the amount of violence permissible in the movies. There’s no getting around the fact Dirty Harry was a product of its time. Yet, it’s more than a little difficult to swallow film critic, Pauline Kael’s snap assessment of Dirty Harry as a ‘gestapo movie’, perhaps because Kael – like so many of her ilk and vintage – tended to wallow in clever, skewed opinions, transparently camouflaged as legitimate film critique. Personally, I’ve never warmed to Kael as a critic – her take on Harry (Clint Eastwood), as the ignoble fascist about as far off the mark as ‘legitimate’ film critique can get without becoming just plain ridiculous and silly.
There’s no denying Dirty Harry touched off a powder keg of critical discourse about police brutality, its detractors queued from the political left and feminist spheres of influence; enough for the latter to campaign outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oscar night with banners held high that read ‘Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig!’ Indeed, when Siegel first proposed the movie, based on ‘Dead Right’ - a draft from Harry Julian and Rita M. Fink – he was to encounter heady opposition on all fronts; not the least in his search to cast a big name above the title. Initially, the project was proposed to Robert Mitchum – who frequently played such laconic bastards in many a forties film noir. But even Mitchum ‘had standards’ – or rather, chose to play it safe, calling the script “a piece of junk.” Dirty Harry might have become an ABC movie of the week, if only producer, Jennings Lang had been able to quash the network’s fears about the level of violence.
The project languished thereafter, though not for long; Warner Bros. buying the option as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra, then 55, had reshaped his image from sixties swinger into hardboiled detective with a string of minor hits scattered throughout the mid to late 1960’s. Although Don Siegel ultimate came to direct the movie, he was hardly the studio’s first choice; WB briefly considering Sidney Pollack, then Irvin Kershner – who actually signed on, then bowed out (along with Sinatra), once again leaving the project in limbo. Invariably, other A-list names became briefly attached to the project; Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen among them. It was Newman who suggested to the studio that Clint Eastwood might be ‘right’ for the part. Lang sent Eastwood the script while he was wrapping up production on Play Misty for Me (1969); Eastwood’s directorial debut, the actor agreeing to sign on, but only if his own company – Malpaso – could produce it.
It’s difficult today – nee impossible – to imagine any other actor in the role of Harry Callahan; Eastwood transposing his ‘God’s lonely man with no name’ from the western milieu, for which his early career had justly profited and thrived, from sagebrush and tumbleweed onto the crime-laden streets of contemporary San Francisco. Dirty Harry is, arguably, Clint Eastwood’s defining moment as an actor, Eastwood bringing his own inimitable charm to bear on this ‘take charge’, overtly masculine defender of the right, regardless of what the law or his superiors say. The pithy lines from the franchise have long been seared into our collective consciousness; “Go ahead…make my day” the most frequently revived.
Yet, if life imitates art, and art influences the plagiarists, then every modern day action hero – from Bruce Willis’ John McClaine in Die Hard (1988) to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando (1985) owes Harry Callahan an eternal debt of gratitude. In retrospect, the progression seems almost natural. Pre-Dirty Harry, movie detectives – even those featured in gritty 40’s noir – were relatively by the book, functioning within the framework of the law to achieve a positive outcome. Harry Callahan altered this perception – arguably for the better; director, John Milius (called in to massage the original screenplay, and who would direct the second film in the franchise, Magnum Force 1973) affording Eastwood’s ready to rumble cop his trademarked .44 magnum, as Harry puts it “the most powerful gun in the world”.
Harry Callahan’s debut coincides with a tumultuous period in American history, right on the heels of the political assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, buffeted by the Nixon Watergate scandal, America’s devastating human losses in Vietnam and ‘race’ and ‘anti-war’ riots seemingly spontaneously breaking out across the country. There was, to be sure, a distinct sense across the fruited plains that America had lost its way; the steady moral decline suddenly eroded into a free for all of cynicism and disillusionment with the status quo. Indeed, Harry Callahan is a response to all this and more; his distinct contempt for authority at odds with the fact Callahan belongs to the very organization he detests. Yet, it is far too easy to dismiss the character as a thug vigilante, primarily because Eastwood’s seemingly ‘lawless’ law man is actually defying the bureaucracy grown up around the rule of law and not the law itself per say.
In effect, Eastwood’s detached angry man with a gun had tapped into an open wound of socio-political dissention. Harry Callahan is articulating the popular rage – particularly among the then new breed of American male movie goer who, in an age of feminism, had been emasculated and made irrelevant. In some ways, Dirty Harry is a crude rebuttal to feminism; Harry’s love ‘em and leave ‘em mentality when it comes to women (mostly tarts and hookers), his inability to accept women as equals on the police force, and his general disregard when dealing with anyone who doesn’t see things his way, feeding off the public’s desire for just such a no-nonsense anti-hero to save the day and restore America’s ‘traditional values’. Even so, Harry Callahan is not a traditionalist, so much as he lives by his own set of rules; an almost intuitive ethical compass that continues to serve him extremely well.
