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The Many Dirty Harrys

Sudden Impact, with an assist by President Reagan, propelled “Make my day” into common usage.

Magnum Force: Go ahead, make my lunch!
Magnum Force: Go ahead, make my lunch!

This week: Clint Eastwood’s “Magnum” opuses.

The Many Dirty Harrys

In Coogan’s Bluff, Don Siegel jerked the sheriff out of Dodge, relocating the lawman amidst the contemporary urban sprawl, horse and all. It was the director’s first pairing with Clint Eastwood, a fast-learning protege quick to carve out a name for himself behind the camera. It took a few more collaborations, but when it came time to blur the line between cop and killer, the duo simply obliterated it. Dirty Harry became one of the ‘70s defining films and its star a magnetic North at the box office. The film spawned four official sequels: Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool. Off the meter there was Dirty Drunken Harry (The Gauntlet), Dirty Kinky Harry (Tightrope), Dirty Harry and Son (The Rookie), and Old Dirty Harry (Gran Torino). A rule of thumb regarding sequels: up the budget and meet audience expectations head on with more of the same. It’s customary to have the stars from the original reprise their roles. Alas, Dirty Harry pictures generally end with only the actor left standing. Harry’s partners have a shorter life expectancy than a Charles Bronson love interest in a Death Wish retread.

For those with the attention span of a screen door, Magnum Force opens with Harry’s famous “Well, do you punk?” monologue from the Siegel original. Eastwood received top billing, but his Smith & Wesson co-star hogged the title. Before seeing Harry’s snarled lips, encrusted glint, and surf’s up haircut, we pay Zen-like tribute to the most famous cinematic firearm this side of Jimmy Stewart’s Winchester. The fetishistic montage of the most powerful handgun in the world, poised and ready to fire, that plays underneath the credits reached a spellbinding climax when the gun takes a Leo G. Carroll-ish turn towards the camera before firing straight at the audience.

The script was written by a pair of gung-ho neophytes who would both go on to greener directorial pastures. John Milius (Big Wednesday, Red Dawn) was already an established foot soldier in the Eastwood army (he contributed to the Dirty Harry screenplay), while the following year would find Michael Cimino making his directorial debut with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. If repetition is the key to a sequel’s franchise, Milius and Cimino saw to it that the audience didn’t leave hungry. Once again, Harry is in the right place at the right time to foil a crime, but now the stakes are higher. Instead of battling a pesky pimp while dining al fresco on hot dog, Harry thwarts a hijacking with burger in hand. The one ingenious elaboration on the part of the storytellers is the inclusion of no less than five vigilante lawmen to perplex their dirty mentor. There’s a rookie team of four army buddies-cum-motorcycle cops on the loose, led by Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook, who gave Mark Twain the night off to play a sanctimonious crooked cop). The dress-alike renegades are played by four fascinating new personalities. Robert Urich makes his screen debut, while David Soul’s performance as the gang’s neo-Nazi overseer led to Starsky and Hutch fame and the decades worth of residual checks that came with it. Tim Matheson makes the smooth transition from bit ingenue parts in Lucy and Bob Hope vehicles to traffic cop. As for Kip Niven, he never did much to live up to the family name. (Meanwhile, Ted Post’s direction lives up to his last name.)

Eastwood had no interest in reprising the character, let alone directing another Dirty Harry picture. He drafted his old Hang ‘Em High compadre to take command. (Clint later went on record crediting second unit director Buddy Van Horn with most of the camera set-ups.) Lalo Schifrin’s bongos announce each action scene, the list of which includes a pair of reasonably well-executed chases to please devotees and a few moments detailing a maniac cop pulling a Johnny Cool by tossing a suitcase filled with TNT into a swimming pool. Success here generally hinges on snappy merchandising catchphrases designed to sell a lot of t-shirts and bumper stickers. Dirty Harry started the ball rolling with “Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” while Sudden Impact, with an assist by President Reagan, propelled “Make my day” into common usage. Magnum Force’s catchphrase didn’t quite catch on, perhaps because it was a bit of a downer: “Man’s got to know his limitations.” And The Enforcer offers an even more minimalist mantra via Harry’s sarcastic three-syllable zinger, “Marvelous.”

