Dirty Harry

“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?”

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Clint Eeastwood


Clint Eastwood plays a “tough as nails cop” as a serial killer is terrorizing San Francisco. The story resembles Zodiac (2007) & Silence of the Lambs (1991), purely because of how insane the killer is and the games he plays.

For a 1971 film, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. In the 1960s, the police were not the nicest group. The public started protesting against race discrimination and police brutality. So, to make a film about a cop, how would you make him a likable character? Easy, have him be in opposition to the system.

This was a pretty big theme in the 60’s, with films like Bullit (1968) and In the Heat of The Night (1968), but Dirty Harry takes it to a whole new level. He carries a .44 magnum, doesn’t follow orders and says, “… the law is crazy.” Yeah, the filmmakers let that line sink in.

One of the main communications of the story is how the local government is basically a spineless group that is willing to cooperate with murderers. They’re willing to give whatever the killer wants, while Harry completely disagrees.

Harry is a tough, rogue cop that doesn’t play by the rules. He’s often caught going against the DA’s office or pissing off his superior in the force. When a girl’s life is on the line, he’s willing to go as far as torture to get a confession. But, you can tell he doesn’t want the life of a cop anymore.

The story starts out showing Harry at a diner and stopping a bank robbery, while destroying half the block. It shows just how reckless he is and how he handles situations different than any other regular policeman would.

Then, the call to adventure: Harry is put on the case of the serial killer, naming himself Scorpio (which sounds awfully familiar to the Zodiac killer, considering Scorpio is a zodiac sign and this film came out when he was still killing). He gets a new partner who is, honestly, kind of useless. Throughout the film, he either doesn’t contribute or becomes a burden to Harry.

Scorpio’s character development is one of my favorite parts about this film. He starts out like a regular killer. He’s a scrawny guy, so he doesn’t seem intimidating until he starts to show how completely insane he is. Every new time you see/hear him, he giggles just a little bit more each time until he’s laughing hysterically as he gets shot in the end. It’s a subtle, yet very creepy characteristic that communicates insanity.

The story was very unique with plenty of different subplots. For instance, Scorpio sends Dirty Harry on a wild goose chase around San Francisco using pay phones. Or showing how vicious the killer is by shooting a black child right in the head. Each of Scorpio’s kills is particularly vicious, and the fact that he’s holding a 14 year old girl captive is the icing on the cake.

The story flows along really well, furthering developing both Scorpio and Harry. It’s always pretty exciting, which is perfect because the main problem with a lot of these older films (that I’ve seen) is the pacing is too slow and the story falls apart.

I really enjoyed this film. It kept me on my feet, the story was great and it’s a classic Clint Eastwood film. I also really enjoy that type of serial killer and murder mystery genre. My parents may have let me watch Law and Order: SVU a little too early… Regardless, it’s one of my favorite genres and this movie didn’t disappoint.

As a final note, I’m going to give a paragraph of context from my dad, the creator of the list. You remember, the movie nerd. I thought I’d do this since he knows more history about the film and the time period it was based in. Here’s what he has to say:

There had always been cops-and-robbers films going back to the silent era and most Westerns were essentially the same story in different garb. But by 1971 many people, particularly the young, viewed the police as corrupt and menacing. There were still the normal types of cop films- John Wayne made several during this period- but with Bullitt and Dirty Harry there began a new type of cop, the good cop in a bad system. Clint Eastwood had begun his career making Westerns and had made many very well-received films before Dirty Harry but his squinty, quiet, menacing persona seemed to be perfect for the new type of ‘loose cannon’ cop, the cop who does it his way, superiors be damned. The line ‘do you feel lucky punk’ registers as one of the most well known movie lines of all time and this film was so successful that they made 4 sequels.