Crime Classics : Dirty Harry (1971)

I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Debuting split reel’s newest feature Crime Classics is the 1971 action-thriller Dirty Harry. Police Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood hunts down psycopath killer Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) who’s been terrorizing San Fransisco with random sniper attacks.

Callahan’s unorthodox methods of investigation lead him to a situation where a known assailant, the Scorpio Killer, (loosely based on the Zodiac Killer Charles Davis walks free after first arrest. In order to save a life of a kidnapped woman (assumed to be still alive) searches Davis’ appartment without a search warrant letting him escape his charges, all evidence was found inadmissable. Callahan takes the law into his own hands when he starts following ‘the Scorpio’, feeling obligated to put an end to his homicidal streak.


The police isn’t really shown in a good light in Dirty Harry. Besides the fact that on three differen occasions they had an eyball on the subject and managed to lose him, all operations carried out by Callahan are a) on his on time or b) if on duty, without back-up. Scorpio is holding a girl as hostage for a 100 000$ (I guess that was more money back then) and Callahan is sent for the drop-off without detail except for a rookie cop following him from a distance through a wire. Yet again Scorpio gets away, but not before crippling the shadowing Inspector, Gonzalez (Reni Santoni). Callahan (aka. ‘Dirty Harry’) himself is a loose cannon, a complete badass and a clever cop, but even he at the end abandons the shield when he tracks down Scorpio and yet again without notifying anyone, firstly stops him from killing a bus-full of children, but then as the echoes of his famous line ‘Do you punk? are still in the air, he kills Scorpio when he tries to reach for the gun.

Clint Eastwood creates a role that is forever treasured in the history of crime film; Frank Sinatra was originally cast as Callahan but had to drop out due to a wrist injury. A lesson in method acting, Eastwood created a character of opposites. A firm believer of justice, but a rebel within the police force Callahan has laid way for tough-guy cops and even vigilantes along the years. Callahan is a racist, he’s disrespectful of all authority but in his core a very moral character that values an eye-for-an-eye justice. Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That’s my policy. His quick-witted tough guy facade is both his triumph and downfall as a cop; he works from passion rather than reason.

Dirty Harry played well into the time; the emergence of the concept of a serial killer only happened in the mid-70’s. Even though serial killings have happened before, the ‘Serial Killer Industry’ was only created after killers like the Zodiac contacted the press and made the killings anyone’s business. The film shows the setting of San Fransisco’s bustling gay-community that faced a threat in a liberal-conservative conflict. But with killers like the Zodiac (and later Son of Sam) there was no reason, no pattern, no victimology that explained the random attacks; for the first time America felt the fear of random attacks and murders. The film plays well on this agenda, depicting Scorpio as a crazy madman whose next victim could be anyone. He has no respect for life, and targets anyone: women, men, children, all ethnicities, all social classes. Obviously a psycopath no motive is given for Scorpio, which in a way makes him an even scarier character; as Callahan says ‘he just likes to kill’.

Dirty Harry has stayed in history as a crime classic due to the genius of Don Siegel, a mastermind in suspense, crime and thrill, the quality of characters and the witty, clever writing. Of course the shock factor doesn’t remain after years and years of horror films that really have become torture-porn, but it did indeed show some of the first full-frontals, vigilante violence and ‘foul language’, at least to the extent that was new to the day. The violence remains shocking and some of the imagery is still convincing (excluding the ketchup-coloured blood) but most of all it brought the serial-killer-hunted-down-by-detective-genre, a genre that I and many others have grown to love, into the mainstream and created the superstar that is Clint Eastwood.

Crimes Committed

– Bank robbery
– 4 cases of first-degree murder
– 2 cases of battery, 1 aggravated assault
– 1 account of kidapping and rape
– Resisting arrest
– Several incidents of police brutality

8.5 / 10

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8 responses to “Crime Classics : Dirty Harry (1971)

  1. Not only is Harry a racist, he’s a complete pervert as well; there are at least two occasions where he pauses to stare through the window at a naked woman. Just saying.

    It’s a great film; I recently got to study it in a film class and gained a whole new understanding of and its rather right wing agenda. And the sequence in the stadium that culminates in Harry essentially torturing Scorpio is fantastically shot, lit, edited and scored…probably one of my all time favourite scenes.

    Excellent review, I look forward to more in this series!

    • Well if sneaking a peek is classified as being a pervert haha. No, you’re definitely right!

      Cool, I should read up on that!

      Great, thanks!

  2. Great movie. I love it because it makes you severely question your left-wing beliefs once you find yourself rooting for the guy who shoots first and asks questions later. In real life I’d find this kind of cop completely corrupt, but watching him work is such fun! A true contradiction. :-)

    • Right! I have to admit that this is the only Dirty Harry I’ve seen, I’m going to check them out asap; I’m interested in how Harry comes back from killing the Scorpio and in a way letting go of his police- status by doing that, symbolized by his throwing of his shield in the water. I guess they just bring him back like nothing happened, eyh?

  3. i noticed there was a cinema sign of Play Misty For Me. Coincidentally the movie was released in 1971 stars and directed by Mr. Eastwood.

  4. This movie really had two stars, Clint Eastwood and Andy Robinson. Clint became a superstar, while Andy did not, yet Andy’s performance was absolutely stellar. Too bad he was punished for being so good.

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