Albert Popwell is the only actor to appear opposite Eastwood in the first three pictures. He plays the “I gots to know” bank robber in Dirty Harry, pimp extraordinaire J.J. Wilson in Magnum Force, and the head of the Black Panthers in The Enforcer. As the series’s token gangsta, his parts got bigger and the punishment more gratuitous. Still, the final confrontation between the vigilante architect and his pupils could have been stronger: it quickly dissolves into an extended motorcycle chase for the yahoos.

If nothing else, Magnum Force displayed a smidgen of social consciousness at its core. The Enforcer, on the other hand, takes Don Siegel and screenwriters Harry and R.M. Finks’ vigilante solution to America’s growing anxiety over urban crime and reduces it to laughable comic book panels. Using a blonde hooker (Jocelyn Jones) as bait, The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force hijacks a People’s Gas truck and used it to keep the city of San Francisco at bay with disposable bazookas. Given the expendable nature of Callahan’s partners, the filmmakers thought it might add comic relief if this time, sexist Harry was paired with a lady cop (Tyne Daly). The results are as predictable as they are pitched to the lowest common denominator. They do, however, give way to some riotous conjecture concerning butch police board reviewer Mrs. Grey (Jan Stratton) and a barnyard animal.

Bradford Dillman has fun as the former personnel clerk who made Captain. Harry Guardino, who skipped a chapter by not appearing in Magnum Force, continues to distract audiences with his activated hair and manhole cover-sized pinky ring. Bob Mitchum’s kid brother John has bits in both sequels, but it’s his rack focus death scene in The Enforcer that found me scrambling for the rewind button. Magnum Force at least tried to follow and expand upon the tenets set forth by the Siegel original. The Enforcer was strictly sequel by committee.

In 2008, Harry Callaan surrogate Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is still fighting the Korean war. One can instantly pick up on Walt’s anger. He’s not upset about having to attend his wife’s wake, but rather the way his grandchildren present themselves: surely football jerseys, belly shirts revealing navel piercings, and constant texting constitute neither proper attire nor behavior for such a somber occasion. As much as he’d like to kill them, he can’t. They’re his kin. Instead, Walt’s rage must find a different outlet, and the predominantly Asian makeup of his neighborhood presents an easy alternative.

Walt makes no bones about it: he’s a proud, unrepentant, all-American racist. None of this closeted hatred nonsense, either. Walt will look you directly in the eye and find something derogatory to say about your race, color, and/or creed. Screenwriter Nick Schenk’s research must have entailed Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto vehicles and Mickey Rooney’s hackneyed buck-toothed performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; there’s not one racial pejorative against Asians that Walt doesn’t know and use repeatedly. All of Walt’s white neighbors have either moved or died off, and the block’s racial makeup now consists largely of Hmong immigrants. The Hmong hail from Laos and other parts of Asia that allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam conflict, but Walt doesn’t care. All he knows is that they don’t keep their lawn as neatly manicured as his. Try as they might to be civil and neighborly to him, Walt will have none of it. At least until the night when their 16-year-old son Thao (Bee Vang) tries to steal Walt’s prize ‘72 Gran Torino.

It turns out Thao was put up to it after a cousin bullied him into car-jacking the prized auto as part of a gang initiation. When Walt breaks up a gang fight on his lawn, he is not aware that Thao is the same kid who tried lifting his Torino. After he gets dubbed a hero by the locals, Thao and his family come to apologize and make peace. It still takes Walt about three reels before he finally discovers the people next door are “good” Asians and sides with them. Once this happens, the film’s conclusion is foregone: there will be a bloodbath.

Not unlike William Monahan’s script for The Departed, Nick Schenk here presents one of America’s premier working filmmakers with a screenplay comprised entirely of greatest hits from the past. Walt chews tabacky and owns a dog, but unlike Josey Wales, Kowalski never spits a wad at the pooch. Tobacco juice isn’t the only liquid spewed from his mouth. I’m not sure what Walt is dying of, but chain smoking cigarettes and spitting up blood into a handkerchief indicates he’s going the same road as the Honkytonk Man. And many of the themes on display in his pair of World War II Oscar winners (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima) hop a ride in the Gran Torino. There is also the obligatory rape, mercifully shown off screen, and even a pair of grunted “Fk me’s” lifted from The Gauntlet. And don’t forget the persistent Padre left over from Million Dollar Baby.

