Sunday, June 13, 2010

World's Coolest Dirty Harry Website

I am unashamed to say that Don Seigel's Dirty Harry remains one of my favorite movies, right up there on my top ten list with Chinatown

Clint Eastwood was the quintessence of cool as remorseless San Francisco detective "Dirty Harry" Callahan, the only cop as cold and ruthless as the thugs and psychopaths he gunned down with his .44 magnum. He was a hit man with a badge. He didn't carry handcuffs, because the creeps he hunted usually ended up dead. 

As it said in the trailer: "This is about a couple of killers--Harry Callahan and a homicidal maniac. The one with the badge is Harry."

Fascist? Probably. Politically incorrect? Hell, yes. You couldn't make this movie today. Dirty Harry broke the rules about how movie cops were expected to behave. 

Take the famous scene where Harry chases the serial killer Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) onto the field at Kezar stadium. Harry orders Scorpio to halt, and, realizing that he can't get away--thanks to a previous leg injury from Harry--Scorpio stops and raises his hands, whereupon Harry shoots him anyway! Harry then proceeds to grind his foot into Scorpio's injured leg in hopes of getting Scorpio to tell him the location of a kidnapped girl. It's an intense, powerful scene. Only one shot is fired, yet that one gunshot has more dramatic impact than a hail of bullets in most other films. 

The extent of Harry's cold-bloodedness is illustrated in a scene near the end of the movie when he attempts to stop a school bus hijacked by Scorpio. When the bus crashes at a gravel factory and Scorpio kicks out the emergency door, Harry doesn't even bother to check on the kids, he simply grabs his gun and takes off after Scorpio!

A moment later, Scorpio is cornered at the edge of a quarry pond, where he grabs a young boy and puts a gun to his head, daring Harry to shoot. So, of course Harry does, winging Scorpio in the shoulder with a snap shot that impacts mere inches over the boy's head. For Harry, hostages were an inconvenience, not a deterrent.

None of the subsequent sequels were as dark or uncompromising as the original Dirty Harry. When the movie opened in 1971, it was condemned by some critics for its violence and its perceived advocacy of a vigilante mentality. Siegel and Eastwood weren't trying to make a political statement, though. They were simply trying to make a contemporary urban version of the 'spaghetti westerns' that had made Eastwood an international star. Harry Callahan was essentially the "man with no name" in a tweed jacket instead of a serape.

The public loved the movie, and Dirty Harry became one of the most successful movies of the year, beating out such favorites as Shaft, Big Jake, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Andromeda Strain. Harry was so popular that it was later re-released in theaters on a double-bill with the 1973 sequel, Magnum Forcewhich was common practice at drive-in theaters, but highly unusual for films playing at 'hardtops,' or indoor movie houses. 

Dirty Harry has been reissued several times on DVD and now Blu-ray, and is often accompanied by extras including 'making of' documentaries and interviews with stars Clint Eastwood and Andrew Robinson. However, the coolest and most interesting resource for all things Dirty Harry is a smartly crafted weblog entitled Dirty Harry Filming Locations, a fascinating geographical encyclopedia of the film's locations, many of which still exist. A must-see for fans, the site contains photos, maps, and historical information helpful for those who wish to a visit the iconic San Francisco locations. 

Remember the giant cross at Mount Davidson Park, where Harry gets the crap beaten out of him before stabbing Scorpio in the leg with the switchblade? It's still there, and you can walk right up to it, just like Harry did.   

Remember Park Emergency Hospital, where Scorpio limped for treatment after Harry stabbed him? The building is still there and looks exactly the same, except that it's now the headquarters for the City of San Francisco Dept. of Parks and Recreation's Natural Areas and Volunteer Programs.

What about Kezar stadium, the site of Harry's infamous 'interrogation' of Scorpio? In 1989 the stadium was torn down and replaced by a much smaller facility, though the football field is still there, if you're in the mood for an evening jog around the site of the most famous case of police brutality in movie history. 

Dirty Harry Filming Locations shows exactly where these and other sites are located, and compares stills from the movie with contemporary photographs of the locations today. The site also contains other fascinating artifacts such as rarely-seen Channel 5 news footage of Clint Eastwood and San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto attending the film's 1971 premiere at San Francisco's Loew's Theater.

A lot of thought and effort went into the site, and it shows. Clean, well-organized and meticulously researched, Dirty Harry Filming Locations is a treasure-trove for fans and film historians, and one of the best movie-specific resources on the Internet.

Check it out!

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