Will Pfeifer: Eastwood one bad (and amusing) dude
Warner Bros. just re-released all the Dirty Harry films on DVD, so I sat down and watched the original.
It was the first time I’d seen it in probably 20 years, and I noticed something I hadn’t before.
Dirty Harry is a funny guy.
People might have taken the kill-the-criminals stance of “Dirty Harry” and its sequels seriously, but to his credit, you can tell Clint Eastwood never did. Just watch the movie’s most famous scene, where Harry’s lunch is interrupted by a bank robbery.
Our hero doesn’t stop munching on his hot dog as he saunters into the street, unloads several rounds into the criminals and makes his big “most powerful handgun in the world” speech to one of the survivors. By the time the criminal pleads with him to reveal whether he fired six bullets or five, Harry’s pulling of the trigger has become the punchline of an elaborate joke.
“Dirty Harry” has its dark side. There are murders, assaults, kidnappings and a finale where a busload of kids is taken hostage. The maniacal Scorpio, played by Andrew
Robinson (son of Edward G.), is a truly nasty piece of work, abducting a girl, threatening children and hiring a guy to beat him bloody just to get Harry in trouble.
And the ending is nothing to laugh about, with Harry reprising his “Did I fire six shots or only five?” line to deadly effect. But Eastwood’s amused performance keeps the movie from being too grim. “Dirty Harry” glides by on wit, style and Eastwood’s unique screen presence.
It also benefits from smart direction. “Dirty Harry” was on the cutting edge of movie action in 1971, but it looks positively laid back now. Director Don Siegel shoots the movie in long, smooth takes that put Harry squarely in his San Francisco habitat. The city is a major supporting character, and we get a chance to soak up some of the atmosphere. Modern action films are cut so frenetically you can barely tell what’s going on. “Harry” is the opposite: It gives you a chance to care about what’s going on.
Trivia note: If you saw “Zodiac” (for my money, the best movie of recent years), you know that Scorpio is based on the real Zodiac killer, right down to the creepy letters and threats against school buses. There’s a scene in “Zodiac” showing reporter
Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) standing in the lobby during a “Dirty Harry” screening. Toschi was the inspiration for Harry (though he deplored Harry’s trampling of civil rights) and Steve McQueen’s 1968 San Francisco cop movie, “Bullitt.”