Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gettin' dirty with Harry

In my summer spree of checking out the library's DVD collection, I took out Dirty Harry and watched it last weekend.  Curiosity got the better of me.  I found it to be a pretty effective movie, overall.  A solid 90 minutes of railing against liberal judges would be a drag, but that aspect really just comes up at the 2/3 mark.  Also I think there's a lot of Don Siegel in Christopher Nolan.  Both this and his movies are rich with queasy bird's-eye shots, like the last view of a man about to be trhrown out of a helicopter.

Other things I got from it:

  1. The sixties aren't over:  Dirty Harry was released in 1971, still essentially the sixties.  It shows, and not just in the disc's Pop Art cover.  Scorpio, based on the never-caught Zodiac Killer, comes off as an evil flower child, yes.  But Harry himself is rather shaggy, not just in his hair but also his lanky movements.  He comes off as a hippie cowboy who took to actual gunslinging.  Unlike Clint Eastwood's friend Ronald Reagan, he seems to be telling the young of the time that they had won a victory in the cultural battle.  After that it's back to brutal business, though.
  2. The bosses are paper tigers.  Harry's methods raise hackles from the mayor, the DA, his superiors on the force.  It doesn't make a great deal of difference.  They need him, and they don't have any better ideas, so he's gonna do what he does.
  3. Who wins?  Scorpio may be a giggling psychopath who enjoys hurting people, but what is he really after.  The script depicts him as one step up from homeless, allowed to live under the bleachers of a football stadium by the caretaker's kindness.  If he were a good citizen, he'd very quickly be forgotten.  What's apparent to me is that while he's shaking down the city for 200 grand, his goal isn't money, sex, or even the pleasure of killing others.  He wants his miserable life to have a splashy end.  Not to spoil anything, but he is dealing with Dirty Harry Callahan.
  4. A spoonful of sex helped the violence go down.  There's a surprising amount of nudity in DH.  First Harry accidentally peeps on a BBW prostitute, then he delibartely spies on the opening stages of an orgy while on rooftop stakeout, then a dead girl is dug up naked, and finally Harry follows Scorpio to a nudie bar.  If the movie were made now, I'm guessing the violence would be much less visceral and the nudity would be gone.  For whatever reason, the studio would want a PG-13.


susan said...

We watched the Dirty Harry series a couple of years ago - have no idea why other than it seemed like an amusing idea. For a man who went on to become a wonderful director, Clint Eastwood is certainly one of those who came from both humble and strange beginnings.

The movies were bad but they had no pretensions either. B movies were for teenage weekend entertainment at theaters where the managers didn't care about popcorn throwing. The brief nudity and tons of hard guy violence kept things interesting for the kids. Adults could more often be found watching films that required a bit of thought. Sorry about the generalities but I'm sure you get my drift.

What's funny is that you mentioned the PG-13 rating. Between watching old movies and a few newer ones we've noticed that Hollywood seems very happy to treat everyone in the family as adolescents. It's a good part of the reason why we prefer foreign contemporary movies when we can find them.

Ben said...

I've never seen Rawhide, the TV show that he starred on in the early sixties. I'm a little curious. But a lot of people must have been surprised by what he made of himself as a director.

I do like the diversity of films that seemed to be made back then. Hollywood's moved away from that in a lot of ways. And I suspect the thing they like most about adolescence is its gullibility. You can convince kids that they're rebelling when in truth they aren't.