Dirty Harry (1971 United States)

dirty_harry_contact-0-1080-0-0(This review is dedicated to the man over at https://millenniumdecay.wordpress.com/)  Firstly, what a penetrating musical score by Lalo Schifrin! One of the many great components of this classic movie. This is not fascism, more like realism. Throughout the 1960s violent crime had been spiralling out of control in America and the West, so by 1971 someone had to come up with an accurate portrayal of what the police have to deal with. Dirty Harry was the first film to deal with how supportive the law can be of criminals.

Harry Callahan ( Clint Eastwood obviously) embodies everything that a hard boiled cop-come-anti-hero character needs to embody. The opening scene in which we see Callaghan is when he is called into the mayor’s office. Harry wastes no time in telling his superior how long he has been waiting and he doesn’t need any real orders in how to handle the case. Callaghan also closes his first scene with a line regarding policy, pointing out the line between what’s right, wrong and the correct thing to do in a certain situation – this relates directly to an incident involving an attempted rape Harry foiled a while back. (The details of this are ludicrous though – rapists don’t run naked down back alleys waving meat cleavers) From this opening scene, we learn that Harry is a guy who will go against the rules and do things his way and he sticks to this philosophy throughout.

I think what’s interesting is the way the film takes a certain approach to its bad guy. The first scene that kicks off the story is the killer himself making his first hit. Just a few scenes later we see exactly what the killer looks like in full view. This isn’t so much a detective story where the emphasis is ‘who done it’ as it is ‘here I am, come and get me’. By showing the killer and what he looks like before he makes his second hit is an interesting move, and a different approach to how certain other films may have tackled the material. Not only this but it makes the audience more self-aware; instead of having us try to figure out who it is and why he’s doing it, we get to see his face within the opening twenty minutes as he eyes up his next victim. Andy Robinson is truly perverse and his sickening character, Scorpio, seems all too real. This is what guys like him are like in real life. Very cunning and predatory, putting on a pleasant front to fool others, while always searching for the weak and helpless to victimize. He enjoys kidnapping, raping and killing a teenage girl. When he is up against a more powerful adversary however, he snivels and hysterically pleads for mercy. The first time I saw this I really wanted to blow his (Scorpio’s) brains out. I’m more calm now.


But this is something else the film includes in terms of subject matter: voyeurism. The film is extremely voyeuristic. Scorpio looks at an attractive girl swimming in a rooftop pool through his sniper scope for a bit of amusement before shooting her; thus delaying the seemingly obvious murder just that while longer for the audience to mull it over. He could be Lee Harvey Oswald staring down the barrel Not only this but it gives the killer, who we know nothing about at this point since it’s the first scene, an added sense of insanity that the audience will no doubt build upon. The film plays with who – looks – at- who and the position of power within the frame. The girl may be on a rooftop but Scorpio is on an even higher rooftop; thus looking down. The same technique is played with through Harry himself.

When he is attempting to scope out the killer with his partner on a rooftop after some bait had been set up, he uses the binoculars to gaze upon a naked woman in an apartment thus veering away from his job. He is looking at her while she has no knowledge of it, and from an elevated position. Interesting how the last time this happened in the film, it was Scorpio doing it and a murder followed soon afterward. Will a similar chain of events follow now that the voyeuristic action has been carried out? They are there to lure the killer into killing once again, after all, so all these things combine in the scene and will play on the audience’s minds as they watch on. The film was also made around the time of the serial killer: ‘Zodiac’. In the opening scenes when they read out who wrote the letter, they announce they’ll be searching for people’s birthdays between October 24th and November 22nd.

Someone asks why but the police merely say it’s because of the Scorpio star sign – nobody mentions ‘Zodiac’ or the Zodiac astrology setup. The word Zodiac would have just reminded audiences of the events that were going on at that time in San Francisco. Dirty Harry is a film that intrigues with its narrative, disturbs with its scenes of voyeurism, whilst all the time feeling real and gritty enough to be a serious crime film. The scenes of Harry merely doing his job early on as he works on the case in-between scenes are great simply for the fact the screenplay is terrific. No less than five people worked on it : Harry Julian Fink, John Milius and Dean Reisner to name but three. Director Don Siegel really delivers the goods as well. Dirty Harry is fast, fun, gritty, disturbing and contains enough deeper elements to render it far more memorable than for one mere line of dialogue.




  1. I feel so privileged, that you would and entire review for me. Thank you very much again, and you were spot on in the movie. I freaking loved this movie, as matter fact when me and my friends had “movie week” this was on my top list. I keep telling everyone “If you don’t hate Scorpio, you ain’t normal”.

    Everyone, congratulated me and said the movie was excellent. As matter fact we still used in judging other movies and there level of quality. Now I love to see if I could request so other of my favorite classics : )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks! I’m glad you like it. This film has aged very well so we can still relate to it with all the crime about these days. There will always be some Scorpio’s out there. Please send me some requests, and if I’ve seen them, I’ll do more for you too. 🙂


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