GROWLS AND ‘SWELLS’: AN ANALYSIS OF CLINT EASTWOOD (Part 6)

| August 3, 2015

Dirty Harry

EPISODE 6: YOU FEELING FORTUNATE? WELL ARE YA SONNY?!?!

Welcome back to Clint-ville eager readers.

The long awaited return to Eastwoods filmography is finally here.

When we last left our hero, he had been on 21 adventres doing a multitude of things ranging from the serious to the seriously ridiculous. But you know, I do feel that the man should be given props for even the films already covered that weren’t so great. He explored his options in great stride throughout his career, and will continue to as his next film will tackle Captain Sully and the Hudson Landing. He’s earned the right, because let’s face it, he could have been shoehorned in the films we are about to explore today. Clint has two major identities: Silent Cowboy and Grizzled Cop on the edge.

The latter has populated his career thusly, but it really took off with a script by Harry Julian Fink and R.M Fink that almost went to Paul Newman. A script that ABC television did not want to touch so it was sold to Warner Brothers and rewritten by the legendary John Millius. A story that capitalized on the terror of the San Francisco area’s most notorious serial killer blended with the anxieties of crime ridden streets in America moving into the 1970’s.

It was the story of Inspector Harry Callahan from homicide. They called him DIRTY HARRY.

DIRTY HARRY challenged the action film convention by moving the Western mythos to the Bay Area, upset many different groups, and solidified Clint Eastwood as the go to action star for a generation.
4 more adventures followed Harry Callahan through his career consistencies of being kicked out of homicide for 5 minutes only to be brought back because shit gets VERY FUCKING REAL. He would dive daringly into third act climaxes where the solutions got crazy and sometimes sincere. And each and every last frame showed Harry walking away from it all for good… or at least until Warner Brothers green lit the next one.

So lets head to San Francisco where we will see Harry Callahan face off against Crazy Men with a penchant for the song ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’, a group of motorcycle cops with a grudge on crime, a hippie communes quest for city wide control, a woman on the road to revenge, and a man obsessed with knocking off celebrities like Jim Carrey.

Callahan: Go ahead… rate my day.

DIRTY HARRY

4 outta 4 .44 Magnums.

If we are going to talk about the impact of the film we are destined to be here all day. Let’s just focus on the film.

DIRTY HARRY is a film that wraps itself around a very central focus that , while not exactly as mirrored as our society today, does work on many levels. Callahan is a force of nature dealing with another force of nature with a very distinct western vibe. The story itself revolves around the true to life inspiration of the Zodiac murders in the form of Scorpio (Andy Robinson , who brings a perfect diabolical and natsy tone to the character) and the manhunt for him by Dirty Harry. Whats interesting to note is that this is a thriller more than anything, the action spread out in a graceful fashion that shows elegance amidst the raw reality.

Don Siegel directs a glorious symphony of the story of good vs. evil that the lines that blur provide apt thought and inspire conversation. Its the hallmark of any good film. And yes, Clint is superb in the film, as if it needed to be said. He brings a relatable quality to a grizzled angry man who rarely shows his heart. When he does, it is still safley guarded by 10 attack dogs and 3 land mines. Its a wonderful character.

MAGNUM FORCE

3.5 outta 4 Hal Holbrooks

John Millius’ script finds Callahan at the center of a police conspiracy for the second in the Dirty Harry franchise, and for the most part it proves just as perfect a situation as the first Dirty Harry film. Clint shines again in the famous tole with all the cynicism and attitude one expect from Inspector Callahan. Hal Holbrook also proves a formidable antithesis to Harrys way of doing things, but by the time his true nature is revealed, it feels like they wanted it rather than needed it. The twist at the end works, its just that you can tell that its a bit of a stretch when compared to more refined third act twists.

The real weakness in this film is honestly the fact that its coming right after a very definite and defining moment at the end of the first film, which thematically sums up the thesis of the piece. Bringing Callahan back from this defining moment is not disrespectful, but it would have helped if they went into it a bit more and gave some context. In addition, the ultimate point of the film itself almost spits in the face of the rebellious stance the first film takes. Magnum Force seems to be the start of the “safer” Harry Callahan. Thats not wrong, but it is surprising.

