Clint Eastwood is a household name. To older audiences, he’s an action star. To younger audiences, he’s an award-winning director. In either case, it is hard to find an actor whose career is as prolific or diverse as Eastwood’s. In the early 1970s, he was transitioning from his western roles to more modern day ones. That transition began with Dirty Harry.
Many action movies tend to forego character development to instead focus on the big action pieces. Dirty Harry isn’t much of an exception but just barely. Throughout the film, we learn little bits and pieces about Harry’s past and character traits. We get just enough character development to get a deeper understanding of who Harry is. This was a great move on the writers’ part because since this is the first installment with Harry, there shouldn’t be too much focus on what’s beneath the surface. But at the same time, the small bits that were laid out can be picked up in future sequels without taking away from this film.
For most of the movie, Harry spends his time hunting down the killer going by ‘Scorpio.’ However, Scorpio is not Harry’s greatest adversary of the film: it’s the law. Throughout the movie, Harry tries to bring Scorpio to justice. However, Harry learns that ‘the law’ and ‘justice’ are not always the same thing. It’s an interesting concept to think about and one that frustrates Harry continuously throughout the film.
Eastwood’s background in westerns transfers well into a modern setting. Harry could be seen as the Man with No Name or Josey Wales in an urban setting; An urban cowboy, if you will. Harry’s introduction is one of my favorites in cinema. When he casually walks up to a bank robbery, takes out several of the robbers and delivers his famous lines is absolutely spin-tingling. You know right away the kind of character Harry is.
This also leads into one of the flaws I see in the film. For an action movie, it is unevenly paced. The ends carry the brunt of the action, with the middle doing the little character exploring I mentioned above and follows Harry searching for Scorpio and dealing with bureaucrats. I appreciate the development and smaller moments among the action but this film would have benefited from a better balance of those elements.
As enjoyable as Dirty Harry is, there are better 70s movies. Nevertheless, I chose this as my entry for the Ultimate 70s Blogathon for a different reason: it’s influence on the action film genre. This movie laid the groundwork for a no-nonsense hero, like John McClain, John Rambo, or Paul Kersey. Harry Callahan was the type of character who took matters into his own hands, regardless of the rules. This approach to the action hero showed that audiences would, and could, enjoy grittier action films, fundamentally changing the genre’s landscape.
I thought Dirty Harry was GOOD 🙂 Revolutionizing the action genre, it was grittier and had a different hero than seen in films past. With a cool character introduction and classic action hero one-liners, Harry Callahan is a stylish and memorable character. If there had been a better balance between the action sequences and other scenes, I probably would consider this a great movie instead of just a good one.
Harry: I know what you’re thinking: Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I’ve kinda 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’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
Cast & Crew
Don Siegel – Director
Harry Julian Fink – Screenplay / Story
Rita M. Fink – Screenplay / Story
Dean Riesner – Screenplay
Lalo Schifrin – Composer
Clint Eastwood – Harry
Harry Guardino – Bressler
Reni Santoni – Chico
John Vernon – The Mayor
Andrew Robinson – Killer
John Larch – Chief
John Mitchum – De Giorgio