Talking of which: this was Eastwood’s first appearance in front of the camera since that film. “I hadn’t planned on doing much more acting, really,” he noted. “But this film had a role that was my age, and the character seemed like it was tailored for me, even though it wasn’t. And I liked the script. It has twists and turns and also some good laughs.” Boy, I’ll say! Don’t let my two star rating fool you. There are several five stars scenes contained in Gran Torino, but given the overall quality of Eastwood’s work over the decade, it paled in comparison. Even Master Director Eastwood can’t escape from many of Schenk’s contrived situations. Walt and Martin (John Carroll Lynch), the town’s barber, exchange some good natured, sub-Archie Bunker “Me Dago, you Polock” race-baiting. When Walt eventually becomes Thao’s role model, he takes the teen along for his monthly cut, in hopes that he and Martin can show the effeminate boy how to talk and act like a man. And it’s only when Thao shoots back with racial invectives is he considered such in the eyes of a retired auto worker and his bald groomsman.

The film was originally sold as Eastwood’s final farewell to acting: the actor, director, producer seeing to it that his vigilante character bows out in a blaze of glory. Old Walt goes on a kamikaze mission and winds up taking more bullets than Ben Shockley’s bus. It would have been a lot better had Eastwood sacked the sentiment and gone straight for a Geritol-powered update of The Gauntlet. Why the title? “The Gran Torino is his pride and joy,” Eastwood attests. “Walt sort of is the Gran Torino. He doesn’t do anything with it except let it sit in the garage. But every once in a while he takes it out and shines it up. Walt with a glass of beer, watching his car: that’s about as good as it gets for him at this stage of his life.”

Be sure to stick it through the closing credits. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard Clint croaking out the film’s love theme.

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Magnum Force: Go ahead, make my lunch!
Magnum Force: Go ahead, make my lunch!

This week: Clint Eastwood’s “Magnum” opuses.

The Many Dirty Harrys

In Coogan’s Bluff, Don Siegel jerked the sheriff out of Dodge, relocating the lawman amidst the contemporary urban sprawl, horse and all. It was the director’s first pairing with Clint Eastwood, a fast-learning protege quick to carve out a name for himself behind the camera. It took a few more collaborations, but when it came time to blur the line between cop and killer, the duo simply obliterated it. Dirty Harry became one of the ‘70s defining films and its star a magnetic North at the box office. The film spawned four official sequels: Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool. Off the meter there was Dirty Drunken Harry (The Gauntlet), Dirty Kinky Harry (Tightrope), Dirty Harry and Son (The Rookie), and Old Dirty Harry (Gran Torino). A rule of thumb regarding sequels: up the budget and meet audience expectations head on with more of the same. It’s customary to have the stars from the original reprise their roles. Alas, Dirty Harry pictures generally end with only the actor left standing. Harry’s partners have a shorter life expectancy than a Charles Bronson love interest in a Death Wish retread.

For those with the attention span of a screen door, Magnum Force opens with Harry’s famous “Well, do you punk?” monologue from the Siegel original. Eastwood received top billing, but his Smith & Wesson co-star hogged the title. Before seeing Harry’s snarled lips, encrusted glint, and surf’s up haircut, we pay Zen-like tribute to the most famous cinematic firearm this side of Jimmy Stewart’s Winchester. The fetishistic montage of the most powerful handgun in the world, poised and ready to fire, that plays underneath the credits reached a spellbinding climax when the gun takes a Leo G. Carroll-ish turn towards the camera before firing straight at the audience.

