Dirty Harry (1971)

dirty harry poster 1971 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Stylish, dangerous, edgy

Raised controversy in 1971 and still raises controversy now

Movie Info

Movie Name: Dirty Harry

Studio: Malpaso Production

Genre(s): Action/Adventure/Drama

Release Date(s): December 23, 1971

MPAA Rating: R

dirty harry clint eastwood do you feel lucky

I was eating a sandwich…you ruined that. You must feel lucky

A killer is targeting San Francisco and demanding a ransom from the city to stop his murders.  Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) doesn’t think any amount of money will stop the killings and the police have to take swift action.  Scorpio (Andy Robinson) realizes Harry is on to his game and that to beat Harry, he’s going to have to take his crimes to the next level.  Do you feel lucky?  Well, do ya, punk?

Directed by Don Siegel, Dirty Harry is a police action movie.  The film was released to controversy over the portrayal of police brutality and initially gained mixed reviews.  The movie quickly gained a following and is generally well received.  The Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2012.

Dirty Harry was already well established by the time I was little.  The no-nonsense cop with a huge gun was making movies regularly.  It was years before I actually saw Dirty Harry, but when I first saw it, it seemed like I already knew it.  Dirty Harry holds up, but the controversy surrounding Dirty Harry does as well.

dirty harry clint eastwood andrew robinson football field

Did you say something about police brutality? Sorry…I couldn’t hear you over the screams

“Dirty” Harry Callahan is right…which is part of the problem.  He disobeys the law because he knows he’s dealing with a lawless, immoral killer.  He will solve the crime, but he’s going to take shortcuts and break laws (and jaws) while doing it.  It is a dangerous idea because the Scorpio killer (based upon Zodiac while Harry is loosely based upon Zodiac detective David Toschi).  It works for the story, but as a model for police, it is an awful message (but it is also unfair to say that the criminals “play by the rules” as well).

Clint Eastwood wasn’t the initial choice for Harry despite his iconic portrayal.  Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, and Frank Sinatra were all considered, but Eastwood made the character his own.  Likewise, Andrew Robinson really turns Scorpio into a creepy killer with his glee.  The character had a backstory in the novelization, but here, he is just seen as a madman with no motivation.  Both concepts are terrifying, but the “born in a vacuum” style of Scorpio’s killing works better with Harry’s stop the crime mentality above the following of the law.

dirty harry andrew robinson scorpio ending

The hostage? Andrew Robinson’s stepson…best stepdad or worst?

The action movie is a rather typical action movie but it has that distinctive 1970s grit.  It also makes a lot of good use of San Francisco which had a grimy-ness to it that doesn’t exist anymore.  Plans for a car chase were scrapped due to the success of the car chase in Bullit (which also featured a character based on Toschi), but Dirty Harry’s style and look earns its own place.

Dirty Harry is a classic, but it was problematic when it came out and it is problematic now.  The lone gunman police officer feels like part of the problem with issues with police today (though the systemic nature of how the police evolved existed long before Dirty Harry).  Dirty Harry kind of glorifies the idea of a police officer taking the law into his own hands when a city and state officials can’t see “the big picture”…and his ends justify his means in the film.  Harry switches his target to “dirty police” in his next outing Magnum Force released in 1973.

Related Links:

Magnum Force (1973)

The Enforcer (1976)

Sudden Impact (1983)

The Dead Pool (1988)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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