By John Restuccia
Dirty Harry is one of the most iconic movie of the 70s, and how could it not be?! The movie came out in 1971, a time in American history where tensions were hitting their peak and our country was becoming divided. The decade before began with the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, the declaration of the Vietnam war after the Gulf of Tonkin, and the rise of crime in America. Vietnam protesters were clashing with those who supported the war. America was divided. Conservatives called all the far left liberals of those times Communists. On the other end, Liberals called the Conservatives of the time a bunch of fascists. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The people needed a hero in this divided nation, one who knew what was right and wrong, one who did not care where your politics resided. That hero just so happened to be a fictional cop named Inspector Callahan.
For those who have not seen the Dirty Harry film released in 1971, here’s a quick plot synopsis. Clint Eastwood plays a police inspector who doesn’t play by the police bureaucracy rules. He constantly goes against protocol to stop crime whenever rules pop up that bog his investigation down. Eventually, a psycho killer goes on the loose, resembling the zodiac killer of the time (no not Ted Cruz) and must stop his murderous rampage. The gun Inspector Callahan carries is even bigger than his personality, a Smith and Wesson .44 magnum handgun, at the time the most powerful handgun in the world.
When looking from a first glance at the first film in the series, it is very easy to simply write off the character of Harry as a fascist who thinks due process is for nerds and that cops should take the law into their own hands. This perspective doesn’t really hold up when watching the movie with a closer eye. Yes, Harry thinks that the system we have in place is cumbersome and lets too many criminals get away, but he never says that the system is inherently wrong. In fact, in the second movie, Magnum Force, which I will talk about a little later, he defends the system, stating that while the system has flaws, it’s the only system we have so we have to follow it. Also, never once in the movie does Harry act unless a crime is in progress. He never specifically goes after individuals who he deems wrong. Instead, he first sees them doing the act then blows them away if arrest doesn’t work.
Another complaint is that Harry is racist due to the scene where a character tells his new Hispanic police partner that he hates everyone equally and lists off every single race using a derogatory term. While this scene is certainly shocking and disgusting, Harry himself never says he hates these people. Instead, another character does. Not to mention Harry changes throughout the movie to learn to love his partner whom he says he hates the race of. In the beginning, Harry hates even the idea of a partner but feels remorse for causing his partner to become injured and even visits him in the hospital to give an apology. This scene shows character growth in the fact that Harry admits he was wrong to judge his partner and shows that even if he was racist, he saw the error of his ways. Not many people can own up to their mistakes but Harry does. It’s incredible little scenes like that with a wealth of character growth are what makes this movie above many others from the same genre. We should all try to rise above racism to just like Inspector Callahan because racism sucks and racists are idiots.
This leads into the second movie which never is discussed as much but has a even more significant impact on those who view it, “Magnum Force” released in 1973. This films deals with a group of cops who start blowing away anyone who them deem criminals even if they haven’t been caught doing a crime in progress. Harry of course sees this going against his moral code and takes on this rogue police force, eventually bring them to justice with his .44 magnum. The cops of course represent a far right fascist ideology, ignoring the system completely and taking justice in their own hands. The costumes of these police are clearly a nod to Mussolini’s police force with them black shirts, black leather boots, and black motorcycle cop outfits. The symbolism is as obvious as it can get.
The next film would be “The Enforcer” released in 1976, switches back to Inspector Callahan facing off against a left wing villain. That being the “People’s Revolutionary Strike Force”, a clear reference to the real live case of Patty Hearst, a girl who was kidnapped and joined a far left militia group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. The final film that matters in the franchise is “Sudden impact” released 7 years later in 1983 and features a old Inspector Callahan going after a female vigilante who is killing for the vengeance of her sister. She is seen as a more right wing villain due to the vigilante justice perspective given by her character.
Dirty Harry is the ultimate centrist. Each of his movies bounce from left wing villain to right wing villain to show Harry doesn’t fit into any of these ideologies perfectly. He shares ideas with the right such as being pro second amendment but also has left wing ideas viewing vigilante justice and using deadly force against those not engaged in a crime as morally wrong even if the person is a bad person. He clearly has strict beliefs and convictions, never changing them to fit the situation or scenario thrown his way. He sees flaws in both sides of the aisle and actively speaks out against them. Harry was created in a political climate that was incredibly polizaring and represented the common moderate who knew what they believed and did not conform to one ideology. Now that we’re facing a very similar today, we can learn a lot from Harry. Most importantly we can learn that we don’t have to pick a side, we can have beliefs in both camps. A lesson that is not taught as people stay within their conservative and liberal camps.