Movie Review – Dirty Harry (1971)

I know what you’re thinking, 3.5 punks.  You’re thinking, did he fire off six posts, or only five?  Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I lost track myself.  But seeing as how this is a .44 blog that’s only read by 3.5 people and could bore your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself, do you feel lucky, 3.5 punks?

Well, do ya?

BQB here with a review of the movie that started it all  – “Dirty Harry.”

You’ve had since the early 1970s to watch this but just an FYI – SPOILERS ensue.

Poor Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood).  To the uninitiated, i.e. those newbies who’ve never watched one of his flicks, it’s easy to assume his nickname means he’s a “Dirty” cop.

Nope.  He’s just the guy on the San Francisco police department who gets called on to do all the “dirty jobs” no one else wants to do.

Some crook has a gun pointed to a hostage’s head?  Call Harry.  Some psycho is threatening to jump off a building?  Call Harry.  There’s a bank robbery in progress?  Hey, Harry, take care of that, will you?  We’ll all be hiding over here and we’ll give you a critique of your performance when you’re done.

Yes, it’s not easy being the cop everyone depends on.  It’s a thankless job, to say the least.  No cop wants to be the one who makes the split second decision about whether to shoot a bad guy and put a hostage at risk or let the bad guy walk, taking the hostage along to possibly kill later.

No cop wants to be the one who walks into a bank robbery in progress and take down a gang of baddies using nothing but his wits and his sidearm, a fat ass .44 Magnum hand cannon in Harry’s case.

But Harry does this bullshit all the time and does he ever get thanked for it?  Nope.  Instead, he’s constantly harassed and berated (throughout the entire series) by a never-ending supply of police brass, supervisors, bureaucrats and politicians who have never even fired a gun but are completely happy to bitch Harry out for property damage, ensuing lawsuits, alleged civil rights violations and so on.

There’s the rub.  These dummies want the crooks caught, but they’re so clueless they think that the bad guys can be taken down easily, that Harry is somehow just an evil, trigger happy caveman who thirsts for blood and guts and a nicer cop could somehow talk the bad guys into having tea and crumpets.

You, the viewer, learn better.  You’re follow Harry along throughout the course of his days, watching as he works the serial killer case, with occasional interruptions from villains along the way.  Poor Harry.  Throughout the series, the dude rarely enjoys a meal without the joint he’s eating in getting robbed, requiring him to break out his massive revolver while he’s still chewing on his meal.  The dirty job doer’s work is never done.

In this first film, there’s the iconic scene where Harry, after dispatching a group of bank robbers, stares down one last crook.  The crook stares at a shotgun lying on the sidewalk, just inches from his grasp.  Will he reach for it?  Harry gives the infamous speech about whether he fired off five shots or six and the robber decides to let the shotgun go – better safe than sorry.

In today’s politically correct world, is it problematic for a white cop to be gunning down a gang of black bank robbers?  Yes.  Not arguing that.  If the movie is ever remade (which would be like remaking the Mona Lisa), you’d never a more diverse gang, probably an all white gang.

But here’s the thing.  I can understand if you view this movie on a surface level and say, “Oh God, I hate this.  It’s all about a white cop who gets off on shooting black people and it’s giving a bad message that black people are criminals.”

My only request is to look at the film deeper.  Harry, with his sneer and his badass hair and stylish sport coat and sunglasses, yes Harry, the civil rights’ lawyer’s worst nightmare, is, in many ways, an old school social justice warrior.

I know, it sounds crazy, but stay with me.  Yes, the bank robber is black…but, Harry doesn’t see that.  Or he sees it but doesn’t care.  Harry doesn’t see a black guy.  He sees a bad guy.  There’s a war for the streets of San Francisco and everyday, Harry is on the front lines.  The actions he takes protect people of all races and colors, creeds and religions.  There’s law abiding citizens and there’s criminals and if you’re the latter, Harry will take you down.

To drive this point home, consider that later in the film, the serial killer murders a young African-American boy, only ten years old.  In a film where this epically stoic character who is all grit and macho manliness, this is the one moment where he looks broken up.  He’s failed two law abiding citizens, the boy and his mother, and it’s clear from the look on his face that he’s going make this murderer pay.

At the end of the film, Harry squares off against the white, looney tunes serial killer.  The killer is taken down in a similar fashion to the black bank robber at the start of the film.  The killer is on the ground and a gun is within his reach.  Harry recites the “Do you feel lucky punk?” speech again.  He’ll give the white serial killer the same chance he gave the black bank robber – give up the gun and go to jail, or reach for it and maybe get your head blown off, maybe not, depending on how many bullets are left in the old hand cannon.

Compare the looks that Harry gives to the black bank robber and the white serial killer.  Harry laughs when the bank robber gives up.  It’s almost like he and the robber played a game of chess.  The robber was out to get some quick cash and now he’s been subdued so Harry could give a shit now.

But look at the look Harry gives the white killer.  The white killer’s actions have been way worse.  He’s killed innocents throughout the film, even a young boy.  Harry will do the right thing if the killer gives up, but the look on his face tells us he really, really, really hopes the killer will make a move so he can be blown away.

That’s my take on it, anyway.  There’s a universal standard of right and wrong and Harry doesn’t carry who you are, what you look like, or what color your skin is.  If you’re breaking the law, beware the .44.

Civil rights abuses and police brutality were hot topics of the 1970s just as they are today.  Harry is constantly reamed out by police brass and attorneys who, almost in a quasi-parody way, care more about the rights of the accused than the victims.

The irony is that, at least in this film anyway, and correct me if I’m wrong, but Harry only walks right up to the line of a civil rights abuse, but doesn’t really dive in feet first as he’s often accused of doing.  There’s a fourteen year old girl who’s been buried alive and her air is running out.  Realizing there’s no time for the suspect to consult his requested lawyer, Harry steps on the killer’s open leg wound and demands to know where the girl is.  Abusive?  Yes.  Against the law?  Sure.  Understandable?  Hell yes, especially if you’re the girl or her family.

Perhaps a cop’s life isn’t filled with as much cartoonish violence but even so, cops are forced to make split second decisions all the time.  Sometimes they’re right.  Sometimes they’re wrong.  The desk chair warmers love to chew Harry out and demand that he take down bad guys in a nicer, gentler manner, and constantly to take Harry’s badge, career and livelihood.

But you, the viewer, and Harry, share a secret.  You both know that Harry being off the force would be the brass’ worst nightmare, because then no one would be around to do all the dirty jobs that no one else wants to do.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Watch immediately.  I’m not gay or nothing but I wish I could have 1970’s Clint’s hair, figure and sunglasses.  I’d get non-stop beaver for sure.  Are we still allowed to call it beaver?  Someone call my lawyer.

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