Dirty Harry

The other day Kish and I watched Dirty Harry, the 1971 thriller starring Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, the .44 magnum-toting cop who eschews political correctness, believes in using maximum force in bringing down criminals, and doesn’t care a bit about breaking the rules to do so.

146909The movie still holds up well, 45 years later.  In many ways, it’s superior to the current Hollywood product, because it doesn’t rely solely on car crashes and shoot-outs to sustain the plot and pace.  There’s a suspense element to it, from the initial scene where the Scorpio killer uses a long-range rifle to shoot and kill a woman on a rooftop swimming pool, to the later scenes where Scorpio tries to carry out his threats to kill others in order to be paid a ransom, to Harry’s long jog around San Francisco to reach different phone booths so he can deliver a ransom before a young girl hostage is killed.  And while Harry obviously is the best cop around, the rest of the police force and the mayor aren’t ridiculous caricatures or light comedic foils — which is standard fare in later cop movies — but competent people who obviously are trying to do their best to deal with a crazed killer.

The writing is good, too.  We all know the famous scene where Harry has a shoot-out with bank robbers while eating a hot dog that ends with him asking a wounded robber who is considering going for his gun “well, punk, do you feel lucky?”  But there are other pieces of crackling dialogue, too, such as the scene where Harry rescues a potential suicide standing on a window ledge by making him so mad that he physically attacks Harry, or the interaction between Scorpio and the guy he pays to beat him up and make his claim of police brutality by Callahan more plausible.

One of the more interesting elements of the film, considered against the ensuing 45 years of action movies that followed it, is that it doesn’t try to answer all of the viewer’s questions.  Sure, he’s probably called Dirty Harry because he does all of the dirty work in the department, but it just might be because he’s got a bit of peeping Tom in him, too. There are no flashback scenes to show us exactly how Harry got the way he is, and no effort to give Scorpio a back story or explain why he has decided to kill random strangers.  He’s just a disturbed lunatic, presented matter-of-factly as an unfortunate reality of modern life.

The fact that some key points are left for the viewer to wonder about is refreshing.  You can imagine people leaving a theater after watching Dirty Harry and actually talking about some of these issues, and others.  How many modern action films that you’ve seen in the past few years could you say that about?

The Best Action Movie, Ever

This weekend the CAPA summer movie series at the Ohio Theatre features Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I might wander over tomorrow afternoon to catch a showing of what I consider to be the best action adventure movie ever made, and watching it on the big screen will make it even better.  That’s if I can get a seat, of course — the last time the Ohio Theatre screened Raiders, more than 2,000 bought tickets to watch it.

I’m sure that some people will disagree with my assessment.  I guess it depends on how you define “action.”  Raiders isn’t filled with fight scenes, although it has some truly great ones, and if you’re looking for a huge body count, this film really won’t fill the bill —  but the people who do get killed tend to die in very novel and interesting ways, whether it’s getting pincushioned by poison darts or chopped to smithereens by the propeller of a plane or being melted by the Wrath of God.

raiders-of-the-lost-arkBut if you’re looking for action from beginning to end in exotic locations, with a very human hero and his two-fisted love interest mixing in a lot of laugh-out-loud humor along the way, Raiders is the movie for you.  The first scene alone, with Indiana Jones brilliantly avoiding countless traps, getting betrayed by his assistant, and barely avoiding getting crushed by a giant rolling stone in his quest to steal a gold icon, is worth the price of admission.

Then you follow it with appalling Nazi bad guys, Old Testament biblical stuff, and some of the greatest stunt work ever filmed.  We get to see Professor Indy in the classroom with his love-struck female students, then teaching the Washington bureaucrats what they should have learned in Sunday school, Marion’s drinking bout with Nepali goat herders, the monkey who gives the Seig Heil salute, an exhausted Indy’s decision to shoot down a sword-wielding giant, Marion’s encounter with the Nazi whose apparent torture instrument turns out to be a coat hanger, Indy and Sallah and Marion at the Well of the Souls . . . and you realize that there’s so much great stuff in this movie it blows away the competition.  And when the capstone shows the Ark of the Covenant being crated and stored in some unending government warehouse, you’ve simply got the greatest action movie, ever.  There’s really no argument.

Raiders is playing at 7 p.m. tonight and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow.