Writing Switch: Talking Dirty (Harry)
Inter-library loans are one of the greatest facets of polite society. It tickles us that some employee in Basalt gets a phone alert, has to dig around on the DVD shelf for all of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies, load them into a van, and drive them up to Aspen for us to have a rage-syphoning session. Ten (almost continuous) hours later, the following are our observations after witnessing 43 cretins disposed of at the trigger finger of Inspector Harry Callahan in a marathon session (and P.S., we’re assuming you’ve already seen them all):
BW: Like the first “Rambo,” which we reviewed in the past, “Dirty Harry” is a no-nonsense flick. It’s an hour and a half of running and shooting — no goofing off with Marvel-esque one-liners or tangential love stories. In fact, there’s only one woman in the movie, and when she asks Harry about his wife, he just responds with “SHE DIED!” End of story, back to running and shooting. The only emotion this movie provokes is contempt; a fellow officer remarks “there’s no one Harry doesn’t hate,” which he proves a few minutes later when he punches a suicidal jumper in the face.
After watching Callahan go outside the lines of police ethics, I realized he’s not called “Dirty Harry” because he always gets the tough jobs, as they say in the movie. Policing protocols sure have changed in the past 40 years. Harry has no qualms with pulling out a massive handgun and just running around with it, firing into crowds to pick off the bad guys. There’s no paid leave when Harry kills someone (or gets shot himself), no therapy, no investigations, just back at the water cooler with a Band-Aid the next day, cracking wise about minorities again.
Maybe if people had closed their velveteen curtains before having their disco orgies, it would be harder for the sniper on the loose to pick his targets.
If I were the villain, Scorpio, I would have “felt lucky” and gone for my gun, too. Statistically there was only like a 25% chance Harry had a bullet left, and that’s the nature of the scorpio: even if you’re wrong, it can’t be much worse than what’s going to happen otherwise. Just gotta risk it.
That’s so ‘70s: Lots of casual boobage. Worrying about walkie-talkies not working in tunnels. When was the last time you saw a Slugbug? Casual use of the word “molested” (and lots of other words I’m sure Sean will touch on). Pay phones and angry ransomers: “Callahan! Who picked up?” “I don’t know, some drunk guy. You’re calling random phones outside bars, what did you expect?”
Best quote: Scorpio: “I beat my wife.” Liquor store clerk: “Lol.”
SB: One-sentence summary: The only thing Dirty Harry hates more than bureaucrats is the scum of San Francisco.
Best line outside of “Do I feel lucky”: “When a naked man is chasing a girl with a butcher knife and a hard on, you assume he’s not collecting for the Red Cross.” — Harry Callahan
Casual racism: At one point, a cop Clint refers to as “Fatso” lists of a number of slurs — “Harry hates everybody” — that Harry despises to help Harry’s new Mexican partner get a sense of why they call him “Dirty Harry,” with Clint punctuating the string of racial epithets with one of his own.
Policing practices: Harry’s method of talking someone off a ledge is insulting them until they attack him, so he can grab and calm them down with his fists.
Fun observation: The absolutely sadistic killer also is a fan of the Oakland Raiders. (There was a pennant hanging in his “apartment.”)
BW: It feels weird watching a movie in 2021 about a bunch of ex-special forces, gun-happy rookie cops running around with Dirty Harry and not be anxious about it. There’s also a scene where a bunch of protesters surround some elected official’s car, and instead of being frightened, the occupants sigh exasperatedly and floor it out of there, bodies tumbling to the street.
Again, nothing phases Harry Callahan. If I just had a shotgun pointed at my head but then I end up killing some burglar, I wouldn’t be “good to drive,” let alone toss my colleagues a few homophobic slurs and head off to the pub. Although to be fair, in the aftermath of my three near-death experiences I have always responded with a record-breaking bar tab.
Nope, denizens of the ‘70s did not put a lot of effort toward their own safety. Instead of fleeing from violence, crowds begin congregating immediately every time disaster strikes. Why are these sick bastards rubbernecking to see a mutilated corpse? I accidentally stumbled onto the r/WatchPeopleDie subreddit once and I was DONE.
