Dirty Harry is a great example of a neo noir -ish crime movie. Clint Eastwood plays a hard-boiled detective turned action hero named “Dirty” Harry Callahan, who must go head to head with a psychopathic sniper calling himself “Scorpio.” I was surprised by how much this film resonated with my memories and impressions of the Die Hard series, this truly a spiritual predecessor of those action heavy films. As far as noir goes, the genre definitely influences the design of the Harry’s character and the harried pace of his predicament, but the greatly stylized aspects of the film noir era have evaporated; delivering a film that is much more action oriented (and much more shallow).
Don’t misquote me, I enjoyed Dirty Harry a great deal, but I felt that it was a far cry from the crime films of the former era. Although a classic vehicle for several famous scenes and equally famous lines, the hollow spaces where certain noir defined elements should have resided left me wanting.
I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots, or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well do ya, punk?
Here’s the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The sleazy streets of San Francisco in the 1970s is the backdrop for this violent caper. Skin joints, liquor stores, back alleys, and abandoned rooftops catch the collateral damage of Scorpio and Harry’s whirlwind.
2) The Anti-Hero
Dirty Harry is a pillar of masculinity. Indeed, the plot revolves around the unwavering machismo of the violent anti-hero. His character’s development doesn’t come into harmony with the film until he admits that he’ll have to become something more to take on a killer like Scorpio (Much like a Batman vs. Joker Dark Knight Arc, yes?).
3) The Femme Fatale
No femme fatale is found in this crime movie, but I can only imagine how the story could have benefited from a strong female lead opposite Mr. Eastwood.
It’s a movie for men, made by men. Women are portrayed as sexual objects throughout the work, but never by Harry himself.
Harry’s failure to take Scorpio into custody initially spurs the redemption theme. His masculinity will not allow him to fail a second time.
Flesh abounds in the film. It seems that they never miss an opportunity to show something suggestive to the audience, but this habit always appears from the margins. It’s never Harry’s central focus or purpose.
7) Loss of Innocence
A teenage girl is abused, raped, and then buried alive (we don’t see any of this, we are just told that it is happening). And in another great loss of innocence, Harry’s rookie partner resigns from the force after a near brush with death.
Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry: every dirty job that comes along.
8 ) Racism
Scorpio hires a black man to beat him up, and shouts racial slurs at the man the entire time it’s happening.
As in all great neo noir or crime movies, smoke is a spidery and ever present prop.
I hinted earlier that Harry’s masculinity would not allow him to fail a second time to capture Scorpio. Every victory that Scorpio has against the SFPD and the city, Harry takes personally. He’s willing to go beyond the law to do what he feels must be done, even removing his badge and becoming a violent vigilante to protect his manhood.
As far as crime movies go, I loved Dirty Harry. It has all the makings of a timeless classic, I just wished for a strong female lead to balance all of the testosterone flying around.