Dirty Harry is often references as an ‘urban western’. To be sure, there are distinct parallels between Eastwood’s contemporary lawman and that high plains drifter so eloquently evolved in his numerous westerns; men of action, their personal convictions worn on their sleeves and superseding the code adhered to by the rest of society; incapable of procuring any lasting or meaningful relationships – either with women or, in fact, lasting friendships with other men. No, Harry Callahan is the lone incorruptible figure in a world spiraling out of control all around him. Harry Callahan’s debut also coincides with the then newly instated ‘Miranda’; a direct response to the technocrats disemboweling of the law itself, thus rendering society incapable of remaining safe under its auspices. Thus, as the law now concerns itself with the rights of the accused, Harry Callahan remains firmly entrenched in protecting the rights of the victim by whatever use of force he deems necessary.
Harry Callahan is, therefore, an urban warrior – the man no one particularly wants to acknowledge, but everyone is grateful to have on their side when the chips are down. He is incorruptible and insatiably driven by an intuitive ethic – almost Biblical in its ability to discern and conquer the odds in favor of the downtrodden and victimized. In retrospect, Don Siegel was the ideal director for Dirty Harry; a tough anti-authoritarian who didn’t suffer fools and commanded utmost respect as a consummate pro; Siegel’s career dates all the way back to doing montage work on Casablanca (1942).
Curiously, there is a certain ‘glamor’ to Harry Callahan – the audience gravitating to his brand of cold justice almost instinctually as the avenging angel who shows no mercy to the criminal element. Nowhere is Callahan’s disdain for evil more obvious than in the moment he wounds the deranged, though unarmed, ‘Scorpio’ (Andy Robinson) in an abandoned stadium, twisting the heel of his shoe into the open wound to make the killer confess to the whereabouts of his latest victim; Ann Marie Deacon – a girl raped, bound and gagged and left in a hole to die. “Who speaks for her?” Callahan asks the Mayor (John Vernon) after being told to tone down his high profile vigilantism. Together, Siegel and Clint Eastwood have remade Harry Callahan into their own shared image of tough justice – one immediately embraced by the public and thereafter endlessly revived in imitations: everything from Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series to television’s popular cop drama, Hunter (1984-91), starring Fred Dryer.
Dirty Harry opens with a spectacular vista of San Francisco – that uber-glamorous city by the bay. Alas, as we quietly observe a sensual young woman (Diana Davidson) taking a dip in the rooftop pool of one of the many high rises, Bruce Surtees cinematography pulls back to reveal an assassination about to take place. The unseen killer fires a single shot from a high powered rifle, killing the woman instantly. Enter Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood); stoic, probing and with an ominous glint caught in his eye. While the rest of the force is busy gathering evidence, Callahan takes in a deep breath, discovering a queer ransom note. It’s a ritual killing. The nightmare is just beginning.
Like the plot in totem, the first act of Dirty Harry is more than a little unorthodox. We follow Callahan through a series of unrelated ‘day in the life of a cop’ vignettes; each establishing Harry’s no holds barred stance on criminals. The set piece of Dirty Harry’s first act involves Callahan’s attempts to thwart a bank robbery in progress. In short order, Harry dispatches the getaway driver and his accomplice; the car driving into a fire hydrant before tipping on its side – occupants; dead. Harry then wounds one of the fleeing robbers (Raymond Johnson), uttering the first memorable bit of dialogue from the franchise. “I know what you’re thinking,” he tells the wounded man, “Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind’a lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you got to ask yourself one question….‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
The Harry Julian and Rita M. Fink, and Dean Riesner screenplay gets back on track as the killer – aka Scorpio (Andy Robinson) – is revealed to be a retired Vet who plans to hold the city hostage. Each day another innocent will die unless Scorpio is paid $100,000 and given safe conduct to a place with no U.S. extradition. The next intended target has already been identified as either “a Catholic priest or a nigger”, leading police on a citywide wild goose chase. Their first ambush of Scorpio goes badly; Scorpio killing a police officer disguised as a priest. In retaliation, Scorpio kidnaps Ann Mary Deacon (Debralee Scott), brutally assaulting, then burying her alive. The clock is ticking. Time is running out. But the Chief of Police (John Larch) and the Mayor (John Vernon) are at a loss to catch this obviously deranged individual. Alas, they send in Dirty Harry and his partner Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni). Asked to clarify why he’s called ‘dirty’, Harry explains how the department regards him as something of a renegade; fit only for the shoveling. He proves it too, rescuing a suicide jumper (Bill Couch) from a narrow ledge by taunting, rather than coaxing, him down to safety.
The Mayor forewarns Harry. He doesn’t want any grandstanding; particularly not a repeat of the incident last year in the Fillmore District where Harry shot a naked assailant pursuing a woman with a carving knife dead. So Harry and Chico get rigged with a wiretap and a briefcase full of money; Scorpio sending Harry on foot all over the city, quietly observing his every move as he gets closer and closer to the prearranged destination; Mount Davidson. There, Scorpio attacks Callahan and steals his briefcase, but not before Harry manages to wound Scorpio in the calf with a concealed knife. In the ensuing gunfight, Scorpio shoots Gonzalez, who recovers from his wounds, but later resigns from the force under duress from his doting wife, Norma (Lyn Edgington), leaving Callahan to go it alone against Scorpio.
In what will prove to be Harry’s only break, the doctor, Steve (Marc Hertsens) tending his own wounds, informs Harry and his new partner, Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) he has seen Scorpio coming and going from Kezar Stadium. On nothing more than a hunch, the pair break into the stadium, Callahan shooting Scorpio in his already wounded leg, then applying pressure with his foot to force Scorpio into divulging the whereabouts of Mary Ann Deacon. Alas, too little/too late for the girl, discovered in a lonely stretch of abandoned earth near the Golden Gate Bridge, run out of oxygen and dead. The Mayor and the Chief are furious with Callahan, as his illegal search of the stadium – a.k.a. Scorpio’s home – has rendered all evidence found there inadmissible in a court of law.
Determined to catch Scorpio in a slipup, Callahan follows his every move, trolling the seedy Frisco underground. To thwart Callahan’s plan, Scorpio pays to be beaten to a pulp, blaming the assault on Callahan and whipping up a media frenzy about police brutality. After stealing a gun, Scorpio takes bus driver, Marcella Platt (Ruth Kobart) and a busload of grade school children hostage. But Callahan is nearby, diving from a railroad trestle onto the roof of the bus and forcing Scorpio to crash it into a dirt embankment. Callahan makes chase, pursuing Scorpio through the mechanized bowels of a rock quarry. Scorpio manages his escape to a nearby lake where a young boy (Steve Zachs) is fishing. Scorpio threatens to shoot the child, but Callahan’s precision with his magnum finishes this psycho off at long last with two quick kills shots. Realizing he has trespassed against the law he has sworn to uphold, or perhaps, simply disgusted by the bureaucracy ready to pounce on him, Callahan removes his badge from his wallet and casts it into the water.
Dirty Harry’s final moments are an obvious homage to Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952); the world-weary lawman fed up with being the lone voice of reason in a world utterly gone insane. The character of Scorpio was actually based on the Zodiac Killer, who had terrorized the Bay Area several years earlier. In viewing the film today, its most impressive attributes remain the screenplay, cobbled together by Harry Julian and Rita M. Fink, also Dean Riesner and Clint Eastwood’s proficiency both in front of and behind the camera. In fact, Eastwood performed all of his own stunts, including the perilous plummet off the trestle onto the roof of the bus, causing a few corporate heads at WB to cringe. The film’s release was hardly heralded by the studio, fearing a negative backlash from its decidedly gritty portrait. Ironically, while most critics were self-righteously appalled, expressing their disdain via some fairly scathing reviews, the public flocked to see what all the fuss was about, making Dirty Harry a colossal hit.
The movie’s unexpected success sparked a franchise, begun with a rebuttal to Pauline Kael’s erroneous claim Harry Callahan was a fascist. Director John Milius’ Magnum Force (1973) clearly establishes Harry Callahan as a patriot first and foremost. Hence, Harry’s perceived vigilantism is turned inward in Magnum Force, Callahan pursuing rogue cops on the SFPD who have taken it upon themselves to exterminate the criminal element even before they can commit a crime. If anything, Magnum Force is a much more violent picture than Dirty Harry; Eastwood’s portrait of the defiant defender of victim’s rights slightly morphing. As the original had done, Magnum Force touched off a spirited debate; this time about movie violence and its effects on popular culture.
There remain two schools of thought on the subject of cinema violence – a debate that rages on: first. The first school believes illustrations of violence on the movie screen incite people to react violently in their own daily interactions with other people. However, another discourse suggests screen violence is a mirror of contemporary society merely amplified to prove its point. It acts as a cathartic release; allowing the audience to purge their evil impulses vicariously through their own voyeurism, but without actually acting upon the impulse to emulate what they’ve seen in their own lives. At the time of Magnum Force’s release, the question of whether art imitates life or vice versa was kicked into high gear; moral and religious pundits weighing in with a show of indignation and political lobbying.
Magnum Force definitely contributed to this heated debate, its plot begun in earnest with the release of mobster, Carmine Ricca (Richard Devon), who has dodged incarceration again after being acquitted on a technicality of law. Piling into his getaway car with three of his cronies, Ricca thumbs his nose at a flock of incensed protestors gathered outside the courthouse. But only a few blocks away, Ricca’s car is pulled over by a patrolman who ominously assassinates this entourage before casually driving off. We move on to reunite with our anti-hero; Harry Callahan, impersonating an airline pilot in order to foil a potential hijacking. Once again, Harry’s heavy-handed vengeance (he takes out the potential hijackers in a blaze of glory) meets with unfavorable review from his superiors, especially Lieutenant Neil Briggs (Hal Holbrook). The feeling, alas, is mutual, Callahan insisting “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Harry gets a new partner, Earlington Smith (Felton Perry), the two assigned to investigate the Ricca assassinations. Not long after, Callahan meets rookie officers, Philip Sweet (Tim Matheson), John Davis (David Soul), Alan ‘Red’ Astrachan (Kip Niven), and Michael Grimes (Robert Urich) on the gun range, fairly impressed by their collective marksmanship and surprised to learn each sincerely regards him as their role model. Meanwhile, the mysterious spree of seemingly random criminal assassinations continues. A mobster’s pool party is turned into a gruesome blood bath after a sniper uses satchel charges and a sub-machine gun to aerate the gathering. In another part of town, a pimp (Albert Popwell) who murdered one of his own prostitutes (Margaret Avery) by pouring a can of Drain-o down her throat is pulled over by a seemingly harmless traffic cop who shoots him at close range. In investigating this fresh kill, Callahan comes to realize the pimp let his killer come close, even attempting to bribe him with a wallet full of cash.
