It’s been over 37 years since Dirty Harry was made and as I shared it with my son, last week, I was more than a little shocked to find it was still rivetting. This is the first in a series of five movies about Inspector Harry Callahan and follows him as he tracks a vicious killer trying to ransom the city of San Francisco. It is directed by Don Siegel.
What makes Clint Eastwood so good in Dirty Harry is that you and I, watching him, really want this kind of cop on our side. He makes Harry Callahan seem a little less like the vigilante he could have easily been portrayed as and a little more like someone out for justice in the end. And not really justifying any means along the way to the end. The story to Dirty Harry is a simple one really, just like most movie plots, and life is rarely like that but maybe that’s what makes this movie and the sequels so enticing. It is clearly entertaining and entertaining because the just path is clear.
But this Eastwood character really grows through the series and the actor certainly does through his illustrious career. In the second film, Magnum Force, Callahan is fighting police vigilante-ism but it still doesn’t get too complicated. But by the time we reach Sudden Impact, the fourth film with Callahan, things are a little less clear. It is also excellent in my opinion. The issues have become much less cut and dried and knowing where the justice actually lies is not so easy. I think that when Eastwood is acting and directing, like in this one, he’s at his best.
This is certainly true in Unforgiven which is, far and away, my favourite Eastwood film and the best that I’ve seen in the Western genre. This is an odd fact, in itself, since this is really an anti-Western. Justice is turned on its head, here, and that is repeated many times during the film. The Eastwood character, William Munny, is complex. He is a mix of meek man of God and loving father as well as vicious, cold-blooded killer. He is as revolting as he is fascinating. There is violence here but not all that much gore. Just like in Dirty Harry we see the honourable man getting the job done. But here the audience may wonder if the job was just? I don’t know and I think that’s the point. In the end, we see Justice is an ambiguous thing. A definite progression from A Fistful of dollars, High Plains Drifter and Dirty Harry, but, as I’ve said, I still like ’em all.
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