That’s so ‘70s: Very casual airplane hijacking with very casual solution. More casual boobs. Fedora-wearing, turtlenecked pimp who has a pink-and-yellow Cadillac with blinged-out roll bars. Guys just vibing, drinking beer outside the liquor store. Was it the haircuts specifically or did people’s hair just grow way different back then?
Best quote: Captain with a cellphone prototype: “Chief calls me on this thing day and night, even on the crapper!”
SB: One-sentence summary: There’s only room for one vigilante in San Francisco, and that’s Dirty Harry.
Best moment/line: When Harry finally figures out that his police chief is the bad guy, he slams his boss’ head into the dashboard repeatedly. I know everyone’s fantasized about slamming Ben’s hea — er, their boss’ head — into a dashboard.
Casual racism: A token bad guy definitely drops an N-bomb that’s not so casual. Harry, however, admits that he doesn’t care if the entire department is “queer” as long as they’re good shots.
Policing practices: This time, Harry tries a Black partner, who shocker, dies. We’ll check back on this later, but Harry’s insistence on working alone has merit.
Fun observation(s): A woman gets thrown out of a high-rise window, which was artfully done with an obvious doll. Also, the gun glorification in this movie is next level. The movie opens with a three-minute slow zoom on Clint’s hand holding a .44 Magnum.
SB: One-sentence summary: Dirty Harry is back — with a female partner (who dies).
Best moment/line: They bring in Harry to help screen which female recruits are qualified for the force. Harry not only mocks the process but poses a scenario featuring the woman bureaucrat/supervisor, a Shetland pony, $5 and a proposition. To be fair, the recruit/Harry’s eventual dead partner even found the misogyny funny.
Casual sexism: Harry’s bumbling lady partner puts her face behind a bazooka, and Harry has to pull her out of the way of its backfire.
Policing practices: During a liquor store holdup/hostage situation, Harry crashes a car into the establishment and kills everyone, including one with a shot to the taint.
Fun observation(s): During a footrace, a perp falls through a skylight into the middle of a porn shoot, which might have been the most egregious use of R-rated-prompted nudity throughout the five-movie run. Also, Harry elicits information from a pimp via assault with a plunger.
BW: The least memorable offering in the installment, Dirty Harry tries to save Aspen from a bunch of eco-terrorists, or something. Not even joking — these kids roll up to some kind of warehouse/plant operation and are like “we’re the gas company” and the guard is like “K.”
Callahan has a woman for a partner this time, and she knows all the penal codes, so there’s a chance we might have to suffer through some lovey-dovey stuff. Again, I thought it was a little rushed to assign him a new partner before his old one’s even in the ground, but it’s dangerous to go alone. Harry then slaps a guy having a heart attack before driving his car into a wine shop, destroying everything, and then shooting a guy literally in the hole of his butt.
When did police officers stop carrying around billy clubs? Can you imagine in today’s environment if everyday cops were whipping these sticks out like lightsabers and beating the bejeezus out of people with them? Yeah, so can I.
That’s so ‘70s: Killer hippies! Boobs. Littering. Alcatraz.
Best quote: Supervisor: “Give me your star!” Callahan: “That’s a seven-pointed suppository, Captain.”
BW: By the evolution of the theme music, you can definitely tell we’re in a new decade. The city has gone from “the highest point in San Francisco is on this hotel balcony” in the first film to “Blade Runner 1983.”
The magic of ‘80s Dirty Harry is that it’s so over the top that it’s equal parts hilarious and bad ass. For all that Dirty Harry has done for the city of San Fran over the years, he never gets any respect. They call him an SOB and are always demoting him to filing paperwork or forcing him on vacation. “Well I’m not up for vacation!” he snarls. Come on dude, go chill and read a book or watch “Fantasy Island” or whatever a maniacal slayer like you does on his days off, geez, your partner just died (again).
If I watched shit like this all the time, or listened to true crime podcasts even, I would be terrified that death is lurking around every corner. Harry can barely drive a couple blocks without being sidetracked by another stick-up or hostage situation and “teachers are getting thrown out the window for not giving A’s.” We’re in the gory glory of the action flick heydey and survival is a long shot. Even the ladies are getting slapped around in this one.