Deducing a cop might be involved, Callahan begins to suspect his old buddy, Charlie McCoy (Mitchell Ryan) who has since grown sullen and suicidal after his wife, Carol (Christine White) left him. Playing the hunch, Harry pays Carol a call; the two flirting over dinner. Alas, like all of Harry’s ‘relationships’, this one goes nowhere, thanks to Carol’s children and an urgent call from his partner. Back at his apartment building, Callahan meets Sunny (Adele Yoshioka), his downstairs neighbor, who casually inquires, “What does a girl have to do to go to bed with you?” Harry’s reply, “Try knocking on the door,” leading to a brief romantic détente later on. Again, Callahan’s love life is interrupted, this time by Briggs who summons him in the dead of night to the city morgue to examine more victims, also to reinstate Callahan to homicide detail.
The body count continues to rise with the assassination of drug kingpin, Lou Guzman (Clifford A. Pellow) who, unbeknownst to the assassin, is already under police surveillance by Harry’s old partner, Frank DeGeorgio (John Mitchum). Frank sees McCoy enter Guzman’s apartment. But McCoy, unaware of the assassin cop already in the parking garage, is killed to eliminate all potential witnesses. In the meantime, Callahan shares his suspicions about McCoy with Briggs who informs him of McCoy’s murder. Later, during a combat pistol championship, Davis takes top honors. Frank informs Callahan Davis was, in fact, the first officer on the scene of the Guzman/McCoy murders. It now becomes quite clear to Harry that Davis is likely their killer. To get proof to back up his assumption, Harry casually asks to borrow Davis’ weapon for a test fire, imbedding a slug in a nearby wall, later retrieved by Harry and sent to ballistics for testing. It’s a match with the bullets retrieved from the Guzman/McCoy murders. Harry confides in Briggs his suspicions about a secret ‘death squad’ within the department, responsible for the rash of murders in the Bay Area; a claim dismissed by Briggs, who suggests a more likely prospect in mob killer, Frank Palancio (Tony Giorgio), presently embroiled in a territorial gangland war.
Harry deliberately requests Davis and Sweet as his backup for a hit on Palancio’s operation. Alas, Palancio’s men kill Sweet before they too are wiped out in a hailstorm of bullets. After the raid, Davis, Astrachan and Grimes confront Harry in a parking garage, believing Harry set Sweet up and revealing they are the strike force responsible for the multiple homicides. Davis encourages Harry to join them on their vigilante crusade. “You’ve misjudged me,” Callahan openly admits. And although Davis, Grimes and Astrachan leave Harry alone, a short while later Callahan discovers a bomb in his mailbox, unable to forewarn Smith of the likelihood of a similar device hidden in his. Smith’s bomb is detonated, instantly killing him. Now, Callahan telephones Briggs with his bomb as the proof needs to expose Grimes, Astrachan and Davis. Too bad for Harry he has underestimated Briggs; the actual leader of their operation. Briggs takes Callahan hostage at gunpoint, Grimes, Astrachan and Davis escorting the car to an abandoned warehouse near the docks.
Callahan manages to knock Briggs unconscious, taking a few hair-pin turns before hitting Grimes head on and killing him instantly. Now Callahan ditches his car at the naval graveyard, fleeing on foot into one of the rusted and moored aircraft carriers. In the darkened bowels of the ship, Harry outsmarts his assailants, beating Astrachan to death and engaging Davis in a race across the tarmac on motorcycle. It all ends predictably, when Harry ditches his bike over the side of the ship, Davis losing control and plummeting off the edge to his death. But Callahan has one last unwelcome surprise; Briggs – bleeding profusely but still menacing as he threatens to charge Callahan as a cop killer. Unbeknownst to Briggs, Harry has activated the mailbox bomb in the trunk of the car. As Briggs endeavors to drive off the bomb explodes, Callahan half grimacing as he mutters the movie’s tagline: “A man's got to know his limitations.”
If anything, Magnum Force is a more fascinating and intricately scripted successor to Dirty Harry; co-writers John Milius and Michael Cimino crafting a rather compelling narrative that addresses the first movie’s detractors while remaining faithful to the spirit of the original. 1976’s The Enforcer would round out Eastwood’s 70’s tenure as Frisco’s most notorious lawman. The original premise for ‘Dirty Harry III’ (as it was initially labeled) was penned by Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr – a pair of film students and devotees of the first two movies. Under the working title ‘Moving Target’, Hickman and Schurr embroiled Harry Callahan in a faux Patty Hearst kidnapping scenario. Pitching the idea to Eastwood via his business partner, Paul Lippman, Hickman and Schurr were marginally disappointed to learn Warner Bros. had already commissioned screenwriter, Stirling Silliphant for a new ‘Dirty Harry’ movie.
