PG Cooper: Time Capsule Reviews: The Dirty Harry Series (1971-1988)

Posted: August 28, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Originally, I intended on giving each film a separate review, but I quickly realized that for each subsequent film, I have less and less to say. Instead, I’m going to do the whole series in one go. That’s right faithful reader; five film reviews for the price of one. From 1971’s Dirty Harry to 1988’s The Dead Pool, this is my review of the Dirty Harry Series.

Release date: December 23rd, 1971

Running time: 1 hour and 42 minutes

Written by: Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, and Dean Riesner

Directed by: Don Siegel

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Andy Robinson, and Reni Santoni

Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a detective working homicide in San Francisco. Callahan plays fast and loose with the rules, but he gets results. Callahan gets a tough assignment in the form of Scorpio (Andy Robinson), an insane serial killer who threatens to continue his violent ways unless he’s given what he wants. Partnered with rookie Chico Gonzales (Reni Santoni), Callahan is tasked with arresting Scorpio, but has to not only face the dangers of a deranged mind, but also the internal politics of the justice system.

While not perfect, Dirty Harry is a great film which is, in my opinion, worthy of its status as a classic. Eastwood delivers one of the most iconic characters of his career. Not only is Harry Callahan a total badass who the audience can root for, but he’s also a bit deeper with a sad back story and sometimes questionable methods. Contrasting Eastwood’s protagonist is Andy Robinson as the twisted Scorpio. Robinson is great and makes for a fantastic villain. The relationship between the hero and villain help to really elevate the film. The film really shines in its third act when it goes from being a well made cop-thriller to a thought-provoking film about the merits of the justice system. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the film raises some interesting questions and ideas before delivering a very powerful ending. Interesting note about the ending is that in many ways it removes the possibility of the sequel, yet four were still made. In addition to great things I’ve already pointed out, Dirty Harry is also a technically well made film, with an especially memorable score by Lalo Schifrin. My only real complaint is Harry’s partner is a one dimensional character and actor Reni Santoni brings no charisma to the part. His role feels more like a device than a real character. On the whole though, Dirty Harry is awesome and easily the best film in the series.

Rating: A

Release date: December 25th, 1973

Running time: 2 hours and 4 minutes

Written by: John Milius and Michael Cimino

Based on: Characters created by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink

Directed by: Ted Post

Starring: Clint Eastwood, David Soul, and Hal Holbrook

Mostly ignoring the ambiguous ending of the first, Magnum Force sees the return of Harry Callahan (Eastwood), complete with a new partner (Felton Perry) and a hard ass police chief Neil Briggs (Hal Holbrook). This time, Callahan is tasked with taking down a vigilante killer (or killers) who are gunning down criminals who’ve beaten the justice system.

When the first film came out, there was an outcry from people accusing the film and character of supporting fascist morals. It’s no coincidence then that the next film shows Harry going against a group of vigilante killers who in fact turn out to be cops. Though this idea may have come from a political perspective, it does make for a great premise. Most importantly, the idea shows us another side of Harry’s character while remaining true to the first film. It’s also interesting to see Harry face off against enemies who are essentially darker versions of Harry himself. The film is also aided by a strong performance from Hal Holbrook and tons of awesome action scenes. Unfortunately, the film brings the same flaw the first one had in the form of an uninteresting partner. Felton Perry has more charisma than Reni Santoni, but Perry’s character isn’t even necessary in the film. But the film’s biggest flaw is that it has no focus, with certain scenes and subplots adding nothing to the film. Overall, it’s not as smart or as well-made as the first film, but Magnum Force is a very enjoyable film with some good ideas.

Rating: B+

Release date: December 22nd, 1976

Running time: 1 hour and 36 minutes

Written by: Stirling Silliphant, Dean Riesner, Gail Morgan Hickman, and S.W. Schurr

Based on: Characters created by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink

Directed by: James Fargo

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, and DeVeren Bookwalte

Eastwood returns as Harry Callahan, this time having to take down a gang run by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalte). And for the first time, Harry’s partner is a woman! The rookie Kate Moore (Tyne Daly).

Does that plot description sound short? Well that’s because there isn’t much story here. The series once had interesting ideas about the nature of the justice system, but the most interesting idea here is simply the gimmick of giving Harry a female partner. The Kate Moore character is not very well-developed either. The only thing that saves her is Tyne Daly’s strong performance, and the fact that her and Eastwood have some good chemistry. Admittedly, I did come to like Kate Moore, but only because Daly is so likable. The villains in this film are also incredibly lame. They’re some hippie/terrorist group who eventually kidnap the mayor for…some reason. Their motivations aren’t very clear and overall the entire group is completely forgettable. Still, Eastwood is still into the character and like I said, he and Daly work well together. There’s also some decent action and I find myself still getting into the film. I also give it credit for being the last Dirty Harry film that still feels like a Dirty Harry film.

