Dirty Harry | Varied Celluloid

Dirty Harry

Posted by On July - 4 - 2008
The Plot: Harry Callahan is about as tough a cop as you are going to ever find. A man made up of a strict moral code that more often than not doesn’t align too politely with the actual law he is supposed to uphold. After the loss of his wife, Harry doesn’t see much reason in the world and when you’re the cop stuck with all the dirty jobs – you see more than enough to put you over the edge and right in the middle of Right and Wrong. After being pinned down with a new partner, Harry sets out on a big case. The Scorpio killer, a sniper who is blackmailing the local government for a large amount of money, is targeting selected groups from his rooftop nests. With very little to go on, Harry and his new partner are forced into a game of cat and mouse with the terrifying psychopath – and Harry will stop at NOTHING to bring the killer to justice. The more subtle police way, or more than likely – his own way.



The Review: I’m glad I have a website called “Varied Celluloid” sometimes, because if from the start I would have limited myself down to a select genre – I would have to figure some new way of expressing my love for such classics as this. I am writing up on this film, not because it is a flick most have not seen, but because I get the feeling that a lot of people tend to miss a lot of the substance that is here. I can imagine a few out there might roll their eyes at about this time – but it’s true. This may not turn out as one of my regular reviews, as I want to talk a lot more about substance and am going to theorize on a lot of this – so hang in there with me. Hopefully some will agree or at least find my take on the film interesting; but just hang in there with me! Dirty Harry is not a cuddly policeman out to do the right thing, but I think the biggest misconception of the character (perhaps due to the often hypocritical sequels) is that Harry Callahan is a simple vigilante with a “ends justifies the means” chip on his shoulder. With many similarities to the Charles Bronson character in Death Wish. Well, there are similarities, but the politics of the situation are where the main differences come into play. Whereas Bronson’s character was motivated by being a friend to the community, and showing a city that had castrated their civillians – that they could still stand up and be such a force that the criminal element would for once be at bay by their own fear. Harry Callahan however is a character in search of something. His intentions aren’t so positive, Callahan isn’t as cut and dry “good or bad” kind of character he is often portrayed as. What is it that drives Callahan? It is a much more personal motivation and he is a character that has been pushed beyond his own reason. He doesn’t bend the rules to make society a better place, he bends the rules in order to punish these men that do these horrible things. Whether or not this has a positive effect on society is secondary, Callahan makes all business a personal vendetta. Why does he do it though? Well, this is what makes Dirty Harry such an interesting film to me. It is a tale of vigilante style justice, with a lead character with so much more depth than what is usual to the genre.

So what does drive this character, it all obviously stems from the death of his wife which is only hinted at in the film but thanks to the performance of the simply amazing Clint Eastwood he tells everything that needs to be relayed to the audience in simple expressions. Callahan lives in a world where he sees nothing but the worst in the population, and as mentioned already, he is more often than not singled out and given the hard cases, the tough cases, the nasty cases. One gets the idea that these cases are thrown on him more often than not due to his ability to get results, and even though Callahan complains – it is obvious that he doesn’t mind taking these cases on. Harry Callahan fights his own demons by fighting the criminal element, this is why he becomes search a personal foe to his enemy. There are times where he would like to just stay in the background, such as when he is off duty and notices a bank robbery taking place and he notifies coffee shop clerk to call the police, where he intends to continue drinking his coffee and eating. As the culprits make their way out of the bank and intend to get away however, Harry knows what his duty is and proceeds to kill all but one man. No matter how he may try to run from it, Harry Callahan simply is what he is. A slightly meloncolly character that doesn’t let go of the past and fights every day to erase it. The first half of the film which is essentially all procedural duties that shows Harry in the line of duty, where he essentially talks a jumper into committing suicide but plays a mind game that allows him to save him. Such a scene shows the empathy Harry feels for the public is pretty slim, he fights for himself and fights for his own sense of peace some day.

In conclusion, Dirty Harry is the type of flick you’ll love or hate but I personally can’t stand seeing it labeled as just another vigilante film for those with a hardon for street justice. Sure, it has that element as it has many others. I think for those of you young guys out there who think Dirty Harry is just something your dad used to watch, as mine did, if you are a film fan I think you owe it to yourself. My review here doesn’t speak to all the great action pieces, the “cool” factor that Clint Eastwood pours out in the film or how well the Scorpio character plays out; but you can find that information anywhere. Hopefully those of you who have seen the film however will find some food for the thought here and prove that maybe I am not as crazy as I think I might possibly be!



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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