Dirty Harry Death Wish

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The French Connection Vigilantes and

Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant, and Five Easy Pieces suggest that at least some of the youth culture films of 1969-1970 were modest and self-critical in their approach, and that they aimed at reaching a broad audience. Alice's Restaurant is the most specifically political of the three films, but it is very far from being militant. Nevertheless, it would be naive to expect that "hippie" films represent any sort of consensus or even leading direction in the Hollywood output of the years around 1970. Among the very diverse works of this period, we can isolate a group of films that are conservative reactions to the same disruptions and social movements figured in the hippie generation films.

Joe is a version of the exploitation film, a film simultaneously excited and repulsed by the hippie lifestyle. This low-budget film was produced by the Cannon Group, a company which in 1970 was known for soft-core sex movies ("nudies," in the slang of the time). The key creative personnel for the film were unknown at this time, successful and famous later in the 1970s. The writer was Norman Wexler, later the writer of Saturday Night Fever and co-writer of Staying Alive. The director-cinematographer was John G. Avildsen, who was eventually to direct Save the Tiger, Rocky, and Lean on Me. As Joe and the later films demonstrate, both Wexler and Avildsen have a special affinity for urban working-class and middle-class settings.

The plot of Joe involves a young hippie girl, Melissa Compton (Susan Sarandon), who lives in the East Village with Frank, her drug dealer boyfriend. After an overdose of amphetamines, Melissa lands in the hospital. Her father, Bill Compton, confronts the boyfriend, a thoroughly nasty character, and in a moment of rage kills him. Then the father has a drink in a local bar and meets Joe Curran (Peter Boyle), a metalworker who mouths off about hating hippies, blacks, gays, and so on. Joe says he'd like to kill a drug dealer, and Compton lets slip that ''I just did.''

This seems to be an idle boast, but after news accounts of Frank's death, Joe takes it seriously. He tracks down Compton not for blackmail but to offer congratulations and friendship. In extensive scenes comparing the lives of a $i6o-a-week worker and a $6o,ooo-a-year advertising executive, Joe and Compton meet, have a few drinks, get better acquainted. Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Compton go to meet Joe and his wife, at Joe's apartment in Queens. Mary Lou Curran and Joan Compton chat in the kitchen, while Joe takes Bill Compton to the basement to show off his gun collection. The scene is a bit uncomfortable for all, especially when Joe pats a startled Joan Compton on the butt. However, the Comptons think they must stay on Joe's good side—he knows their secret.

When Melissa leaves the hospital and learns the truth about Frank's death, she runs away. Compton searches for her every night in Greenwich Village, and one night Joe offers to help. Their search takes these middle-aged men to a wish-fulfillment hippie orgy (Joe cannot pronounce the word ''orgy''), where their wallets are stolen. With guns from Joe's collection in hand, they track the thieves to a commune in the countryside. They kill one of the commune members, and then, to protect themselves (the same rationalization as in Easy Rider), they shoot everyone present at the commune. Compton shoots a young woman in the back as she tries to escape. Then the camera angle shifts, and we see it is . . . his daughter.

Until the shock at the end, Joe seems to be supportive of the right-wing alliance of worker and manager. Joe is the most sympathetic character in the movie, a warm, gregarious, but very frustrated human being. He feels threatened at work, threatened in the street, threatened by his own children. A decorated war veteran, he talks about fighting for his idea of America at home (the main title for Joe uses lettering derived from the pattern of the American flag). Compton is a less impressive character (some reviewers commented on the flatness of Dennis Patrick's acting), but his killing of Frank seems in the film's terms to be more or less justified. Frank is a worm; critic David Denby (writing in 1970) describes him as ''perhaps the vilest character in recent American films.''1 Frank has corrupted Melissa and has endangered her life. But what enrages Compton the most is Frank's talking about Melissa's sexuality, especially her Daddy hangup. Compton responds by pounding Frank's head against the wall, inadvertently killing him. The film then follows the logic ''hippies are scum and therefore to be exploited'' until it reaches its inevitable conclusion, the death of Melissa. But this is where the film's rationale explodes. If by one logic Melissa is hippie scum, by another she is Compton's daughter and therefore precious. The ending destroys the right-wing logic of what has gone before but provides no alternative view of the world, no approach to reconciling generations, races, or classes.

Joe is an interestingly incoherent film. It appeals to conservative spectators who fear the social difference of the hippies, the blacks, the drug dealers. It also appeals to more moderate spectators who object to disruption and lawlessness from any side. In a further twist, Joe suggests that the same spectators who fear the hippies are also excited and fascinated by the hippie lifestyle—specifically by recreational drugs and ''free love.'' This aspect of the film, presented mainly via the orgy scene, has a dual meaning of its own. First, it shows the hypocrisy of men who value their own sexual freedom but are horrified by this same freedom extended to the young (and especially to women). Second, the orgy scene to a large extent leaves plot and character development behind to exploit and stereotype an idea of hippie sex. Among other things, Joe is a ''nudie'' which aims at shocking and thrilling its audience.

