Dirty Harry (1971)

‘Cause he likes it’

Colin was talking recently about one Andy Robinson, citing him as an under-rated actor who, because of a certain ‘break-out’ role, had never achieved the level of success he deserved. Well, Dirty Harry (1971) by Don Seigel starring we-all-know-who was the film in question, and Robinson as Scorpio, a serial killer before the term was even acknowledged, delivers one of the vilest, creepiest performances as the sadistic murderer that cinema has ever seen, genre regardless.

Of course, Dirty Harry is still very much Clint Eastwood’s film – while Eastwood had already made his mark with roles in Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy, his association with Don Seigel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)), which also gave the world the extremely disturbing The Beguiled (1971) (one of the very few films in which Clint does not survive) provided his own break-out into mainstream US cinema and, with his take on ultra-right wing/vigilante San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan, the laconic, hard-bitten cop to beat ’em all.

And I have held back long enough – Siegel’s film is simply one of those with dialogue that, customarily, simply has to be shared by yours truly, so here goes:

[After the hideously battered Scorpio has accused Harry of beating him up]
Chief: Have you been following that man?
Harry Callahan: Yeah, I’ve been following him on my own time. And anybody can tell I didn’t do that to him.
Chief: How?
Harry Callahan: Cause he looks too damn good!

He has very little respect for the rules, does our Harry – and when he is partnered, very much against his wishes, with smart, ideologically liberal Mexican Police Inspector Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) to try to stop Scorpio, who is sniping victims at random then leaving notes demanding money to stop him killing again, there’s going to be trouble.

Harry Callahan: You know, you’re crazy if you think you’ve heard the last of this guy. He’s gonna kill again.
District Attorney Rothko: How do you know?
Harry Callahan: ‘Cause he likes it.

Like Get Carter (1971), Dirty Harry spelled the definitive end of the touchy-feely, lovey-dovey films of the 1960s, ushering in a harsher, edgier and distinctly more violent era of movie-making.

[Scorpio has been stabbed in the leg by Callahan, who is now torturing him to reveal the location of the young girl that he has buried alive]
De Georgio: You need any help?
Harry Callahan: Go on out and get some air, fatso.
[turns to Scorpio]
Scorpio: [pleading] Please. Stop. No more! Can’t you see I’m hurt?
Harry Callahan: The girl, where is she?
Scorpio: [crying] You tried to kill me.
Harry Callahan: If I tried that your head would be splattered all over this field. Now, where’s the girl?
Scorpio: [cries] I…I have rights. Why can’t you people just leave me alone?
Harry Callahan: [Puts his foot hard on Scorpio’s leg] WHERE’S THE GIRL?

What is perhaps most effective about the film, with its black-as-jet noir screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink and Dean Riesner, is that it essentially kids the audience into siding completely with a vigilante killer (Callahan, that is), because the evil that he is facing, namely the evil in society that is represented by Robinson’s remarkable performance, cannot be dealt with by ‘due process’. As he says to Chico, upon learning his new partner is a sociology gradute: ‘Sociology? Oh, you’ll go far, if you live.’

And, to boot, it’s probably the most exciting cop film you will ever see. So, do you feel lucky? You will once you’ve seen it.

102 mins.

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