The Silliphant draft incorporated a female partner for Harry. While Eastwood liked this angle, there was precious little else that caught his eye, electing instead to share the Hickman/Schurr screenplay with Silliphant who wholeheartedly agreed to use it as the basis for his rewrite. But Eastwood remained disenchanted with Silliphant’s work, hiring Dean Riesner to rework his prose. Tyne Daly – eventually cast as Kate Moore – had turned down the role thrice before agreeing to co-star; afforded considerable leeway to evolve her character with Riesner’s assistance. Ultimately, Eastwood had final say on the script, choosing to excise whole portions of dialogue to maintain Harry Callahan’s minimalist approach to conversation; the net result – The Enforcer was whittled down to 95 minutes; a very short feature.
In retrospect, The Enforcer’s plot is arguably, one of the weakest in the franchise, beginning in Marin County where two gas company men are lured to their death by a scantily-clad hitchhiker, Miki (Jocelyn Jones), who plies them with hints of sexual promises; enough to be driven to a remote cabin overlooking the coast in Mill Valley where they are murdered by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter). We segue to another aerial helicopter shot of Frisco and the main title credits, before delving into familiar Callahan country; Harry and his partner, Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) ruining a harmless scammer, Freddie the Fainter’s (Joe Bellan) attempt to steal a free lunch from a rather chichi restaurant by feigning a heart attack. Next, Harry foils an armed robbery in progress at a liquor store. This latter act is cause for concern, particularly after the robbers demand a getaway car in exchange for their releasing hostages unharmed. Harry gives them a car, alright – his, driving through the plate glass window, guns blazing, as he systematically takes out the robbers and saves the day.
Alas, his renegade tactics hold little charm for Capt. McKay (Bradford Dillman) who reassigns Callahan to a new post in personnel. A short while later, Harry is sitting on the board of review for potential new candidates; one of them - Officer Kate Moore (Tyne Daly) - has ambitions of making inspector. Harry is unimpressed, harboring a certain sexist attitude toward women aspiring to any position in law enforcement. But, at least with Moore, his argument seems well supported. Harry challenges Moore on her record which includes no prior experience in felony or misdemeanor arrests. Clearly, the mayor’s equal opportunity agenda for a ‘new stylish’ look for the San Francisco’s police force directly clashes with Callahan’s time-honored principles.
In the meantime, a pair of detectives, Tony and Harry’s old partner, Frank, stumble upon Maxwell's grassroots revolutionaries impersonating gas men to launch their crime wave; ambitious heists designed to make them rich, presumably, to fund their counterrevolutionary acts of terrorism. Miki is shot to death by Frank who, in turn is murdered by Maxwell. Pressed back into service, Harry is chagrined to learn Officer Moore will be his new partner. Moore makes every attempt to ingratiate herself, but to no advantage. Callahan can barely tolerate her, taking every opportunity to underhandedly point out how her lack of experience is a liability for him and a real hindrance to the workload they’re expected to carry together.
Moore again proves herself the novice, taking ill during an autopsy at the Hall of Justice. Moments later, a bomb is detonated inside one of the bathrooms, Callahan and Moore pursuing the suspect, Henry Lee Caldwell (Tim Burrus), and Callahan taking things to the extreme to capture his man. The pair is also are introduced to Big Ed Mustapha (Albert Popwell), leader of a black militant group modeled after the Black Panthers. Although Callahan makes a deal with Mustapha to syphon information, McKay makes an impromptu bust of his organization as a show of force – also to help support the Mayor’s agenda for female cops. Callahan belligerently refuses to participate in this televised PR event, forcing McKay to suspend him from duty once again. Moore takes Harry’s side on the matter, garnering his respect.
Meanwhile, Bobby Maxwell’s militants stage a daring mid-day kidnap of the mayor after a Giants game. With Mustapha’s help, Callahan and Moore learn the militants have taken the mayor to Alcatraz Island. In the ensuing bloody showdown, Moore manages to pick off a pair of the Maxwell’s goons. She also frees the Mayor before her loyalty to Harry gets her killed. In retaliation, Callahan takes out Moore using a rocket launcher. Disinterested in the Mayor’s angle for a great story about heroism, Harry returns to Moore’s body while the others concoct their most persuasive PR.
Seven years would elapse between The Enforcer and the next film in the franchise, Sudden Impact (1983); a marked return to the chemistry of the original Dirty Harry. Evidently, Eastwood was contented to pursue other projects during this hiatus, either as a director or star or both. For a while it looked as though he might not return to this familiar milieu at all. Film franchises are a funny thing, after all. They require consistency to make them properly click – either by having the same actor reprise his part over and over again, or by maintaining the general tenor of the franchise; the James Bond films being the primary example of an ever-revolving line of actors playing the same part with slight variations on a time-honored formula.
In Dirty Harry’s case, the absence had only made fans grow fonder for another installment. But Eastwood had undergone his own transformation as an artist in the interim and Sudden Impact would reflect his personal growth as an actor. We get a mellower Harry in this one, possibly even looking for love for the first time. Sudden Impact’s enduring claim to fame is Eastwood’s iconic rendering of the line “Go ahead…make my day”, so instantly famous and overused, even President Ronald Reagan chose to adopt it as part of his political standoff against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Sudden Impact attempts to bring Dirty Harry into a new decade. Indeed, the 1980’s had cast off the ingrained cynicism of the preceding years; a cultural shift made obvious by the 80’s effervescent pop-u-tainments. Seen in this light, the character of Dirty Harry must have genuinely seemed like a relic. In retrospect, there is a bit of narrative creakiness to Charles B. Pierce and Earl E. Smith’s screenplay, originally planned as an entirely different film to star Sondra Locke, before being heavily rewritten by Joseph Stinson to fit the mold for the franchise.