In an interview with the New York Times soon after the release of Joe, Peter Boyle expressed concern about the film's reception (even though this was the film which made him a recognizable movie star). Boyle felt that the film was supposed to be a critique of blue-collar conservatism and a call for an end to violence—both in Vietnam and at home. However, in the wake of the working-class demonstration on Wall Street in favor of the war in Vietnam, Boyle worried that Joe was being welcomed as a film expressing the divisive concerns of the ''Silent Majority.'' Instead of critiqueing an irresponsible political position, the film was fueling that position.2

A film, or a novel, or a painting, is always more than the authors' intentions; a film involves an interaction between the images and sounds (the text), and the audience. In the case of Joe, this interaction is particularly fascinating. A text with several possible meanings is interpreted in one main direction because of current events. An incoherent text becomes a right-wing text. Peter Boyle is probably naive in suggesting a liberal slant to the film (though this is one possible direction for interpretation) because its conservative appeals are so evident. The film is called Joe, not The Death of an Innocent or some such title, to highlight the most charismatic character. And Joe the character happens to be bigoted, violent, and pleased with his assault on anyone who is different. In a key moment of the film, he tells Compton that shooting the hippies can be fun. Turning Joe into a liberal social satire may have been possible, but it would have required the skills of a Stanley Kubrick. The young New York audiences who stood up and talked back to the screen (''Next time we're going to shoot back, Joe'') did not miss the point;3 they correctly interpreted Joe through the filter of current events.

Whereas Easy Rider, Alice's Restaurant, and Five Easy Pieces all made unconvincing gestures at expanding the horizons of ''youth culture'' to include other social classes or groups, Joe presents a rather convincing alliance between classes. The film figures not only the ''Silent Majority,'' but also the Republican alliance that has dominated American politics since 1968. Joe and Compton are unlike in speech, dress, and income, but alike in conservatism, patriotism, and their definition of masculinity. Both fear social change and demonize the Other—in this case, the hippies and drug dealers. Both rely on subordinate, compliant women but allocate to themselves a realm of masculine freedom (drinks after work, sex with the hippie women). Both are willing to use violence to ''protect'' freedom—their own freedom, not necessarily the freedom of others. This agenda makes psychological sense for Joe, who is threatened on all sides. It makes a more calculating social sense for Compton, who is near the top of the heap and wants to stay there.

Although Joe is in some ways crude, it does a nice job of showing the contrasting settings of hippie-bohemian East Village, lower-middle Queens, and upper-middle Manhattan. Frank and Melissa's small apartment is grungy, messy, and inconvenient. The bathtub is right in the main room-probably so that we can watch Melissa take a bath. The literal filth of the apartment blends with a metaphorical filth of drugs, criminality, and hippie sex. This is presented visually in an early scene where Frank has dirt ingrained on the soles of his feet, even though he has just bathed. Melissa, though she lives in the same apartment and bathes in the same tub, seems to be clean and more-or-less wholesome. The Comptons live in a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park and are defined by expensive fabrics and clean, modern decor. The Currans live in more crowded surroundings with new but low-cost furniture and homemade curtains. However, both of the "adult" apartments are meticulously clean, which suggests a ''Citizen / Other'' division between the adult couples and the hippies.

Kristin Ross, in a recent study of French culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s, has discussed dirt and cleanliness as ideologically loaded terms. Her hypothesis is that ''clean'' was connected to ''modern'' and used as a xenophobic distinction between middle-class Frenchness and various Others, including peasants and especially non-Europeans (e.g., Algerians). Foreigners were often soiled by definition (''dirty Arab''), and this maintained a distinction between France and the Third World at a moment when colonialism was ending.4 In Joe, and American culture generally, dirt seems to be connected with sex (as in ''filthy pictures'') and criminality, rather than with explicit markings of social class. But the notion of ''dirty'' as an Us/Them distinction is as useful in 1970s America as in 1950s and 1960s France, and will be taken up again in this chapter.

Compton is an executive. He works in a large office characterized by shiny surfaces and a lack of clutter. Joe is a factory worker. His place of business is hot, noisy, and indifferent to fashion. In other respects, though, the two male characters are strongly linked. The names are almost equivalent: Joe Curran and Bill Compton. The cadence of syllables is identical, and both men are defined by strong, one-syllable masculine nicknames. Curran is clearly Irish, Compton not-so-clearly English in origin, but in melting-pot America these backgrounds are sufficiently close to suggest commonality of interest. Additionally, Joe and Compton have similar home lives: conven tional, supportive spouses, and problems with teenage or young adult kids. On a personal level, Joe admires Compton's balls; Compton, after all, ''did something'' about the drug dealers. Compton, on the other hand, likes Joe's directness. Unlike the devious people in the advertising business, Joe tells you exactly what he thinks.

