‘Dirty Harry’: Does popularity equal quality?

 

Dirty Harry (1971)

Directed by Don Siegel

7/10  R

Let’s start with the funkadelic intro music: what a nugget of early-70’s gold. How else could you possibly build tension in a buddy cop movie besides funky jazz channeling Herbie Hancock? It reached the level of camp that most parodies of 70’s movies fail to reach today. But enough about that. The premiere buddy cop flick, “Dirty Harry” is the stuff of misquoted movie lore (am I right, punk?)

I prefer my Clint Eastwood stakin’ (as in stakin’ out), not spurred, so his investigative roles are much more appealing to me than anything with a horse or a ten-gallon hat. In “Dirty Harry,” he begins his five-part Harry Callahan franchise that ended in 1988 with (what I assume was) a horrible movie in “Dead Pool.” And the story isn’t too fresh. Harry is known for taking the dirty jobs, so when he has to track a sniper (he shoots victims like fish in a barrel just for funsies: law and disorder) he doesn’t think anything of it. With his partner, the intriguingly- (and racially-?) named Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni), Harry scouts rooftops and parks for the man who calls himself “Scorpio” (Andrew Robinson), but they’re always one step behind. Even his overcompensating handgun (which more than replaces the thumb and index he’d use nearly 40 years later in “Gran Torino”) wasn’t enough to strike fear into the assassin’s hardened heart.

“Dirty Harry” is heroin to adrenaline junkies…obviously, since Eastwood thought he could get away with four more. Though most action movies (especially in 1971) didn’t care terribly about cinematography, the film’s various long range and POV shots are used especially well. But the action comes with a common 1971 price…terrible sound quality. Gunfire, bank alarms, and passing Chryslers made concentrating difficult, which made forming opinions difficult. And, like my friend Winnie-the-Pooh once said (don’t ask me why I remember that), it lags a bit in the middle. Between the action and the suspense comes sheer boredom…unfortunately, much of it is boring and forgettable (not good words for a film that sells itself as action/crime/thriller. And the notion is generally supported by IMDb users. They give the film a 7.8/10, a great rating but not enough to crack the “Top 250” list that Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” and “Unforgiven” cracked. And it wasn’t nominated for any major (and hardly any minor) awards for 1971, the year that brought “Fiddler on the Roof” Oscar gold. Eastwood won Oscars for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven” (1993 brought him his first nomination, years after his first motion picture in 1955.) but “Dirty Harry” brought him little acclaim but over $24,000 in domestic profits in 1972 (at one point in 1982, that was enough to make it the 144th highest domestic grossing movie of all time, but now it’s fallen to a lousy 1,775th…behind movies like “Death Race” and “Son-in-Law” with Pauly Shore). Research makes this seem like a really lousy movie, but it’s still a cult classic that everyone should see…if for no other reason than to say they have (it’s the only reason I saw it). So are you gonna see it now? Well are ya, punk?

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4 thoughts on “‘Dirty Harry’: Does popularity equal quality?

  1. Its hard to give a fair review of a film that was made over 40 years ago, for its time it was a “cool” movie. If you watch the original star wars now it looks like it was made by a 15 year old high school student in his spare time, but at the time it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

    1. Completely understandable, and I can’t put myself in 1971 to see it then. But if I’m reviewing a movie someone can see now, I have to say what I think of it in 2012.

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