Reviewed Jul 16, 2012
Steve Grzesiak’s review:
If I were to say that Dirty Harry was one of my favourite childhood films, there may be some out there who exclaim to themselves, "What kind of PARENTS did this man have?! Disgraceful!" Well, the types of parents that would let me watch violent Clint Eastwood films as long as I didn't pretend to shoot my little brothers and repeat any of the swear words.
In fact, I think it was a favourite film of mine as early as 9 - by that point I'd figured out the timer on the video and caught a late night showing of it. It was only a good number of years later that I, irritatedly, discovered that sodding ITV had cut out the entire bit where Scorpio pays to get himself beat up, completely changing the storyline from that moment on. But nothing else. Oh yeah, we'll keep the bit where he stands on his leg wound in the middle of the American football pitch, that's fine.
It is notable to me that almost all of my top 10 films are films that I took to as a kid. It could be because I view them differently now to how I did then, almost giving them a multi-faceted quality. When I was a kid, for instance, Dirty Harry was that film where Clint Eastwood shoots lots of people and makes fun of his bosses and there are some boobies in it at some point as well. Tee hee. Nowadays it's just an utterly compelling, beautifully paced and amazingly influential cop thriller that saw Eastwood launch another icon on to cinema screens.
One thing it is not is particularly well acted in some ways. Andrew Robinson as Scorpio is still over-the-top and really trowelling it on at times (but at his best during his desperation school bus hijack) and Reni Santoni is slightly unconvincing as Callahan's sidekick. Plus, any film that has John Vernon in it would do well to put him in a lot more than Dirty Harry manages.
But I doubt anyone would ever claim that it is the perfect film, anyway, and neither should it try to be that. It's a grimy little film. Certainly nothing compared to something more recent like Se7en, but like that film it is a film set in a city populated with miserable and grotty people - and that's just the police.
What it happens to be is a film that is everything that a really good cop thriller should be and right from the very first scene to the climax, there is no let-up in the film. There is also an anti-hero sadism to Callahan that almost got lost in the transformation of him into a movie and pop culture icon, and Eastwood puts this across effortlessly and helps to mark it out as something quite special, even over 40 years on.
Don't show it to your 9 year old, though.