Rating: C


Release date: Decmber 9th, 1983

Running time: 1 hour and 57 minutes

Written by: Joseph Stinson, Earl E. Smith, and Charles B. Pierce

Based on: Characters created by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke, and Pat Hingle

Harry Callahan’s methods cause property damage and bad publicity, but at the end of the day get results. Because of this, the department is unable to get rid of him, but demand he take a vacation while the department rebuilds their reputation. Callahan spends his vacation in San Paulo, where he discovers a series of murders to investigate. The culprit is a woman named Jennifer (Sandra Locke), who is seeking vengeance on those who raped her and her sister ten years ago.

There’s a lot that doesn’t work about Sudden Impact. Probably the biggest is that the film does not feel like a Dirty Harry film. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the film is not set in San Francisco like the others were. This may sound like a trivial detail, but Sudden Impact sheds a light on how important the city was to the series. The second reason is the characterization of Harry himself. Harry feels very different in this film. He seems tired and warn down. That could have made for an interesting film, but it’s never really explored. Speaking of interesting ideas, I feel the villain in this film, a victimized woman taking vengeance, had a lot of potential. The series has had villains who’s motivations we could empathize with (Magnum Force), but Sudden Impact could have had the first villain we also sympathized with. Unfortunately this idea is almost completely ruined by the casting of the extremely wooden Sandra Locke. Locke was Eastwood’s girlfriend at the time so she starred in several films with him. Unfortunately Sudden Impact is one of those films. The film as a whole is a dreary and at times very unpleasant experience, made even more jarring by strange attempts at comedic relief, such as a dog Harry takes in. The film has some merits, the ideas were solid and there’s some good scenes, including the immortal “Make my day” line. But at the end of the day, Sudden Impact has little to offer.

Rating: D

Release date: July 13th, 1988

Running time: 1 hour and 31 minutes

Written by: Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw

Based on: Characters created by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink

Directed by: Buddy Van Horn

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, and Liam Neeson

In Eastwood’s final outing as Harry Callahan, Harry investigates a series of murders based around a list of celebrities with expected short life-spans. The list is called “The Dead Pool” and was compiled by schlock horror filmmaker Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). Callahan also deals with news reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson).

The final Dirty Harry film isn’t exactly a fitting conclusion. Instead, The Dead Pool is an idiotic action film so ridiculous that it barely resembles what the series was in the 1970s. If not for Eastwood’s performance (which is much more energized than it was in Sudden Impact) it would just be another dumb action film. The story is a complete mess and the script has no sense of focus whatsoever. The villain is laughably bad and makes Sandra Locke’s character from Sudden Impact seem like Scorpio by comparison. Things get so outlandish in The Dead Pool it’s hard to even comprehend that the film is suppose to be a sequel to Dirty Harry. These outlandish details include a climax involving a harpoon goon and exploding remote control cars. There’s no doubt about it; The Dead Pool is a bad movie, technically it’s even worse than Sudden Impact. Fortunately for the film, there are some things that work. First off, it’s fascinating seeing so many great actors in this film before their careers really took off. I’ve already mentioned Liam Neeson and Patricia Clarkson, but the film also features a brief appearance from Jim Carrey as well as a cameo from Guns N’ Roses. The film also has moments so stupid and over the top they’re actually kind of entertaining. I also like how Harry’s final line in the film is one that harkens back to the infamous “Do I feel lucky?” scene from the first film. The film’s highlight though comes from Jim Carrey, who rocks out to the Guns N’ Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” in a scene that is hilarious and easily the most memorable thing from the film. But even with all this, I can’t enjoy The Dead Pool. Small bits are okay, and Jim Carrey’s scene is awesome, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a dumb movie and a pitiful end to the series.

Rating: D+

So that’s the Dirty Harry series. Like a lot of movie franchises, it started great but eventually sunk low. I would still whole heartedly recommend Dirty Harry, which is without a doubt the greatest film in the series and a film that deserves to be seen. I’d also recommend Magnum Force to those who enjoyed the original. After that, things get shaky. Some entertainment can be squeezed out of The Enforcer, but I can’t say the same for the last two films. While not complete failures, there’s nothing that makes them worth seeking out. The only thing worth seeing from the last two instalments is this:

  1. vinnieh says:

    Great post, love it when he says “Make my day”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s