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January 28, 1972 - Image 2

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The Michigan Daily, 1972-01-28

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Page Two

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Friday, January 28, 1972

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY Friday, January 28, 1972

U

'Dirty H ary': An audaciously good flick

By NEAL GABLER
If you're anything like me,
you'll go into Dirty Harry ex-
pecting, in the critics' patroniz-
ing words, "a good action pic-
ture," (as distinguished, I guess,
from a 'good picture, period) or,
much more damning praise "a
good Clint Eastwood picture." I
don't think you or I can be en-
tirely faulted for our precon-
ceptions. Dirty Harry does fea-
ture Clint Eastwood, it is made
by Don Siegel, and it was ori-
ginally planned for Frank Sin-
atra, before Frank injured his
hand and decided to retire. Not
very auspicious. And yet Dirty
Harry is as far from tacky, TV-
type detective stuff as the Mal
tese Falcon is. I'll go even fur-
ther: It is the best piece of film-
making I've seen since McCabe
& Mrs. Miller opened last July,
and considering how I feel about
McCabe that is a high accolade.
Perhap~s I should make it clear
that I'm not speaking here as an
auteur critic, trying to talk up
inferior goods into something
admirable. Good foreign films
have a certain gentility, like
good parlor conversation. But
good American films, and Dirty
Harry is one, are more raucous,
gritty, muscled, vicious auda-
cious. They come on like gang-
busters and never let up. So it's
easy and, in fact, standard prac-
tice, to see our own fast-paced
films alongside the Europeans'
more subdued products as pulpy
and ill-mannered, which of
course they are. It's similarly
easy to mistake all this action
for anti-intellectualism or even
fascism - a charge leveled often
against Harry - which, again,
much of it is.
Harry, however, is emphatic-
ally not anti-intellectual or fas-
cistic, even though there are two
rather pedestrian motifs in the
film that undoubtedly give rise
to these accusations. The first
is. the Archie Bunker Syndrome
- the acceptance of the bigot
as a kind of lovable know-noth-
ing who really harbors no malice
toward anyone. Detective Harry
Callahan Is one of these. On
principle, we're told, Harry
doesn't discriminate; he hates
everybody. In action, however,
he laconic shamus is practically
a humanitarian. His doctor is
black and his sidekick is Mexi-
can-American. In short, under-
neath the tough crust, Harry is
really a regular fellow; and if
this is bigotry, so be it.
Director Siegel's critics 'may
appear to be on firmer ground
attacking thefilm's second mo-
tif, what I call for want of a
better label, the Anti-Hitler
Theory. This is the notion
used by every President of mod-
er times to justify huge defense
expenditures - that force only
understands force; consequently,
society must hire killers of its
own to combat fanatics both for-
eign and domestic. There is, un-
fortunately, a nub or truth to
the theory and also to the charge
that it's in Dirty Harry. By ded-
icating the picture to "the police
officers of San Francisco who
gave their lives in the line of
duty," Siegel comes off like a
flag-waver, and probably Sieg-
fried Kracauer, the German film
CEREMONIES
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'I

aesthetician who traced the rise
of Nazism by examining Weimar
movies, would have a field -day
yanking this strand.
But what the accusers gisS;
it seems, is the film's third mo-
tif, the one which at least blurs
any fascism and the one on
which the movie stands or falls
intellectually: Harry as existen-
tial hero. In American drama,
thanks to Brando, 'ye ce to
think of the existential' hero as
a brooding motorcyclist, inartic-
ulate and misunderstood, or as
an aimless youth drifting from
commune to commune in search
of final answers he knows ar n'.t
there. But if anyone qualifies
for the title, it's the policeman,
like Harry,. whose. life is frac-
tured into little episodes of ac-
tion and violence without any
link of rationality dr overall-pur-
pose. He must act or die.
If you look past all the gun-
fire, then, you can see .Iarry as
an extroverted (or American-
ized) Meursault, all instinct and
apoliticism, and he says this
quite explicitly:: "When I see an
adult male chasing an adult fe-
male with intent to commit rape,
I shoot the bastard. That's ny
policy." Comparisons might be,
made with Bogart's Sam Spade,
but Harry has thirty years on
Spade, the difference between
the 40s and the 70s. Spade, cyni-
cal pragmatist, is deep down an-,
other soured . romantic, while
Harry is beyond cynicism and
well beyond romance. He lives
and he acts. Nothing more.
In lesser hands this - existen-
tialism usually becomes black
angst bunting tacked onto a
thriller for relevant decoration.
For Siegel, however, it is the ex-.
tension of Harry's role as ana-
chronistic sheriff, as' self-ap-
pointed Leviathan less fascist.
than individualist. Early in the
film Harry saunters down Main
Street and . . . blam! blam!
blam! .. singlehandedly he ap-
prehends three bank robbers All
while munching a hot dog! The
secene, a parody, obviously has
trappings of a Western - the=
lonely walk to- meet the thievin'
varmints; the cowering towns-
folk; the. gunfight as.the vil-
lains try to speed away; Harry's,
huge 44 Magnum, "the .most
powerful handgun in the world";
and a little battlt of wits in
which Harry outfoxes, the lone
survivor. Afterward, grazed by a

