Return to home

Dirty Harry (1971)


Greatest Films (www.filmsite.org and www.greatestfilms.org)
With descriptive review commentaries and background history on many classic, landmark films in cinematic history, especially American/Hollywood films. Including posters, Academy Awards history, film genres, film terms, film history by decade, trivia, and lots of lists of 'best' films, stars, scenes, quotes, resources, etc.


Throughout the city, numerous rooftops have officers positioned to be on the lookout (on "search patterns") for the blackmailing, ransom-demanding killer named Scorpio (Andrew J. Robinson). In the Homicide Department, Harry is assigned a replacement (for his wounded current partner) against his will by an insistent Lt. Bressler - a rookie, college-educated (a San Jose State University Sociology major) Mexican-American cop named Chico Gonzales (Reni Santoni). He is less dismayed by the new partner's ethnicity than his lack of experience and his major detective-work liabilities: "You gotta be kidding. I don't got any time to break in any newcomers. Why don't you do this boy a favor...if I need a partner, I'll get me someone who knows what the hell he's doin'." Later, he advises the green, fresh-from college Gonzales:

Sociology? Oh, you'll go far - that's if you live...Just don't let your college degree get you killed 'cause I'm liable to get killed along with ya.

Gonzales wants to know the origin of Callahan's well-known nickname. One of his associates, De Georgio (John Mitchum) emphasizes 'Dirty Harry's' across-the-board non-racist, and un-bigoted prejudice and hatred for everyone:

Gonzales: Why do they call ya 'Dirty Harry'?
De Georgio: That's one thing about our Harry, he doesn't play any favorites. Harry hates everybody. Limeys, (Beat)Niks, Hebs, Fat Dagos, Niggers, Honkies, Chinks, you name it.
Gonzales: How does he feel about Mexicans?
De Georgio: Ask him?
Callahan: Especially Spics.

In the scene transition, a scale-model of the city in the office dissolves into the twin spires of a Catholic church - Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church at Washington Square [on Filbert Street between Powell and Stockton]. On a nearby rooftop of the Dante Building [on Stockton Street at Columbus Avenue], Scorpio is set to strike his next victim. He reads the message to him from the Mayor in the Personal Column of the day's paper: "TO SCORPIO. We agree but need time to get money. Be patient." After ripping it up and tossing pieces into the wind, he dons black gloves and uses a telescope to target an exaggeratedly-effeminate (homosexual?) black man (eating an ice cream cone with another man on a bench). After assembling his rifle and getting poised to shoot, he is spotted by a scouring patrol helicopter and thwarted, but he escapes.

During a night patrol, Callahan and Gonzales cruise by the Columbus Street area populated by peep shows and strip joints (the Roaring 20s, Big Al's, the Condor and the El Cid with a show entitled Naked). Their police radio describes a suspect: "an adult male Caucasian...last seen, the suspect was wearing a pair of chinos, a pale blue shirt, brown coat, a sweater, dark gloves. He was carrying a tan suitcase which probably contains a 30 ought 6 rifle. This man is wanted on suspicion of homicide." Callahan comments on the weirdos that are on the streets:

Callahan: These loonies. They ought to throw a net over the whole bunch of 'em.
Gonzales: I know what you mean.

Gonzales spots an individual with a "tan suitcase" - on the tip, and they pursue the possible suspect, but narrowly miss hitting pedestrians:

Pedestrians: Hey, fruitcake, what do you think you're doing?
Callahan: Get the hell out of the way, hammerhead.

Callahan follows the man down a dark alley where he sees him enter an apartment. Standing on a garbage can, he spies on the Asian man through a window. Callahan topples to the ground when the refuse can is kicked over and he is accused of being a "lousy" peeping Tom (viewing half-naked "Hot Mary (Lois Foraker) and her boyfriend") by concerned neighbors. His buddy comes to his rescue, but not before Harry's humiliating experience of admitting to being a policeman in the act of committing a low-life crime. Gonzales even rubs it in with a second interpretation of his name: "I just had another thought...about why they call you Dirty Harry."

In the meantime, sirens blare somewhere in the city. Back in their patrol car, they receive a radio report of an "804 in progress" [at California Hall, located at Polk and Turk Streets] near the Civic Center. Around the corner from Bathskeller's Restaurant, they find a crowd, rescue squad and other officers unsuccessfully dealing with a "suicide attempt." Harry volunteers to "talk him down" and is slowly lifted up in a window-cleaning bucket on a crane. Without begging the suicidal man to reconsider, Harry shows brutal indifference when he asks the disturbed man for his name and address to later help in identifying his 'mashed' body on the pavement. Further angered by Harry's comical reaction to his threat to puke, the man jumps onto the apparatus to take Harry down with him. The cop takes advantage of the distracted jumper, knocks him out and brings him down safely. Back on the street, he tells his pal how he truly earned his nickname - he won't flinch or shrink from the difficult, most demanding and dirty jobs that he is called upon to perform, jobs that often require 'dirty' methods, unethical operations, pain, and fanatical violence outside normal, conventional limits in order to succeed:

Now you know why they call me 'Dirty Harry.' Every dirty job that comes along.

