R, 1 hr. 43 min. Directed By: Don Siegel. Release Date: Dec 24, 1971. DVD Release Date: Nov 18, 1997.
I used to say that I didn’t like Clint Eastwood. Truthfully, there are a LOT of his movies that don’t really jive with my cinematic tastes, particularly the ones he’s most acclaimed for. But, I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for a long, long time. Well, since I saw it used in Zodiac back in 2007 at least.
What really interested me was how much of this movie borrowed heavily from the real-life crime drama that was going on in and around San Francisco in the 60s and 70s: the Zodiac Killer. I don’t know a lot about the Zodiac, and most of what I know came from the 2007 eponymously titled film, but I know that the Zodiac Killer said he would target the same people that the killer in this gritty crime drama said he would, and some of the scenes of Dirty Harry had to have been dreamed up out of the letters from people claiming to be the Zodiac Killer that were published in Bay Area newspapers.
It makes me laugh a little that this movie stimulated so much controversy, especially since most peoples’ dislike for this movie stems from peoples’ distrust of our police force. It’s an old habit, one brought over with, well, not with the Mayflower, but with tons of the immigrants who came here from the United Kingdom. In my lifetime, Americans have accused their police of corruption and brutality constantly. We call them names and impugn the dignity of their jobs and office until we need them, then we belittle their efforts. We accuse them of burying the truth when they investigate crimes like this one, where a man named Scorpio holds an entire city in the grip of fear. I’ve always been forced to wonder how many police investigations have been stymied not by the ineptitude of our police force, but by the interference of the general public and particularly the media. Even if we had an answer, it would be reviled as a falsehood. The cops could videotape reports trampling through a crime scene and we’d still side against them. They keep us safe, fighting against criminals who are increasingly better armed and better organized, and we forget that until something terrible happens. Granted, I don’t want to be pulled over any more than anyone else does, but I’d prefer to give them the same right of “innocent until proven guilty” that we’re all supposed to get. I don’t think our cops need to, or should act like Dirty Harry, but they risk their lives for us every day, and most of us don’t know what that’s like.
Do I think there are problems with racial and gender-based prejudice in this movie? Yes, and not just for its use of ethnic slurs. I think it’s a sign of the times in which it was made. I’ve also noticed that internet reviewer who give this movie crap about its racist themes praise Breakfast At Tiffanys, which had a white guy with false buck teeth playing a Chinese landlord. It makes me wonder a little bit about folks.
Basically, I thought this was a great gritty crime movie with elements of true crime. It has some social issues worked into it, but it wouldn’t be the same movie if it didn’t. Would Dirty Harry have been the same if he’d mediated his way through the Scorpio investigation and the bank robbery? No, it would not. And pretending otherwise is kind of foolish. If you haven’t seen this, check it out. Even if you don’t like cop movies.