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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Franchise Fallout - Dirty Harry Part One

We open with a shot of a memorial to the police officers of San Francisco who have given their lives to police the city and then we are watching an attractive young girl through the lends of a sniper's sight, before the camera pulls back and shows us the sniper, thought not his face but a mop of unkempt hair - Bang. The woman's dead. The titles play over the cops at the murder scene with Harry Callaghan (Eastwood) discovering the clues and figuring the sniper shot from a building down the street. Harry climbs the building and finds a spent shell and a note - To the city of San Francisco, I will enjoy killing one person every day until you pay me one hundred thousand dollars. If you agree say so tomorrow in the personal column of the San Francisco Chronicle and I will set up meeting. If I do not hear from you it will be my pleasure to kill a Catholic Priest or a nigger. Scorpio.

Yeah, we're firmly in the 1970's complete with all the racial slurs of the era - and all we have between us and the freaks who rule the streets is the toughest cop of them all, Inspector Harry Callaghan played by the great Clint Eastwood.

"For the last quarter of an hour I've been sitting on my arse in your outer office," Harry tells the mayor when he's asked what they are doing to stop the maniac sniper.

Eastwood is of course excellent in the role - in one early scene he enters a shoot out with a group of bank robbers while eating his hamburger, ending the scene with the famous line - "Did he fire six shots, or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well do ya, punk?"

It's an excellent piece of writing and still sounds awesome today - the original script though featured a differing version of the line that went - "You been counting? Well, was it five or was it six? Regulations say five...hammer down on the empty...only not all of us go by the book. What you have to do is think about it. I mean this is a forty-four magnum and it'll turn your head into hash. Now, do you think I fired five or six? And if five, do I keep a live one under the hammer? It's all up to you. Are you feeling lucky, Punk?"

The movie was to be originally titled Dead Right and after the role was offered to Frank Sinatra who turned it down, John Wayne was approached but the Duke didn't want the role.

“They offered it to Frank Sinatra first, but he'd hurt his hand and couldn't do it. I don't like being offered Sinatra's rejections. Put that one down to pride. The second reason I refused the role is that I thought Harry was a rogue cop. Put that down to narrow-mindedness because when I saw the picture I realized that Harry was the kind of part I'd played often enough: a guy who lives within the law but breaks the rules when he really has to in order to save others. The third reason is that I was too busy making other pictures." John Wayne.

It took some time to get the film into production and at one point ABC were developing the project as a TV movie,but when it was decided the violence was to excessive for TV it was sold to Warner Brothers who offered the role to Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman before Frank Sinatra took the role but then dropped out. Eastwood was suggested by Paul Newman.

The rest of course is movie history and so good was Eastwood that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the iconic role - let's hope the rumors of a re-make starring Hugh Jackman are unfounded. The film may play a little slow in places, but it's a damn good movie and Eastwood and Andrew Robinson (as Scorpio) are absolutely brilliant. There's enough humour in the tightly written script to drag the viewer from set piece to set piece, and there are several crackers in this movie. The cinematography is also exceptional and we get some great shots of San Francisco which make the city as much a character in the movie as any of the actors - the film uses the lanscapes in much the way a western movie would, and in many ways Dirty Harry is something of a urban western.

The violence in the movie is still shocking all these years later - though the scene where Eastwood brutalizes the Scorpio killer which has been much criticized is a real crowd pleaser - Andrew Robinson plays the Scorpio killer with such gusto that we're cheering as Harry stomps on the man's leg after stabbing him in the said limb. Harry does this for a reason - Scorpio has recently kidnapped a young girl and the cop figures torture is the only way to get her whereabouts out of the maniac. And besides Scorpio has already kicked the shit out of Eastwood in an earlier scene so it's justified violence in this movie world. And speaking of the scene where Eastwood stabs Scorpio in the foot - the scream Scorpio utters is likely the most bizarre scream in movie history.

You've got to give it up for that scream. Check out the video below.

 Harry's arrest of Scorpio is deemed illegal and soon our psycho is back on the streets where he steals a school bus full of children in another attempt to extort a ransom from the city. Harry though jumps onto the roof of the bus and we are given a stunning sequence with some incredible work by the stunt team. It all ends in a rock quarry with a true western-gunfighter  shoot out before Eastwood drops the Scorpio killer with a shot to the arm before,once again uttering that line - "Did he fire six shots, or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well do ya, punk?"

The final scene, in which Harry throws his badge into the water, is an homage to a similar scene from 1952's High Noon.

Dirty Harry was well received by critics and is regarded as one of the best films of 1971.The film holds a 95% approval rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.It was nominated at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards for Best Motion Picture.The film caused controversy when it was released, sparking debate over issues ranging from police brutality to victims' rights and the nature of law enforcement. Feminists in particular were outraged by the film and at the Oscars for 1971 protested outside holding up banners which read messages such as "Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig".

Many critics expressed concern with what they saw as bigotry, with Newsweek describing the film as "a right-wing fantasy", Variety as "a specious, phony glorification of the police and police brutality with a superhero whose antics become almost satire" and a raging review by Pauline Kael of The New Yorker who accused Eastwood of a "single-minded attack against liberal values".Several people accused him of racism in the decision to cast four African-Americans as the bank robbers. Eastwood dismissed the political outrage, claiming that Callahan was just obeying a higher moral authority.

"Some people are so politically oriented, when they see cornflakes in a bowl, they get some complex interpretation out of it" Clint Eastwood.

Next up came Magnum Force - check out the original cinema trailer below and be back for part two of the Dirty Harry Franchise Fallout

1 comment:

Heath Lowrance said...

What a fantastic over-view of one of my all time favorite movies. Nice work!