In hindsight, Sudden Impact is a troubling amalgam of these two polar opposite ambitions; with Locke sharing the screen – and, in fact, dominating the latter half of the story; Eastwood’s sullen renegade coming to her rescue in the eleventh hour but only as something of an appendage, rather than the movie’s bona fide star. Fans were not impressed with this movie, and yet there is much to admire in these 117 minutes of tautly scripted drama and action. Sudden Impact begins with a clandestine rendezvous, seemingly between a prostitute and her John - George Wilburn (Michael Maurer). This ends when the whore murders her clientele. Later, we discover the crime is actually an act of revenge; perpetuated by local artist, Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke) who, together with her sister, Elizabeth (Lisa Brett) was gang raped by a group of boys after being betrayed by friend, Rae Parkins (Audrie J. Neenan); a brutish lesbian who delights in playing with the boys, but relishes even more their emasculation.
The rape left Elizabeth in a perpetual state of catatonia. But now, ten long years have passed and Jennifer is out for revenge. In inspecting the crime scene, Harry deduces the murder was motivated by a more personal vengeance, Jen’s calling card of two shots – one to the groin of her victim using a snub-nosed revolver – leading Harry closer to the truth. To avoid the investigation, Jen relocates to San Paulo, hired by its historical society to restore the boardwalk’s beloved carousel near the beach where her and her sister’s rape occurred.
Meanwhile, back in Frisco, it is business as usual for Harry; whose latest case is thrown out of court by a liberal-minded judge due to Callahan’s ‘unreasonable search and seizure’ practices. Harry takes out his frustrations by thwarting the armed robbery of his favorite restaurant, killing all but one of the hoods and instructing the last man standing to ‘go ahead’ and ‘make’ his day. On a disgruntled rampage, Harry next crashes the wedding of Greek crime lord, Threlkis (Michael V. Gazzo), who suffers a fatal heart attack after Harry flashes some fairly lurid pictures to the wedding party implicating Threlkis in a tawdry sex scandal.
Lieutenant Donnelly (Michael Currie) is unimpressed by Callahan’s swift justice. After all, his boys have been pursuing Threlkis for some time for juicier leads to shut down his entire organization for good. To quell the storm of negative public opinion, Capt. Briggs orders Harry to take a vacation, most of it spent with Callahan indulging in a little target practice. The respite is short-lived when Threlkis’s hit men arrive, seeking retribution. Callahan eludes their best efforts. Now, the suspects from Harry’s dismissed case decide to have their crack at him, tossing Molotov Cocktails into the backseat of his car while he’s driving. Undaunted, Harry causes their car to swerve into the bay. Donnelly can see there’s not persuading his best ‘bad boy’ to take it easy. So Harry is reassigned to investigate the murder Jennifer committed, driving up to San Paulo where, almost immediately, he gets under the skin of local law enforcement by thwarting a robbery.
While jogging through town, Harry meets Jennifer. She’s an ice princess, but Harry is intrigued by her and thus elects to keep a watchful eye out. Back at his hotel, Callahan narrowly avoids getting killed by yet another Threlkis’ henchman. In the meantime, Jennifer takes revenge on another of her attackers, Kruger (Jack Thibeau), leaving him dead at the beach. Recognizing the modus operandi from the previous murder, Harry attempts to convince the town’s police chief, Lester Jannings (Pat Hingle) he is in town to help. In his resulting investigation, Harry also learns both victims were close friends with the chief’s son, Alby (Matthew Child) who has since become a quadriplegic following a terrible car accident. In the meantime, Rae Parkins has figured things out for herself, taking to forewarn Tyrone (Wendell Wellman) and Mick (Paul Drake); the two rapists still alive.
A confrontation between Harry and Kruger’s uncooperative brothers-in-law, Eddie (Russ McCubbin) and Carl (Robert Sutton) get Harry thinking; particularly after he accidentally discovers Jennifer at a local outdoor café and inadvertently confides he is investigating George Willburn’s murder. Once again, Jennifer gives up nothing. But the next afternoon, she pays Tyrone a call, exacting her brand of justice in his garage. Mick moves in with Parkins, the pair pensively waiting for Jen’s assault, thoroughly prepared for the attack. When Harry arrives instead, Mick takes a potshot at him. In reply, Harry subdues and takes Mick into custody, Jennifer arriving too late to finish the kill, but doing away with Parkins for her complicity in the crime.
Callahan and Jennifer meet yet again and this time, they sleep together. Uncharacteristically, Harry is temporarily blinded to the truth – that is, until he takes notice of Jennifer’s car, seen earlier parked outside Parkins’ house. Discovering Parkins’ corpse, Harry is forced to accept Jennifer as his killer. Alas, Eddie and Carl have bailed Mick out of jail. In a case of incredibly bad timing, Callahan’s old buddy, Horace King (Albert Popwell) arrives to ease the tension, instead getting ambushed by Mick, Eddie and Carl. Arriving too late to save his friend, Callahan discovers Horace’s body lying on the floor of his motel room. Now, Harry is ambushed by the trio, severely beaten, dragged and thrown into the ocean, presumably for dead.