Being in the mob or like, a gang, would be so scary. I couldn’t even handle public school.
These movies are basically the same as the old westerns Eastwood is also famous for, but he has to be a cop to justify killing people. You can’t just be some guy, some drifter, in the modern age; you need institutional power.
That’s so ‘80s: Smoking whenever, wherever. Carnies! (Sean LOVES these guys … seriously.) Boobies! People so bored they stop on the sidewalk and are enthralled by a juggling mime.
Best death: Bad guy gets shot like three times, stumbles backward and falls from the top of a roller coaster, breaks through the glass of the carousel house and gets impaled on a unicorn horn.
Best quote: “You a JAMF!” “What’s a JAMF?” “A jive-ass…” “OK.”
SB: One-sentence summary: The darkest, dirtiest, rapey-ist Dirty Harry yet.
Best moment/line: Dirty Harry stumbles upon what has to be his 5,834th in-progress armed robbery of his career, and gets his mojo back with the series’ second-most iconic line: “Go ahead, make my day.” Also of note, Clint directs this one, which is probably why it was so good. Also, psycho killer lady who later goes free because she was only killing her rapists shoots guys in the junk, prompting an investigating officer to refer to it as a “.38 caliber vasectomy.”
Casual sexism: One of the merry band of rapists is a woman, who hits on Harry. Harry casually turns her down, before stopping her from slapping him. He then effortlessly tosses her to the floor while simultaneously kicking her in the ass.
Policing practices: The guy who Harry asked if he feels lucky in the first movie is back for a third time. (He returned as an informant/gang member in the third movie.) However, he’s like a friend/partner with Harry now, even at one point gifting him an adorable bulldog that Harry calls “Meathead.” Not sure what the San Francisco Police Department practices are for hiring former felons, but they seem extremely lax.
Fun observation(s): The music throughout the Dirty Harry movies is great — who knew noir and jazz flute went so well together — for the most part, including a large swath of “Sudden Impact”, but this is the first movie in the ‘80s, and the bass-riff-heavy intro music really doesn’t fit the tone.
SB: One-sentence summary: Dirty Harry doesn’t jump the shark, he harpoons it.
Best moment/line: Harry happens across his 6,091st in-progress armed robbery and doubles back on the bad guys, leading to Harry ambushing one punk with a “You forgot your fortune cookie, it says you’re shit out of luck” line and a .44 Magnum.
Casual racism: They give Harry an Asian partner who also knows karate, and uses it once. He doesn’t die but does get seriously injured. (Harry’s partners went 0-4, with two serious injuries and two deaths across five films.)
Policing practices: Not sure what happens more: An assassination attempt on Harry or Harry getting “pulled off the street!”
Observation: Liam Neeson and Jim Carrey make really strange cameos.
BW: After a mostly sleepless night of violent nightmares and sneering Clint Eastwood visions, I’m ready to close out the marathon unspectacularly with this last chapter, which is lucky because the only thing different about it is that there are no boobs.
At around minute 455 of this series, we see Harry ogle a random woman for the first time, finally removing doubt that he’s asexual. The “dirty” moniker takes on new meaning. Eastwood is starting to look kinda aged and gravelly at this point in his career, and this movie is still over 30 years old. Hell, “Unforgiven” hadn’t even been made yet.
The highlight of this film was also probably the best sequence in the series, with Dirty Harry racing a bomb-strapped remote-control car, flying in slow motion over hills and nobody is wearing seatbelts.
It’s really a miracle Harry has only been winged by the bevy of machine gun bullets and that his main character powers have shielded him so long. Even in the rare occurrence when he loses a fistfight, he leaps back up with no soreness or aches and starts exerting himself again — and if anything in this series is fake, I know that, for a fact, is impossible.
That’s so ‘80s: Glam rockers. Satanism. Heroin (how do people get past that fear of needles?). Guy with a rat tail. An actual computer.
Best quote: Guy who got Harry’s autograph: “I gotta change my shorts!” Us, too.
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