Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, John Larch, John Mitchum, John Vernon, Ruth Kobart, Woodrow Parfrey, Lois Foraker, Josef Sommer, William Patterson, James Nolan, Craig Kelly, Albert Popwell
Written by: Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, based on a story by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink
Directed by: Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 12/22/1971

Dirty Harry (1971)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Lucky Punks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Dirty Harry was Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood's fourth of five collaborations, and by far the most massively successful. It spawned four sequels, many knockoffs and a famous catchphrase: "Do you feel lucky?"

Both Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael called it "fascist," but I don't believe that's correct; it's more of a Libertarian standpoint. It's of the attitude that too many laws are in place with too many protections for all the wrong people, and it's up to individuals to take action.

Harry is a San Francisco police inspector whose anti-authority attitude generally gets him (and his partners) in trouble. As the film opens, a killer calling himself Scorpio (of course, based somewhat on the Zodiac killer, who was feared loose at the time) has murdered a girl and leaves a note demanding ransom against more murders. Harry goes after him, taking time out for things like foiling a robbery and callously talking a jumper down from the top of a building.

Eventually Harry catches Scorpio, but his not-by-the-book police work results in the direct release of the villain, who then kidnaps a busload of kids. Andy Robinson plays Scorpio, and though he's not a three-dimensional villain, it's an intuitive performance, presenting a twisted psychopath, continually rising from his terrible beatings, limping and sneering through the bandage on his face; he inspires a most palpable kind of hatred.

Siegel makes excellent use of San Francisco locations, even if Harry makes a few implausible leaps across town from time to time. The Kezar Stadium showdown in particular is a keeper. The film has been accused of being too unpleasantly violent, but it actually seems rather restrained compared to more modern films. According to legend, the lead role was originally written for Frank Sinatra! And John Milius reportedly worked on the screenplay, without credit.

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