The next day, while driving through the Portrero District, the two cops are directed to an empty lot [at Texas and Sierra Streets], where the body of a "young boy - Negro" has been discovered shot in the face (from a closeby apartment rooftop with the sniper's rifle). The mother of the deceased, Mrs. Russell (Mae Mercer), tells Harry that her son was "only ten years old."

Within the Hall of Justice in the Police Chief's office, a map-diagram of the city is marked with blue flags to identify where all the units will be on nocturnal duty - all areas of the city except the North Beach area where one building has an unlocked rooftop ("we're saving that for him"). For surveillance, Callahan will be staked out there on a building that overlooks the roof where the sniper was earlier spotted near the church. The detectives predict that Scorpio will pick the same rooftop in order to select a Catholic padre (at the church's novena that evening) as his next target: "He may just figure he owes himself a padre."

That night, police Officer Collins disguised as a priest is "set up for bait" at the church's entrance. Below a rotating "JESUS SAVES" neon sign, Callahan scours the neighborhood with binoculars for a glimpse of the killer - and is distracted when he catches sight of a naked young girl greeting two hippies at her door. Amused by the unconventional threesome, he remarks to himself: "You owe it to yourself to live a little, Harry." But then he finds that the same apartment's rooftop door is ajar - and the killer "took the bait." Working together, Gonzales shines a spotlight on Scorpio as Harry aims his rifle and shoots at the crazed and maniacal Scorpio. Their suspect grins gleefully, returns the bullets with repeating rifle fire, and blasts the 'Jesus Saves' sign above them. They pursue after him but he escapes, but not before killing Officer Collins in the priest's disguise - another cop laments, "he never knew what hit him."

The next day in Lt. Bressler's office, they are informed that Scorpio "grabbed a 14-year-old girl, Ann Mary Deacon" - (Melody Thomas Scott) pictured in a set of colored photographs. Scorpio allegedly left a "suspicious object" in Golden Gate Park, containing another demand letter. According to Bressler, the "poor kid went to the movies last night and she never came home" - she was "buried alive" with just a small amount of oxygen left to sustain her. Gonzales reads the letter about Scorpio's burial of a live kidnapped young girl, with demands to be paid $200,000 to keep her alive:

The double-crossing San Francisco police made me do this. Now ransom $200,000 in used 10s and 20s. One man with yellow bag, south side, Marina Green, East Harbor, 9 pm, she has oxygen until 3 am tomorrow morning, red panties and bra, nice tits, mole on left thigh. Anything cute and you'll force me to let girl die of slow suffocation. (Signed) Scorpio

The mother identified the bra, the hank of hair, and a bloody tooth extracted from her mouth ("pulled out with a pair of pliers") and wrapped in tissue. Harry immediately assumes the worst: "You know she's dead, don't you?" But the mayor is gathering the funds to pay off the blackmailing, pathological killer, so that he will tell police where she is located. Bressler advises Callahan to play it straight in their race against time: "He's using up a lot of favors, Harry. He wants to pay. No tricks." He volunteers to be the "bagman" - to deliver the ransom money to the extortionist for the girl's release. Gonzales asks whether he can cover Harry, but is denied the request. He discovers another reason for his partner's moniker:

No wonder they call him Dirty Harry. Always get the s--t-end of the stick.

At a department store, Harry acquires a microphone/wire device so that Gonzales can hear him and shadow him by car - against the strict orders of their superiors. Callahan is given a yellow bag containing $200,000 in cash by the Police Chief, and counseled: "Just make sure nobody takes it away from you." Bressler advises that Harry may be led all over town, and he is given specific instructions to not attempt a capture:

Just go where you're told, do what you're told, play it straight down the line...Nothing cute, nothing fancy. Just pay the ransom money and report back here.

But Harry prepares himself with a long switchblade knife that he tapes to the side of his calf. His first destination is the boat docks at the Marina [Marina Green, East Harbor]. A pay phone rings with a call that warns he will be 'bounced all over town' to make sure he's alone. Scorpio threatens with a deadly game:

If I even think you're being followed, the girl dies. If you talk to anyone, I don't care if it's a Pekinese pissing against a lamppost, the girl dies...No car. I give you a certain amount of time to go from phone booth to phone booth. I ring four times. You don't answer by the fourth ring, I hang up and that's the end of the game. The girl dies...Cop!...I hope you're not stupid.

His first destination in the chase across the city is the Forest Hills MUNI Station [Laguna Honda at Woodside], where Callahan runs on foot. At another pay phone, he is then directed to go downstairs, take the underground K car, and exit at Church & 20th Streets by Mission Dolores Park. The next stop is the "public phone, hamburger stand, Aquatic Park. Hubba, hubba, hubba, pig bastard!"

During his frantic run to Aquatic Park, Harry is accosted near a tunnel [near Ft. Mason] by thugs intent on robbery, but he scares them off with his .44 Magnum:

Thug: What's in the bag, man?
Callahan: You dudes get lost now, ya hear?
Thug 2: Screw the bag.
Thug: Yeah, just give us the wallet now.
Callahan: You don't listen, do ya, a-hole.