As sequels go, it is a fine example of how to continue a character though, delving more into Harrys personal life and his off time. And as a piece of 70s action it is clearly beautiful action filmmaking with wonderful cinematography and music by series contributor Lalo Schifrin.

THE ENFORCER

2.5 outta 4 New Partners.

THE ENFORCER is a moment where people in the theater are still excited but they walk and go, “well, this has to be the last one.”

It’s a great film on its own, but it does the job of further extrapolating a character that doesnt need any further extrapolation. Clint is back as Harry Callahan, and this time he’s after a revolutionary cult that wants to hold the city hostage on Alcatraz. He is the usual slick cop with grit on his mind and grit in his teeth. This time around, he is partnered up with a feamle partner fresh out of the academy (played by Tyne Daly, who handles herself well amidst Callahan’s misguided notions).

This is where the formula of “Stereotype Harry” becomes full force. It has the dying partner in the first act, the new partner, the catchy one liners that were once cool. Everything here does what THE ROOKIE would eventually do as will The Simpsons with McBain.

Being that it’s an early arrival of this ilk, you have to give it props for not being extremely overwrought with cliche, and the direction by James Fargo is something new and exciting to the franchise with much quicker paced action and faster editing that keeps it on par with what the 80’s will bring 5 years later.

SUDDEN IMPACT

3 outta 4 Days Made

“Go Ahead.. Make My Day.”

Outside of asking a punk if he feels lucky, this is one of the biggest take aways from the Dirty Harry franchise in terms of dialogue. It is a line that entered the culture with such a bang, it’s sometimes hard to remember that outside of MAGNUM FORCE, Sudden Impact is one of the best sequels in the Dirty Harry Franchise.

With that though comes a weird tradeoff…. Callahan has many scenes with a stray dog that show his Buster Keaton like grace down a street.

Outside of the rare moments where the film goes to the dogs (HEY MA, I’M CLEVER!), Clint presents a Callahan that in theory is closer to his roots than the previous outing. Whats intriguing is his inner conflict with the upholding of the law vs victims rights as he hunts down a woman (Sondra Locke) who is killing off people who raped her and her now catatonic sister years back. Callahan knows what the law says, but he also knows what his morals say. And with Clint directing this time around, one deals with Callahan mainly in the shadows deciding the fate of the conflict with deep thought and pause. It is wonderful action/suspense filmmaking.

THE DEAD POOL

2 outta 4 Jim Carrey’s Singing Guns and Roses

Buddy Van Horn, a long time Eastwood compatriot has not been treated kindly on my list as of late. His films barely go beyond 2 stars, and I feel bad because the man was a stunt wizard in his prime. He coordinated Clints stunts throughout the years with careful diligence and style that can only find comparison to the legendary Hal Needham. Van Horn is not the best director outside of action pieces though, and Callahan used to be much MUCH more than action. By the time DEAD POOL comes around, we are just itching for the finale to go home.

Clint delivers, but it is clear he’s done with the character and wants to go home and prep Unforgiven. Even his one liners, while still amazing as anything said by the man, are weak and without any support.

I think the funniest thing we get out of this is Jim Carrey as a strung out rock star lip synching to Guns and Roses, and even that seems below Carrey… and no people, I like Carrey, unlike you Pet Detective hating fools.

One fun note though: the scene with a toy car packed with a bomb is a damn hilarious and inspired action scene that I will gladly remember forever.

What we can take away from Harry Callahan is a part of Clints legacy. It is the part of him that frankly will be the most remembered in his career outside of his western work with Sergio Leone.

Hey, what better way to be remembered than as “The Best Movie Cop Ever.”

Not a bad gig Clint… not bad at all.

26 down 31 to go. The marathon will continue next week with a special report on a 2008 film that serves as the eulogy to Dirty Harry.

About the Author:

Zach Eastman is the filmmaker responsible for films such as TWOMBLEY (Starz Film Festival 2012 Official Selection) and THE BOY WHO STARES. He is also the producer of Matty O Connor's film GUNS DRUGS AND SYNERGY, Adam Jewels award winning film THE ZONE, and Tony Grosz's TWO YEARS SINCE FRIDAY. He has been a frequent guest on REEL NERDS PODCAST and now is one of their contributors.
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