By Marc S. Sanders
The very first R rated film I ever saw was Dirty Harry. I was probably 7 or 8 when my brother introduced me to it, and it eventually led to my first R rated film to see in the theatres, Sudden Impact, the fourth film in the series.
The original installment had such an influence on me, and it remains as one of my favorite films. I did not necessarily understand at the time the complex, albeit simplistic summary, of the law and the barriers Harry Callahan breaks to get the bad guy. I was more impressed with the 44 Magnum he carried and sociopathic behavior of the serial killer, Scorpio.
All these years later, followed by numerous viewings, and I’m just grateful director Don Siegel’s film was actually made. Had it been considered today for a treatment, it would have never come to light. The film is too candid and frank in its liberties of racist undertones and the underworld of a seedy San Francisco during the 1970s. Harry just didn’t care about the sensitivity of any demographic. He also just didn’t care about what was at stake to capture a hardened, dangerous, apathetic killer. Arguably, and only in the fictional world of film, audiences were probably grateful for that. Cut the bullshit. We all know who the guilty party is. Let’s get him off the streets, regardless of what is mandated to avoid any further loss of life. At least through the first 4 of the 5 Dirty Harry films that has been the common theme. (I’m especially fond of Magnum Force for challenging Harry’s own code of law enforcement. There are great debates to think about in that film.)
Dirty Harry is a deliberately ugly film. Siegel shows the worst of people at times, including Harry. Yet, there are sick people on the streets like actor Andy Robinson’s Scorpio killer that treat murder, mayhem and extortion as a twisted game of insane pleasure. Robinson was perfect in this role, a precursor I thought for Heath Ledger’s Joker many years later. Only a guy like Dirty Harry Callahan is right to nab a guy like this.
The film offers great moral questioning on the rights of men whether they are clearly the culprit or not. Miranda and several amendments are appropriately referenced and questioned. Is it ever appropriate to exercise brute force on a suspect? Can a near impossible scenario justify any actions of that measure? “Well then the law’s crazy,” Harry says. Even by today’s standards you can’t help but wonder if Harry is right.
What would be Harry’s opinion of today’s ongoing theme of domestic abuse among NFL athletes? Fair trials, and innocent until proven guilty are necessary but (at least this is how I feel) the circumstances of these stories make it abundantly clear that the guy did it. He beat his girlfriend into oblivion. The evidence is so much easier to uncover these days. It’s easy for me to say this from the comfort of my own home and not on a jury box. What would Harry think? He always knew to see beyond the bullshit. Heck, if I ever got a chance to interview the guy, all he’d probably tell me is get out of here. He’s got work to do. Harry Callahan was never up for sharing anyway.