bullet, our hero limps over to the
Doc to get patched up, the cli-
max of a perfect charade save
blowing smoke from the gunbar-
rel cowboy fashion.
Here again, Siegel might have,
opted for a simple 70s Western
thrusting the sheriff into a
sportsjacket and patrol car; but
he aims instead, with astound-
ing ambition, for a giant conflict
of values 'between old-fashioned,
rock-ribbed individualism and
new-fangled, weak-kneed con-
formisni. Harry operates person-
ally, man to man; 'Scorpio, the
films.' villain modeled after the
reai1ife. ZodiA filler, is an im-
personai-l assassini sniping from
rooftops. Harry is only super-
fieoally. prejudiced; Scorpio's
bigotry belies his long golden
tres es and -'peace medallion.
Eay .is tough and flinty; Scor-
plo is more 'ndrogyne than bar-,
'room- brawler. Harry relies on
instinct; Scorpio is frighteningly
061culating, taking .cover in le-,
gal loopholes. And sharpening
the contrast in even minor de-
tafWs, Siegel has the antagonists
engage in' a running battle of
technological one-upsmanship,
in which-Scorpio. as technologi-
cal man nautrally holds the up-
per hand - pistol vs. rifle, rifle
vs, machine gun, knife vs. auto-
matic.
It is certainly no accident that
Siegel 'plays out this conflict
against the backdrop of San
Francisco. One of the centers
of the new West, Frisco still
hasn't outbred its Dodge City
origins, and this film carefully
chronicles. The rolling hills, the
North Beach go-go spots, the
prostitutes - all are reminiscent
of the old Western landscape
with its saloons and world-wise
bargirls. What has changed -
and this is Harry's agony - is
man's relationship to his town.
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San Francisco is just too big and
modern society too complex for
Harry's brutal, hair-trigger
morality. Whenever our hero
tries to ferret out Scorpio, he is
thwarted by the city, his search
mediated and made less personal
by the buildings, by the people,
by the laws. A haven for the
rooftop killer, the city crimps
Harry's style and ultimately ren-
ders him useless within the Sys-
tem.
His style gets uncrimped only
when the scene shifts from the
city to his spiritual terrain in
the undeveloped outskirts of
San Francisco. He stands on a
trestle like some Western colos-
sus (shades of High Noon)
waiting for Scorpio. The enemy
rumbles along in a hi-jacked
school bus resembling a conas-
toga wagon, and Harry leaps on
top (shades of Stagecoach). Fin-
ally they find themselves in a
dusty grey quarry where the last
shoot-out begins, this time with
nothing to get in, Harry's way
(shades of OK Corral). And
when it's all over, Harry sets
his jaw, grimaces and flings his
badge out into the river. He's
won the battle but lost the war.
If there were a pantheon
where great moments of film
symbolism could be enshrined,
Harry's hurling away of his
badge would surely belong there.
Although I may be waxing rhap-
sodic, it seems one of those rare
bits of social poetry in which
large events are miraculously
encapsulated in images. His ac-

tion asserts his position as an-
achronism and misfit, a man
whose values are out of synch
with his time. We can mytholo-
gize people like Harry, and the
film itself is such mythology.
We can even justify these peo-
ple's violence. But we cannot use
them unless they are willing to
obey the rules, an impossible
price for Harry. So in his de-
mise we are seeing nothing less
than the end of the great mythic
figure of sheriff, lone and in-
stinctive. The old West has un-
dergone a conversion, and Harry
is much more the victim than
Scorpio,
It's an interesting theme (Dare
I say "relevant"?), but I wouldnt
want to contend that it's an en-
tirely novel idea, nor would I
deny that dozens of recent,
cheesy movies - including most
of Siegel's - snuggled a com-
parable theme in between the
fist fights. The difference, a

very big difference,,'is the im-
pact of the vision. Siegel isn't
giving us a nice, zippy action-
picture - with - social - under-
tones which we can slide over
for two happy, sadistic, cathar-
tic hours. Wow! What a chase
scene!: His picture is so damn
shattering it sucks us into its
value system and practically
smothers us with its dying myth-
ology. This is powerful stuff.
You may see better films this
year, but I doubt if you'll see
anything quite as devastating.
Why? Mainly because Dirty
Harry's aesthetics - its gore,
its fast-cutting, Lalo Schifrin's
great heart-beat score, East-
wood's solid mumbling perform-
ance - are part and parcel of
its value system, and its energy
is as much a function of indig-
nation as of kinetics, If this
See DIRTY, Page 8

-GRAND OPENING
1962 U. of M. Groduate introduces
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across from Campus Theater
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Hungari an Folk Dance Workshop v
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Fri.--Jan. 28-8-11 p.m.--Barbour Gym
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Sat, Jan. 29-10-12 aim.-Women's Athletic Bldg.
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Mon., Jan. 31-7 p.m.
Michigan Union Ballroom
Black men-Black women
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Human R*ights Party
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CONVENTION
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SATURDAY-Michigan Union, Anderson Room
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12-1:30-Lunch and Caucuses
1:30-3:30-Plank Committees meet
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5:30-8-Dinner!!!
8-11 p.m.-Convention Session on Education
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1 -2-Lunch'!!
2-5--Convention on Economics, Sexism planks
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Russia. 1929, Silent
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Show Starts at 7:00

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