Dirty Harry

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Feel sorry for Inspector Harry Callahan. Not only does he have to abide by pesky laws and procedures, and not only is the Mayor a damned coward, but his new partner studied sociology. In other words, he's the sort of man who actually tries to understand criminal behaviour and fix society's problems with rational thought and all that jazz. But for Harry, what's there to understand? Criminals are damned punks. A bullet in the head is true justice.

And there are so many criminals about. Just take the list of dead police officers that opens the film. All of them were killed by damned punks, and those damned pussies at city hall seem to be encouraging them. No wonder a guy like Harry is disillusioned.

Of course, in the real world, a guy like Harry Callahan would be a liability. I mean, no one is right all the time, and when Harry thinks he's right, he has no qualms about shooting suspects or torturing them. But hey, this is a movie, and therefore Harry is always right. Consequently his fascism is just a committed cop doing what it takes to get results. We love every moment of it.

I guess it helps that his adversary is off his nut. Really, is there anyone quite so mental as Scorpio? I don't think there is. He makes Tom Cruise look like he has all his faculties.

My favourite Scorpio bit is the Scorpio scream when Harry stabs him in the leg. Words fail to describe the hilarity and the insane beauty of the sound, but if I were to try, I'd say it sounded like the sound a man would make if he were mounted by an overly friendly horse. But in the same scene there's the brilliant moment when Scorpio beats Harry up. Wearing a lurid orange ski mask, and staring at him with deranged eyes, he shouts, "Do we understand each other?" It's so crazy it's almost beautiful.

Also rather beautiful is the way Harry captures Scorpio. He chases him through a football stadium and on the pitch he orders Scorpio to stop, which he does. Then he shoots him in the leg, which leads to more Scorpio screaming. At this point it seems like the scene can't get any better, but then Scorpio starts pleading like a little girl. "You tried to kill me...I want a lawyer...I have the right to a lawyer." And then Harry treads on Scorpio's wound and you have a fantastic helicopter shot that pulls away from the action to reveal a god's eye view. And if god did exist, I'm sure he'd approve. I know I do. Well, only because I know with 100% certainty that Harry is right.

But those damned liberals at city hall don't approve of Harry's methods, so Scorpio gets released. I mean, Harry only performed an illegal search and violated a man's rights. What's the problem?

But insanely dedicated cop that he is (in other words, he doesn't have a life of his own), Harry follows Scorpio around during his spare time. And classy fellow that he is, Scorpio spends plenty of time in titty bars. But Scorpio soon tires of being trailed, and in a magnificent scene, pays a large black man to beat him up, framing it on Harry (I love how mangled Scorpio's face is when he insults the large man that is beating him up - 'Are you sure you want the rest?' 'Every penny's worth you black son of a bitch'). But do you see what happens when you give people rights? They use their devious minds to turn everything around. Wouldn't the word be a much better place if cops were at liberty to blow heads clean off? Mayors and stupid chiefs, and laws and regulations only hinder good ole cops like Harry.

And just look at what happens when someone like Scorpio is left on the street. He shoots people with his snipers rifle and he robs shopkeepers. And the shop scene may well be my favourite in the film – although it would compete with the scene where Harry deals with the jumper (he insults him, makes him mad and then punches him out; now that's policing). But in the shop scene, Scorpio chats to the owner about how many times he's been robbed. The owner blathers for a bit and shows him his gun. To which Scorpio meekly says, "Please, I scare easy." But then as the man is putting his gun away, Scorpio smashes a bottle over his head (while still in its paper bag) and robs the bloke. How can you hate a man that's so ingenious? And how can you hate a man who pleads like a dog, screams like a girl and wants to kill Catholic priests? See, he's not all bad.

Plus he's great with children. There he is singing with them and having a good old time. Sure he slaps them about a bit and tells them that he's going to kill their mothers, but children need a bit of discipline, don't they?

But Harry soon puts a stop to this. Like The Terminator he jumps off a bridge, lands on top of the bus and after a bit of a shoot-out, kills Scorpio. Then he throws his badge away. It would be an ending with some symbolic meaning if Callahan hadn't returned for so many sequels. But as it is, Dirty Harry is a shallow, wafer-thin detective film that's a hell of a lot of fun. I mean, there's almost zero character development (Harry's wife is dead and that's that; and Scorpio is just loco), but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable ride. Just the Scorpio scream on its own would make it worthwhile, but on top of that you have a fascist cop blowing people away with his large gun. And surely that's enough for anyone.

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