January 6, 2019

THE ZODIAC TRILOGY:

Dirty Harry: The Rage of the Anti-Hero (K. V. Turley, 1/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Also in 1968, Steve McQueen had scored box office success with the à la mode police drama: Bullitt. Set in San Francisco, the McQueen police character, Frank Bullitt, has only the semblance of a police officer. Equally as much a loner as the later Callaghan, both characters are alienated from their superior officers if for different reasons. Bullitt despises the Establishment as represented by those superior officers and their political masters. In this aspect McQueen's character is more counter-cultural than law and order. In contrast, Callaghan would despise his police superiors solely for being weak on the perpetrators of crime; so weak, in fact, that there is, under Callaghan's glib one-liners, a visceral rage against their hypocritical inaction. By 1971, Mr. Eastwood's character was tapping into a wider rage that was then seething through a large segment of American society, the same constituency who had voted for Nixon just a few years earlier. On screen, it is this rage that propels Callaghan to become less a law enforcement officer than an enforcer of his laws.

In Dirty Harry this is nowhere more exemplified than when Callaghan is confronted about his arrest tactics. To free a girl being held hostage, he tortures the reptilian psychopath Scorpio (played by Andy Robinson). When, later, Callaghan is told the confession and weapons retrieved from Scorpio's lair, to say nothing of the dead girl's body, are all inadmissible as evidence, the police inspector is rightly outraged. We watch as a shabbily dressed bureaucrat berates Callaghan over the so-called "Miranda warning." This was the 1966 United States Supreme Court decision confirming that criminal suspects must have their rights read to them prior to any interrogation. Thinking only of the victim, Callaghan had dispensed with this while torturing Scorpio, and, what's more, later, makes no apology for doing so.

Predictably, liberal film critics loathed Dirty Harry. In particular, they seized upon the torture scene as well as other aspects of the plot to come up with a catalogue of perceived "crimes" committed by Mr. Eastwood. The Scorpio figure is obviously counter-cultural, speaking in that argot, and dressed accordingly. He even wears a very San Francisco "love and peace" sign. He might be a rampaging killer but to some film critics he was representative of an emerging America with which they identified, one seemingly under attack from the Frontier Justice of Mr. Eastwood's perceived alter ego.

Reminiscent of Spillane, despite these negative critical pronouncements, Dirty Harry was a box office smash: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1971. As well as a huge success worldwide, it was this film that moved Mr. Eastwood from Hollywood star to a Hollywood Super Star.

It seems odd to miss the fact that Scorpio is modeled after the Zodiac Killer, and which brings one to another film that should be viewed in conjunction with Dirty Harry and Bullitt: Zodiac.  The last is based on journalist Robert Graysmith's memoir of the actual case and features Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, who both Eastwood and McQueen used as inspiration for their portrayals of Harry and Frank.  Each film is excellent in its own way.

Posted by at January 6, 2019 9:24 AM

  

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