At Aquatic Park, he is told to go to the cross at Mount Davidson Park [above Portola Drive]. On his way to the top of the steep park, he is again confronted by another weirdo, a gay man named Alice:

Callahan: I'm Callahan.
Young Man: My friends call me Alice, and I will take a dare.
Callahan: Well, Alice, when was the last time you were busted?
Young Man: If you're vice, I'll kill myself.
Callahan: Well, do it at home!

At the summit under the tall concrete cross, Callahan is ordered by Scorpio, hidden in the dark of the night, to "freeze - just like a statue," drop the bag, surrender his weapon, raise his hands, and turn to face the cross ("put your nose right up against the cement"). The grotesque killer (with a full-face red ski-mask), seen partly from a bird's-eye-view, slugs Callahan with his rifle across the side of the head, knocks him down, savagely kicks him in the ribs, and torments him by shaking his head. And then he taunts the cop with a cruel change in plans: "I've changed my mind. I'm going to let her die. I just wanted you to know that." As Gonzales races on foot into the park to intervene and save his partner, he listens to more of their conversation through his radio wire: "Do you understand? I just wanted to make sure you knew that before I killed you."

Gonzales fires at Scorpio and prevents Callahan's murder, but is shot and wounded in the process. With a last bit of strength, Harry reaches for his concealed switchblade and jams it into the killer's left thigh, causing the crazed murderer to let out a deranged, painful cry. Scorpio stumbles away with the yellow bag, with the knife still stuck deep in his leg, and tumbles down a steep dirt hill. When he comes to a stop, Scorpio takes a tight grip on the blade handle and removes the stiletto from his leg with one excruciating, blood-dripping pull, and then seeks out a doctor in an emergency hospital to treat him. Both Gonzales and Callahan are nearly killed, but they survive the attack. To Bressler, Callahan defends the actions of Gonzales in following him - expressly against the direct orders of the Chief: "Gonzales was obeying orders from his superior, me...he didn't know anything about it. And when this mess is over, if he [the Chief] wants my badge, well, he can have that too."

A doctor from the Park Emergency Hospital [Stanyan Street, around the corner from Kezar Stadium at Frederick and Stanyan Streets] calls the police with an important tip. Both De Georgio and Callahan are given details about stab-wound treatment just administered to a "guy who has a knife wound in the leg" - he had "long blonde hair, medium build, about a hundred and fifty pounds, fair complexion...he works around here...when they had football, he used to sell programs at the Stadium. I think the groundskeeper lets him live there...Kezar Stadium." The two detectives drive to Kezar football stadium [a football stadium for the San Francisco 49'ers in Golden Gate Park, until they moved elsewhere in the early 70s and it was destroyed in 1989 following the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake] - it's within easy walking distance. Finding the outer chain-link fence locked, Harry decides to scale it, thereby entering the stadium illegally and without a warrant:

De Georgio: Illegal entry, no warrant.
Callahan: Looks like we climb.
De Georgio: Uh-uh. Too much linguini. I'll find another way.

Scorpio's eyes are highlighted in the darkness as he watches Harry walk into the area and kick in the door of the groundskeeper room where he lives (or has set up quarters). He hears footsteps and pursues the psychotic killer hobbling down some stadium steps to the closed mid-field playing area. As he calls out "STOP" and points his gigantic .44 Magnum at the wounded enemy, De Georgio turns on the flood-lights of the stadium and illuminates the exact position of the killer. In another confrontation, Harry fires his gun and fells Scorpio with a second wound to his bloody leg. As he stalks his downed prey, he tells De Georgio: "Go on out and get some air, fatso" - and his pal gladly responds: "You're the boss." The utterly despicable and cowardly Scorpio piteously pleads and bleats like a cry-baby to be spared, to have his civil rights honored, and to be taken to a doctor when Harry aims his gun at the killer and single-mindedly wants to know where the girl is buried and hidden. Hiding behind and manipulating the protection of the state and the laws of the System, the looney's head is appropriately positioned above the hash mark on the field (he puts his head in the cross-hair, making himself a target for Harry):

Scorpio: No, no, no, no. Don't do anything more. You tried to kill me...Please no more, I'm hurt, can't you see I'm hurt? You shot me, please don't, don't! Let me have a doctor...Please give me the doctor, don't kill me.
Callahan: The girl, where is she?
Scorpio: You tried to kill me!
Callahan: If I tried that, your head'd be splattered all over this field. Now where's the girl?
Scorpio: I want a lawyer!
Callahan: I said, where's the girl?
Scorpio: I have the right for a lawyer.
Callahan: Where's the girl?
Scorpio: I have the right for a lawyer, don't shoot me, I have rights, want a lawyer.

There is a terrific cinematographic, helicopter shot - a spiraling, aerial view pulling up and away from Harry, as he uses strong-arm tactics to torture and crush Scorpio's wounded, bleeding leg under his grinding foot and heel - alone in the flood-lit stadium. The camera moves further and further back into the night sky until the two become 'merged' together from a subjective view - and the entire stadium is lost to one's sight and enveloped in the foggy blackness.


Previous Page Next Page


Created in 1996-2008 © by Tim Dirks. All rights reserved.