Dirty Harry

"Dirty Harry" is an important film for several reasons, including the remaking of its star, Clint Eastwood, into a first-rank "modern-day" action star of American cinema; the development of a grittier-style cop drama for which DH remains the standard today; and as the first unmistakable sign, by virtue of its popularity, of a significant public turning against the counter-culture that was feeding much of the content from Hollywood by this time.

People may point to "Patton" the year before, but that film retained a certain disapproving detachment from its protagonist. "Dirty Harry" is presented as our hero, plain and simple, Miranda and Escovito be damned. So effectively did Eastwood play this character that he spent four sequels apologizing for him by putting Harry up against right-wing extremists and interracial gangs while partnering with a Rainbow Coalition of enlightening partners, including the actor who played the poor bank robber he torments with his "six shots or fives" line near the beginning of the film.

 It's probably the only way to have kept the franchise going, because the original Harry would have been tough sledding after a while, but there's no denying that power he had his first time out was something neither he nor any other movie cop ever had again. There's a couple of scenes that bring it home, one when he confronts the DA who refuses to prosecute Scorpio ("I'm all broken up about his rights," Harry says) and the other where Harry waits for Scorpio alone at the end, gun drawn, all business, while the rest of the law-enforcement community plays the game.

The film does try to show us that Harry's heart is in the right place, that while he doesn't mind being seen as a racist he really isn't one. After he blows away three bank robbers, all black, we get to see him being worked on by an African-American doctor who's an old friend. The scummy lead villain, and a great one as played by Andy Robinson, is a baby-faced white boy who doesn't like hippies any more than Harry (less, actually, since Harry isn't aiming a rifle at them).

There's one stupid scene, the one involving the jumper, which is sloppy-edited and lazily thought-out. Harry doesn't seem the guy for the job, know what I mean? Otherwise, Don Siegel is brilliant putting Harry through his paces, and the result is even better than "Bullitt" for my money. The subway scene goes on for a while, but it's shot very well, superbly interplaying shadow and sound as our eyes stretch across corners hunting for the killer. I think the music makes an important contribution as well, here and elsewhere.