Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Film Review: DIRTY HARRY (1971, Don Siegel)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Clint Eastwood, Andy Robinson, John Vernon, John Mitchum, Harry Guardino, John Milius (uncredited screenplay contributions), and a Lalo Schifrin score.
Tag-lines: "You don't assign him to murder cases, You just turn him loose."
Best one-liner: "Stupid kid! Come on, sing everyone! Sing, or I'll go home and kill all your mommies, sing, sing!"

"For $29.50, let it hurt." Of all the directorial "father" figures that molded Clint Eastwood into the legend he is today, I would say that Don Siegel had the greatest impact. Their collaborations (COOGAN'S BLUFF, THE BEGUILED, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, etc.) embodied a certain counter counter-culture sensibility that sometimes flirted with fascism, but shouldn't be confused for it. Instead, the films are complex dissections of the "man of values" in a world which has none, with our hero gradually realizing that his supposed values systems are in fact shadowy and undefined, and aww, who the hell cares anymore, let's shoot some people.

But then there's no satisfaction from that, either. So, call it what you will, but I think our leather elbow-padded, sweet sunglasses-wearing, constantly squinting, ever-sneering hero perpetually sits in judgment of society- ALL society- from the rich stuffed-shirts to his fellow cops to the hippies.

Plenty of extremes are presented to show you what Harry's not: the skeezy politico mayor (John Vernon), the homicidal racist homophobe Scorpio (Andy Robinson), the by-the-book cops and office drones, street thugs, and innocent victims. But, despite the nihilistic undertones, DIRTY HARRY is hilarious: "Do it at home!" he harshly intones to a young man cruisin' in the park, "Go on out and get some air, fatso!" he growls at Bob Mitchum's overweight brother (and that seriously takes some guts to offend a Mitchum- I guess that means you think you can take on Bob...and maybe Clint can!). And every Siegel flick has at least one amazingly head-scratching moment that fails to immediately sink in. HARRY's is when, in the middle of a crucial stakeout, his binoculars roam across a hippie's apartment, hosting some kind of ridiculous threesome. Instead of the sneer of derision we expect, Harry whispers to himself, "You owe it to yourself to live a little, Harry." WHUTTTT?! Bravo, Harry. Here's five stars- even though I know you'll just throw 'em in the river.

-Sean Gill

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