Arriving at Chief Jannings’ home, intent on murdering Alby, and thus, complete her revenge, Jennifer discovers Alby in his paraplegic state. She takes pity on him. The Chief begs for his son’s life and vows Mick will not escape the law for what he did to Jennifer and her sister. Alas, Mick, Eddie and Carl turn up at the house. They murder the chief with Jennifer’s gun and severely beat Jennifer before taking her to the boardwalk to have ‘some fun’. Having recovered from his assault, Harry regroups and arrives at the boardwalk to protect Jennifer. She briefly escapes, hiding inside the carousel pavilion before being recaptured by Mick who takes her hostage aboard the nearby roller coaster.
Callahan dispatches with the others fairly quickly, leaving Mick on his own. When Jennifer makes yet another break, Harry takes aim and shoots Mick dead, Mick plummeting off the coaster and through the glass ceiling of the carousel pavilion, impaled by the horn of one of its unicorn riders. Knowing Jennifer is the real killer he has been searching for, but also having taken pity on her acts of revenge, Harry lies to the police, that the gun in Mick’s possession (that Mick actually stole from Jennifer back at the chief’s house) is the murder weapon. Labeling Mick as the likely assassin, Jennifer realizes she has nothing to fear from Callahan. She leans into his arm, the pair walking off together.
Sudden Impact is hardly Dirty Harry Callahan’s finest hour. And yet, the movie is exceedingly cleverly scripted, the scenarios concocted by Stinson moving the plot along at a breakneck speed, mostly to make us forget about its implausibility. It works – partly, thanks to Bruce Surtees’ evocative cinematography. Sudden Impact, while arguably a complete violation of Harry Callahan’s principles to always see the ‘bad guy’ (or in this case, ‘bad girl’) pay for his/her deeds, nevertheless aims to tell a grittier than average crime story with an adequate amount of cinematic self-assurance. Were this only the case with the last action/drama in the franchise, The Dead Pool (1988); a tragically undernourished and forgettable swan song, scripted with abject tedium and ennui by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.
The Dead Pool is turgidly paced, director Buddy Van Horn discovering nothing original – much less captivating – to say about a series of unsolved crimes taking place on a movie set, threatening to put a period to the low-brow movie-making aspirations of hack director, Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). At 91 minutes, The Dead Pool is the shortest of the Dirty Harry adventures and the least memorable; save a rather vindictive moment when a film critic, bearing a striking resemblance to Pauline Kael (whose vitriol for this franchise is well-known), is brutalized and then murdered in her condo; the ultimate sweet revenge for all aspiring artists. But is Swan really an artist, or even the warped mind behind these methodical homicides?
In its pathetic attempt to kick off the plot with a celebrity twist, Harry’s testimony against mob kingpin, Lou Janero (Anthony Charnota) gets him on the cover of San Francisco magazine. The vigilante has suddenly – and incongruously – become everyone’s golden boy du jour. Not long after his victory on the witness stand, Callahan gets his first taste of retribution from Janero’s thugs. True to form, Harry’s attackers are no match for him. A short while later, Callahan laments the fact he’s being paired with Al Quan (Evan Kim); an Asian American meant to beef up the department’s image for racial diversity. In the meantime, things go from bad to worse for Swan when the star of his latest B-budget horror rip-off, Hotel Hell, the heroine addicted rock singer, Johnny Squares (Jim Carrey) winds up dead in his dressing room trailer just outside the meat-packing district.
A short while later, Swan’s executive producer, Dean Madison is killed during a Chinatown restaurant robbery. Callahan and Quan intervene too late, but Harry still manages to kill the assailants. Examining the producer’s pockets, Quan finds a note with Harry and Johnny Squares’ names on it. It seems Madison was involved in a game – the dead pool – taking bets on which famous participants would die a horrible death next. Callahan confronts Swan about the list. Although he doesn’t deny partaking in the game – for fun, that is – he vehemently resists any implication anyone involved has taken the celebrity death watch seriously; also his own direct involvement to hasten members on it to their untimely end. It doesn’t take long for another person on the list, film critic, Molly Fisher (Ronnie Claire Edwards), to meet with a terrible fate; stabbed to death in her condo.
At Johnny Square’s homicide, Callahan had interrupted entertainment reporter, Samantha Walker’s (Patricia Clarkson) ravenous pursuit for a sound byte from Johnny’s gal pal, Suzanne Dayton (Victoria Bastel) by trashing her camera and ordering Walker and her crew off the lot. Now Walker proposes a truce; actually – a scoop: the real story behind Inspector Harry Callahan. Naturally, Harry shows little interest in this exposé, although he agrees to meet Walker for dinner to help smooth out the rough edges of the department’s media image. Alas, the pair’s post dinner flirtations turn near fatal when gunmen open fire as they descend in a scenic elevator. It’s Janero’s boys again – happy in their work. Too bad for them Harry’s had enough. He goes to visit Janero in prison, promising serial killer, Butcher Hicks (Diego Chairs) a carton of cigarettes just for standing not far outside of Janero’s cell. Harry then tells Janero Hick’s won’t be very happy if anything happens to him; hinting of course that jailhouse retribution might be more devastating than anything Janero could concoct on the outside.
