In 1971, during a time of massive transition in Hollywood and of social upheaval in America at large, director Don Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood created one of the most memorable figures in all of action cinema, a bad-tempered San Francisco policeman “Dirty” Harry Callahan, not averse to bending the rules to get his man. The maniacal ‘Scorpio Killer’ is on the loose and Callahan disregards procedure in his efforts to track him down, using his trusty Magnum .44 to dispense his own brand of justice. A cop whose disdain for bureaucracy led to unconventional methods — such as torturing a suspect in order to extract information — Callahan could be viewed as a maverick hero or a fascist psychopath, depending on one’s political persuasion. Siegel’s ambivalent presentation and Eastwood’s stoic mannerisms left plenty of ambiguous shadings for the viewer to consider. While critics of the time debated the value of Siegel’s violent vision, audiences recognized a new kind of action hero and made the movie a smash hit. The character would eventually go on to appear in four popular sequels, Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988).
Part 1: Dirty Harry: The Original
Jerry Hogrewe’s 2001 retrospective documentary on the Dirty Harry franchise hosted by Robert Urich, a bad cop officer Grimes in the second Dirty Harry film “Magnum Force”. This 30-minute documentary includes a wealth of interviewees, like Eastwood, John Milius, Hal Holbrook, Ted Post and even Arnold Schwarzenegger commenting on how Eastwood’s character was one of his inspirations. Clint contributes the most, revealing how he and Siegel planned to set the movie in the less filmed Seattle, but “it’s hard to go past San Francisco”, as he says, and there the movie took root. Arnold Schwarzenegger offers up his thoughts on the appeal of the character, which for him is that Harry can “blast criminals away” while eating a burger.
Part 2: The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry
An in-depth retrospective of the film directed by Gary Leva with plenty of interviews from critics, film historians, the cast and crew, featuring interviews with Clint Eastwood, cinematographer Jack N. Green, writer John Milius as well as co-stars in the series like Andrew Robinson and Hal Holbrook as well as fans including Joe Carnahan, Shane Black, Michael Madsen, David Ayer, Peter Hyams, Joel Cox, John Badham and several others, all of whom provide thoughtful comments on the movie’s political and aesthetic impact. This 25 minute featurette takes a look at the cult icon that the character Dirty Harry has become over the decades, highlighting the mood of the 70’s America and why the film and character would go onto influence so many other films.
Part 3: A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry
An insightful look at the way in which the film’s sense of morality – of right and wrong – is measured against the social climate of its time. Don Siegel’s 1971 crime thriller Dirty Harry has become synonymous in the popular imagination with the practice of a certain kind of brutal utilitarian logic, “Dirty Harry ethics” in which the ends justify any means, however shocking, as long as they contribute to the greater good. At the time it came out, there was a view that Dirty Harry embodies a reactionary political agenda, endorsing violence as a simplistic solution to social problems. The Dirty Harry series is a fascinating study of an American period that begins with the disillusionment in the early 70s and ends with “Morning in America” Reagan era, and when the country was even more polarized than it is now, where words like “fascist” and “communist” were banded about too easily. Filmmakers, social scientists and authors take a provocative look at the moral, political and ethical themes of the Dirty Harry films.
Part 4: The Business End: Violence in Cinema
An unflinching look at the ongoing debate on violence in movies and its effect on the audience. In the contemporary fascination with images of crime, violence gets under our skin and keeps us enthralled. Violence in movies has been a source of controversy since cinema was in its infancy. From the black and white gunplay of the gangster movies of the ’30s, to the slow-motion shootouts of Arthur Penn’s landmark 1967 film, “Bonnie and Clyde,” to the rivers of blood flowing in Quentin Tarantino movies, the depiction of violence in film has long polarized critics and audiences. And that debate continues today. Clint Eastwood, John Milus and Andrew Robinson are the ones connected to DIRTY HARRY who speak here but we get other interviews from filmmakers and authors who have written about violence in movies.
Part 5: The Evolution of Clint Eastwood
Follow Eastwood’s career from television star to matinee idol to Oscar-winning director. Eastwood’s filmography is focused on action and consequences, stories of strong and silent heroes and antiheroes who do their work, mull their regrets, get the job done, and then go about their business, hoping to leave the world a little bit better in the process. Eastwood got his start working as an actor in the 1950s and ’60s, most notably in a trio of epic spaghetti Westerns by Italian director Sergio Leone. In those films, Eastwood played a gunslinger who rarely speaks and is never identified, known widely as the Man With No Name. In the early 1970s, Eastwood would move behind the camera to direct his own films, and his work retained the same stoic sensibility. Now a two-time Academy Award winner for best director, twice winner of the Directors Guild of America Award for best director, and recipient of countless other critics prizes and nominations in multiple capacities, Clint Eastwood stands as one of the finest directors working in modern cinema.
Part 6: The Craft of Dirty Harry
A homage to the cinematographers, composers, editors, set designers and other collaborators who helped make the Dirty Harry series unforgettable. Clint Eastwood comments on his opinion of the auteur theory and we get interviews with the likes of Lalo Schifrin, James Fargo, Michael Madsen, Jay Cocks, David Ayer and several others as they talk about the importance of the editor, cinematographer as well as the composer. At the time, Lalo Schifrin was very much in demand as a composer for films, television, and records. Schifrin wrote music for five of director Don Siegel’s films, three of which starred Clint Eastwood. But it was that first Harry Callahan film that captured the public fancy and would spawn four sequels, making Eastwood even more famous as a San Francisco detective than he had been as a western antihero. This featurette pays homage to the people behind the camera who usually don’t get any credit for their work. We take a look at their role and comtribution to the series.