The script was written by a pair of gung-ho neophytes who would both go on to greener directorial pastures. John Milius (Big Wednesday, Red Dawn) was already an established foot soldier in the Eastwood army (he contributed to the Dirty Harry screenplay), while the following year would find Michael Cimino making his directorial debut with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. If repetition is the key to a sequel’s franchise, Milius and Cimino saw to it that the audience didn’t leave hungry. Once again, Harry is in the right place at the right time to foil a crime, but now the stakes are higher. Instead of battling a pesky pimp while dining al fresco on hot dog, Harry thwarts a hijacking with burger in hand. The one ingenious elaboration on the part of the storytellers is the inclusion of no less than five vigilante lawmen to perplex their dirty mentor. There’s a rookie team of four army buddies-cum-motorcycle cops on the loose, led by Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook, who gave Mark Twain the night off to play a sanctimonious crooked cop). The dress-alike renegades are played by four fascinating new personalities. Robert Urich makes his screen debut, while David Soul’s performance as the gang’s neo-Nazi overseer led to Starsky and Hutch fame and the decades worth of residual checks that came with it. Tim Matheson makes the smooth transition from bit ingenue parts in Lucy and Bob Hope vehicles to traffic cop. As for Kip Niven, he never did much to live up to the family name. (Meanwhile, Ted Post’s direction lives up to his last name.)

Eastwood had no interest in reprising the character, let alone directing another Dirty Harry picture. He drafted his old Hang ‘Em High compadre to take command. (Clint later went on record crediting second unit director Buddy Van Horn with most of the camera set-ups.) Lalo Schifrin’s bongos announce each action scene, the list of which includes a pair of reasonably well-executed chases to please devotees and a few moments detailing a maniac cop pulling a Johnny Cool by tossing a suitcase filled with TNT into a swimming pool. Success here generally hinges on snappy merchandising catchphrases designed to sell a lot of t-shirts and bumper stickers. Dirty Harry started the ball rolling with “Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” while Sudden Impact, with an assist by President Reagan, propelled “Make my day” into common usage. Magnum Force’s catchphrase didn’t quite catch on, perhaps because it was a bit of a downer: “Man’s got to know his limitations.” And The Enforcer offers an even more minimalist mantra via Harry’s sarcastic three-syllable zinger, “Marvelous.”

Albert Popwell is the only actor to appear opposite Eastwood in the first three pictures. He plays the “I gots to know” bank robber in Dirty Harry, pimp extraordinaire J.J. Wilson in Magnum Force, and the head of the Black Panthers in The Enforcer. As the series’s token gangsta, his parts got bigger and the punishment more gratuitous. Still, the final confrontation between the vigilante architect and his pupils could have been stronger: it quickly dissolves into an extended motorcycle chase for the yahoos.

If nothing else, Magnum Force displayed a smidgen of social consciousness at its core. The Enforcer, on the other hand, takes Don Siegel and screenwriters Harry and R.M. Finks’ vigilante solution to America’s growing anxiety over urban crime and reduces it to laughable comic book panels. Using a blonde hooker (Jocelyn Jones) as bait, The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force hijacks a People’s Gas truck and used it to keep the city of San Francisco at bay with disposable bazookas. Given the expendable nature of Callahan’s partners, the filmmakers thought it might add comic relief if this time, sexist Harry was paired with a lady cop (Tyne Daly). The results are as predictable as they are pitched to the lowest common denominator. They do, however, give way to some riotous conjecture concerning butch police board reviewer Mrs. Grey (Jan Stratton) and a barnyard animal.

Bradford Dillman has fun as the former personnel clerk who made Captain. Harry Guardino, who skipped a chapter by not appearing in Magnum Force, continues to distract audiences with his activated hair and manhole cover-sized pinky ring. Bob Mitchum’s kid brother John has bits in both sequels, but it’s his rack focus death scene in The Enforcer that found me scrambling for the rewind button. Magnum Force at least tried to follow and expand upon the tenets set forth by the Siegel original. The Enforcer was strictly sequel by committee.

In 2008, Harry Callaan surrogate Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is still fighting the Korean war. One can instantly pick up on Walt’s anger. He’s not upset about having to attend his wife’s wake, but rather the way his grandchildren present themselves: surely football jerseys, belly shirts revealing navel piercings, and constant texting constitute neither proper attire nor behavior for such a somber occasion. As much as he’d like to kill them, he can’t. They’re his kin. Instead, Walt’s rage must find a different outlet, and the predominantly Asian makeup of his neighborhood presents an easy alternative.

