Eric’s Guide To Watching The ‘Dirty Harry’ Series
Another journey through another film series. As mentioned in other articles Clint Eastwood is one of my all-time favorite actors ever.
As you can imagine I came into this series knowing only the spoofs. However, I saw them and legitimately became a fan. Now what I’ve always said about the “Dirty Harry” series is that a not so good “Dirty Harry” flick is still better than a majority of action films. Technically speaking, I recommend them all. So instead of my usual practice of ordering these from best to worst I’m just going to go chronologically. Let’s begin, punks!
1.) Dirty Harry
There’s an old saying in Hollywood that it takes two great roles to truly make an actor a star. At this point Clint Eastwood had the Man With No Name (even though he does) in the Dollars Trilogy. He had been working steadily since stretching himself with “The Beguiled” and even directing “Play Misty For Me”. However, it was with this film that he truly became an iconic actor. For those who don’t know “Dirty Harry” is the story of a cop named “Dirty” Harry Callahan in pursuit of the Scorpio Killer. He’s called “Dirty” Harry because he always takes the dirty jobs the police ask of him. He’s a typical tough police officer who doesn’t give a crap about the rules, but he gets the job done. For modern viewers it may feel cliché, but that’s only because so many other characters have tried copying this one. The Scorpio Killer is heavily based off of the Zodiac Killer. They even take one of the threats the Zodiac Killer made in one of his letters and make it the climax. The story really is that simple, just a loose cannon cop chasing down a maniac. What makes it unique is the way the story twists and turns to its conclusion.
Even though it’s a simple action flick, it has a lot more going on. First, at the time this film came out the Zodiac Killer was still out there killing innocent people. This film was something of a revenge fantasy in film form. It must have been great for viewers at the time to see a San Francisco cop take down someone who was the serial killer in everything but name only. However, that leads into the discussion of the main character who is much more of a problematic role model. Yes he does the right thing and is a supreme badass while doing it. However, by all definitions he is a horrible person. He does violate a suspect’s rights, but he did it for the right reasons. To save a girl the Scorpio Killer had kidnapped and he predicted murdered beforehand. But that doesn’t excuse the fact he shoots this man in the leg and even steps on the wound to torture him. Some people think they want more Harry Callahans in the real world, but the only way Dirty Harry could work in the real world and not be a monster is if he was as perfect and always right like in the movie. But we all know that’s not possible. He works best as a character in a film. One thing that strengthens this belief is that some viewers can’t even fully grasp his character correctly. I see many people refer to Harry as a racist and it all comes from this one speech made about him how Harry hates everybody and they then precede to list of a ton of ethnic slurs. It amazes me how much people don’t seem to get this scene. The speech is not meant to be taken literally! Harry hates anyone who breaks the law equally, any details about them like race don’t matter. I mean for God’s sake people! Clint Eastwood PRACTICALLY winks to the audience during this scene!
Eric’s advice: Probably my favorite action film ever, as in screw “Die Hard” this is the action flick I always re-watch!
2.) Magnum Force
So the things I mentioned about the first film weren’t lost on the critics at the time. Many called the film an endorsement for fascism and things like that. This sequel is kind of a response to the criticisms of the original, which is fascinating. You think Dirty Harry went too far in the first film well how about cops who are actually murdering people? It also provided the filmmakers a chance to draw the line in the sand about what Harry thinks is going too far. This is often considered the best of the sequels. It does a good job at letting us into the character’s head. The scene when Harry comes home and his apartment is dirty and all he has in the fridge is a half-eaten sandwich perfectly sums up the character… he is a cop and only a cop. Everything else is second. This film is written by John Milius who is an amazingly good fit for this character. They do many interesting things showing us some awful crimes like a pimp beating a prostitute to death. Then the villains show up to kill him so it creates a dilemma as we know these cops are using excessive force but on an emotional level it can be hard to want to disagree with them.
Which makes it odd that this is also the film where Harry gets a girlfriend. But it never feels like it’s going to go somewhere. It feels like what it is. A response to all the fan mail Eastwood got from Asian women after the first film. The relationship he has with an old friend and the progression of thinking that he may be one of the bad guys is far more interesting. His speech about the frustrations as a cop that are very relevant. Eastwood has a pretty good follow-up catchphrase in this one, “Man’s got to know his limitations.” I like his new partner Early Smith. An odd pattern I noticed is whenever Harry has a black partner the film is going to begin with them already joined together. Also, as a “RoboCop” fan I liked that the partner is played by Felton Perry who played Johnson in those films. From the opening airport action scene to the climax the action is top-notch. My complaints is that it’s kind of a long film. I feel like the middle does drag a bit and just meanders after a while. Once again the action scenes are good and the twist in the end (about who the villain really is) is effective. Like all of the best of the sequels it explores its themes very nicely.
Eric’s Advice: Popular opinion is that this is the best sequel and it is a fascinating response but I think there is one better than this.