Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Harry" Isn't So Dirty, But It Sure Is Gory

Cleveland Press December 28, 1971

Clint Eastwood plays the title role in "Dirty Harry," a part not too different from that of the laconic cowboy killer in the "Dollar" western. In those he was grimy, and in "Dirty Harry" he is impeccably dressed in his role of big-city detective -- but otherwise he is the same guy -- indestructible, cool and deadly.

He also is just as much a cardboard figure.

Harry is called dirty because he hates everyone, one person explains. Another says he got the name because he always gets the dirty end of the stick, only dirty isn't the word he uses.

Whatever, Harry pursues criminals with a demonic passion. He kills with contempt and regardless of how pure his motivation, he can finish off his opponent with cold blooded viciousness. It is only the side he is on, represented by his badge, that distinguishes him from the criminal when he gets down to the bloody finish.

Inevitably there will be a comparison between this role and the policeman played by Gene Hackman in "French Connection." While Hackman's character is also all consuming and pathological in pursuit of an end, the character was more credible, probably because Hackman is a better actor and also because the role and the entire script are better.

The setting is San Francisco and the main problem is tracking down a mysterious sniper who is blackmailing the city with threats of continuing the killings if he isn't paid off. He signs his letters Scorpio (the movie obviously draws on the Zodiac killings for its inspiration).

Harry draws the job, although his superiors are reluctant because Harry is kind of headstrong. While working on that assignment good old Harry cleans up a few other things in his spare time.

While munching on a hot dog he saunters out into the street to outshoot three bank robbers. It's right out of a western. Later he pauses long enough to talk down a would-be suicide from a tall building.

Meanwhile the killings go on with Harry finally cornering the killer and beating a confession out of him. It doesn't end there because, as the district attorney explains, thanks to Supreme Court decisions you don't do things that way and the killer goes free. Ex-Play House actor William Paterson, as a learned judge, confirms the ruling.

Like most of the messages in the movie it's pretty heavy-handed. Like everything else in the plot it has holes in it big enough to drive a fleet of police cars through.

For gratuitous gore there are few movies to equal "Dirty Harry." It hits a new low. There are shootings, beatings and at one point a 14-year-old girl is hauled out of a grave where she had been buried alive after being raped.

Director Don Siegal of such films as "Madigan" and "Coogan's Bluff" has a feel for action and the ability to portray it in the environment of a big, grubby city.

But "Dirty Harry" isn't worth his efforts. It's a stupid movie and Eastwood is a one-dimensional actor capable of little more than imitating his previous roles.