Walt makes no bones about it: he’s a proud, unrepentant, all-American racist. None of this closeted hatred nonsense, either. Walt will look you directly in the eye and find something derogatory to say about your race, color, and/or creed. Screenwriter Nick Schenk’s research must have entailed Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto vehicles and Mickey Rooney’s hackneyed buck-toothed performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; there’s not one racial pejorative against Asians that Walt doesn’t know and use repeatedly. All of Walt’s white neighbors have either moved or died off, and the block’s racial makeup now consists largely of Hmong immigrants. The Hmong hail from Laos and other parts of Asia that allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam conflict, but Walt doesn’t care. All he knows is that they don’t keep their lawn as neatly manicured as his. Try as they might to be civil and neighborly to him, Walt will have none of it. At least until the night when their 16-year-old son Thao (Bee Vang) tries to steal Walt’s prize ‘72 Gran Torino.

It turns out Thao was put up to it after a cousin bullied him into car-jacking the prized auto as part of a gang initiation. When Walt breaks up a gang fight on his lawn, he is not aware that Thao is the same kid who tried lifting his Torino. After he gets dubbed a hero by the locals, Thao and his family come to apologize and make peace. It still takes Walt about three reels before he finally discovers the people next door are “good” Asians and sides with them. Once this happens, the film’s conclusion is foregone: there will be a bloodbath.

Not unlike William Monahan’s script for The Departed, Nick Schenk here presents one of America’s premier working filmmakers with a screenplay comprised entirely of greatest hits from the past. Walt chews tabacky and owns a dog, but unlike Josey Wales, Kowalski never spits a wad at the pooch. Tobacco juice isn’t the only liquid spewed from his mouth. I’m not sure what Walt is dying of, but chain smoking cigarettes and spitting up blood into a handkerchief indicates he’s going the same road as the Honkytonk Man. And many of the themes on display in his pair of World War II Oscar winners (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima) hop a ride in the Gran Torino. There is also the obligatory rape, mercifully shown off screen, and even a pair of grunted “Fk me’s” lifted from The Gauntlet. And don’t forget the persistent Padre left over from Million Dollar Baby.

Talking of which: this was Eastwood’s first appearance in front of the camera since that film. “I hadn’t planned on doing much more acting, really,” he noted. “But this film had a role that was my age, and the character seemed like it was tailored for me, even though it wasn’t. And I liked the script. It has twists and turns and also some good laughs.” Boy, I’ll say! Don’t let my two star rating fool you. There are several five stars scenes contained in Gran Torino, but given the overall quality of Eastwood’s work over the decade, it paled in comparison. Even Master Director Eastwood can’t escape from many of Schenk’s contrived situations. Walt and Martin (John Carroll Lynch), the town’s barber, exchange some good natured, sub-Archie Bunker “Me Dago, you Polock” race-baiting. When Walt eventually becomes Thao’s role model, he takes the teen along for his monthly cut, in hopes that he and Martin can show the effeminate boy how to talk and act like a man. And it’s only when Thao shoots back with racial invectives is he considered such in the eyes of a retired auto worker and his bald groomsman.

The film was originally sold as Eastwood’s final farewell to acting: the actor, director, producer seeing to it that his vigilante character bows out in a blaze of glory. Old Walt goes on a kamikaze mission and winds up taking more bullets than Ben Shockley’s bus. It would have been a lot better had Eastwood sacked the sentiment and gone straight for a Geritol-powered update of The Gauntlet. Why the title? “The Gran Torino is his pride and joy,” Eastwood attests. “Walt sort of is the Gran Torino. He doesn’t do anything with it except let it sit in the garage. But every once in a while he takes it out and shines it up. Walt with a glass of beer, watching his car: that’s about as good as it gets for him at this stage of his life.”

Be sure to stick it through the closing credits. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard Clint croaking out the film’s love theme.

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