“Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry: every dirty job that comes along…”
A rugged police detective (Clint Eastwood) in San Francisco tries to capture a deranged serial killer (Andrew Robinson), but finds his efforts thwarted by bureaucratic heavies, including the city’s mayor (John Vernon) and D.A. (Josef Sommer).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Clint Eastwood Films
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Don Siegel Films
- Serial Killers
Touted by many reviewers upon its release as simply a fascist’s fantasy (its original title was Dead Right), Dirty Harry has largely transcended its initial political pigeonholing to become a certified cult favorite, with several sequels in its wake (all listed in Peary’s book as “must see”). Eastwood basically reprises the persona he crafted in so many other films (most specifically Sheriff Walt Coogan in Coogan’s Bluff) as yet another laconic, no-nonsense “Male” who refuses to compromise his philosophy of “getting the job done” at any price; many of his sneering lines — “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” — have gone down in cinematic history.
While it’s unfortunate, as many reviewers have pointed out, that Harry’s superiors are painted as such one-dimensional nincompoops, and that his nemesis, “Scorpio”, is basically a distillation of every right-winger’s nightmare (longish hair, indeterminate sexuality, an ironic peace symbol on his buckle), ultimately Dirty Harry should be seen and enjoyed as simply a well-crafted cat-and-mouse police procedural. To this end, director Don Siegel makes excellent use of diverse San Francisco locales, and infuses his action scenes with a nice blend of tension and humor. My favorite early vignette has Harry pulled off the street to help talk a suicidal man down from a rooftop; his ability to do so within the space of five minutes, then walk away without being shown much gratitude, goes a long way towards establishing Harry as the independent, under-valued “doer” he remains throughout the rest of the film. “Dirty Harry”, indeed: “every dirty job that comes along” does seem to be his for the taking.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Effective use of San Francisco locales
- Harry “talking” a suicidal man off a roof
- Countless now-classic lines and scenarios:
“You’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Yes, for its status as a cult favorite. Listed as a film with Historical Importance, a Cult Movie, and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)