Walker follows Callahan as he attempts to diffuse a suicide situation involving one Gus Wheeler (Louis Giambalvo), a sad, lonely man, so utterly desperate for his fifteen minutes of fame he would rather take the rap for crimes he did not commit. When Harry points out the facts Wheeler obviously does not know, Walker informs Wheeler he won’t be making the eleven o’clock news. Wheeler accidentally catches fire, but Harry leaps in and prevents the man from being incinerated by his own stupidity.
The central plot kicks into high gear as Harry and Quan coax the name Harlan Rook (David Hunt) from Swan. Rook is schizophrenic, also mentally deranged, stalking Swan to the point where he’s had to get a restraining order against him. As luck would have it, Rook is Callahan’s man, and proves it by murdering controversial talk show host, Nolan Kennard (Bill Wattenburg), using a remote control toy racing car strapped with C4 explosives, detonating the bomb under Kennard’s automobile as he is backing out of his driveway. The bomb remains undiscovered at the crime scene, but shortly thereafter Harry pieces together the mystery when a similar toy chases after the car he and Quan are riding in.
Pretending to be Swan, Rook telephones Walker at the TV station and invites her for an exclusive interview at the studio. She accepts and lives to regret it; Harry arriving to save the day after a few pensive moments of faux surrender. In the predictable chase across the pier that concludes The Dead Pool, Rook is harpooned by Callahan, Walker (even more predictably) leaving the scene on Harry’s arm.
The Dead Pool is a decidedly dower/sour finale to the Dirty Harry franchise; so woefully transparent and unintelligent it trundles its wares like an exhausted warhorse about to be sent to the glue factory. Eastwood’s performance is among his most feeble; perhaps because in the interim between films he had grown much as an actor, thus finding it exceedingly difficult to return to the roots that made him famous. In hindsight, the bulk of the blame rests with Steve Sharon’s screenplay; a badly mangled affair of false starts and none too joyous defeats. Populating the supporting cast with fine talents like Liam Neeson and, to a lesser extent, Jim Carrey, is ill-advised when they’re given precious little to say and/or do. Carrey’s role is almost a cameo – just another body given over to the slab, and dreadfully overplaying his hand as the heroine-addicted fop, destined to die much too young and too quick to suit his character.
Warner Home Video has packaged all five movies in the aptly named Dirty Harry Collection. More recently WHV has repackaged the first four movies as a ‘film favorite’ collection at a greatly reduced price point. Personal opinion, of course, but I could have easily done without The Dead Pool – the only film excluded from this latter offering. So, ‘buyer beware’ and be the judge. You can save considerably by purchasing the ‘four pack’ over this collection on Blu-ray. The transfer quality and extras are identical regardless of which collection you choose; again, minus the extras contained on The Dead Pool.
The transfer quality herein is generally pleasing to downright exceptional, with minor caveats to be discussed. Overall, each movie (housed on a separate disc) reveals vibrant color saturation and clarity, with good solid contrast and a light smattering of accurately reproduced film grain. Age-related artifacts are a non-issue on the original Dirty Harry, but sporadically crop up on the rest of the titles. I suspect Warner gave only the original movie its’ due with all the digital spit and polish their exemplary mastering facilities can offer. The weakest transfer of the lot is Magnum Force – arguably, the best movie in the franchise.
Although colors can appear very nicely saturated, in spots the image infrequently looks dull; grain becoming exaggerated in darker sequences and occasionally looking more than a tad digitized and harsh. There’s also some fleeting edge enhancement to contend with on both this movie and its follow-up, The Enforcer; which, otherwise sports exceptionally robust colors and near exquisite shadow delineation. Blacks tend to crush in Sudden Impact – a genuine shame since a lot of the movie takes place at night. All of the movies, except for The Dead Pool, are framed in 2.35:1 Panavision, The Dead Pool accurately presented in 1.78:1. Look closely and you’ll notice the same aerial footage used under the opening credits in Sudden Impact is reused (albeit re-framed) for The Dead Pool’s credit sequence; clearly a cost-cutting measure, but also queerly foreshadowing the staleness of the plot to follow.
Each movie has been given an impressive DTS 5.1 upgrade. As expected, spatiality and clarity improve as the movie’s grow younger, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool sounding much more comfortable in this DTS upgrade than any of the first three movies in the franchise; particularly the original, Dirty Harry, whose dialogue overdubs are transparently obvious. Again, not the fault of this remastering effort. We’re at the mercy of vintage elements. No matter what anyone says, 1970’s cinema was not particularly distinguished by its impressive acoustics. Extras are plentiful; with newly produced featurettes on the making of every movie, also an audio commentary, and featurettes on the longevity of the franchise, the renewed debate over violence in movies and other vintage featurettes, TV spots and theatrical trailers. Bottom line: recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Dirty Harry 3.5
Magnum Force 4
The Enforcer 3
Sudden Impact 3.5
The Dead Pool 1
Dirty Harry 4.5
Magnum Force 3.5
The Enforcer 4
Sudden Impact 4
The Dead Pool 4