As an exploitation film, Joe is able to shuck the limitations of plausibility and get right at the fears of middle-class America. Almost all of the films of 1970-1971 are cautious and indirect about the profound stresses affecting the American community: the Vietnam War, riots in the black ghettoes, campus revolts, and so on. This is a period of great instability in which fighting in the streets is not only a possibility but occasionally a reality. Hollywood films typically avoid this kind of conflict; they try to attract an audience by being controversial but not confrontational. Joe, however, wades right in, imagining a peak of generational conflict: ''Suppose I killed my daughter's hippie boyfriend?''

The French Connection (1971) is a well-made crime film about a successful, large-scale narcotics bust in New York City. It focuses on a conflict between tough, hard-nosed police detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and elegant French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). Doyle and his partner Russo (Roy Scheider), unwinding at a nightclub, notice a Brooklyn luncheonette owner with a suspicious wad of big bills. Following a hunch, they uncover contacts between Sal Boca (the luncheonette owner), drug financier Joel Weinstock, and Charnier. After long and fruitless surveillance, the operation against Charnier and Sal has been called off when Charnier's strongarm assistant Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) tries to ambush Popeye. Popeye pursues Nicoli in a tremendously exciting car-versus-subway train chase scene and kills the would-be assassin. Then the police and federal agents combine to capture 120 pounds of heroin at the moment of transfer from Charnier to the American crooks. However, Charnier escapes from this confrontation, and several of the Americans receive little or no punishment for their parts in the narcotics scheme.

The French Connection is a very efficient, suspense-creating machine of a movie. It relies heavily on visuals to present the rhythm and feel of criminal activity and police investigation. At several points, fast-moving scenes are thrown at the spectator without exposition; acting more or less like detectives, we must somehow integrate them into the flow of narrative.

For example, no explanation is given of the killing of an undercover agent in Marseilles; because the killer is Nicoli, we eventually connect this with Charnier's operation. Also, a scene of a late-model Lincoln being loaded onto a boat in Marseilles is not explained; we later deduce that it must contain the shipment of heroin. In New York, Nicoli promises to take care of Popeye; but it is some minutes later, and without access to the sniper's point of view, that we discover someone is shooting at Popeye. By minimizing exposition and making the spectator work, The French Connection adds a modernist twist to a traditional genre.

Much of the film is taken up with ''police procedural'' sequences: how to tail a pedestrian with three men on the streets of New York; how to tail a suspect's car with two cars; how to arrange a wiretap; how to test heroin for purity (the crooks do that). Occasionally, the procedural details break into a full-blown chase, as in the famous sequence in which Popeye chases Nicoli. This is a remarkable scene for its gritty New York setting under the elevated train, and for the way a quotidian scene is transformed into breathtaking speed and danger. According to director Friedkin, the chase was filmed at real speed in the real location (a subway and several New York city blocks would be impossible to fake).5 The car was in minor collisions three times, and in the scariest moment Popeye almost hits a woman pushing a baby carriage.

If Joe suggested a class alliance between blue collar and white collar, The French Connection is a populist film on the side of the working man. Doyle and Rizzo are lower-middle-class cops, living modestly and resenting the monied comfort of the criminals they hunt. One nicely observed scene shows Doyle outside a restaurant on a wintry day, eating pizza and drinking bad coffee, while Charnier and Nicoli dine elegantly within. There is a certain amount of class resentment in the scenes of the crooks staying in elegant hotels, driving fine cars, and so forth. The rich are shown as either having criminal secrets to hide (Charnier) or as spoiled, pampered, and naive (the French TV star, played by Frederic De Pasquale, who imports the Lincoln as a paid favor to Charnier). Rich and poor meet in an interesting night club scene, where Sal and his organized crime cronies have all the money, but Popeye has power and status as a policeman. With the potential to physically attack, to arrest, to make trouble for the nightclub, a policeman has

Dirty Harry And Death Wish

The French Connection twentieth century-fox.

Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, a hardworking, lower-middle-class narcotics cop. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art /Film Stills Archive.

The French Connection twentieth century-fox.

Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, a hardworking, lower-middle-class narcotics cop. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art /Film Stills Archive.

a certain amount of masculine force in night-time Manhattan, and shots of Popeye living it up at the nightclub show him reveling in this force.

The French Connection carefully avoids making a political statement in its primary conflict. Popeye's adversary is Charnier, a corrupt French businessman and therefore not included in the stresses and strains of American sociopolitical life. Charnier is bringing in heroin, which is assumed to be a bad thing. The days of "mellow" drug pushers (Easy Rider) are long since over. To a large extent, the film's morality recalls the most traditional of Westerns—we are for the white hats (the cops) and against the black hats (the crooks). The drama of The French Connection arises for the most part from how the white hats win out.

However, the film does get more complicated than this by suggesting that the cops have a subculture of their own. In rough, tough New York, they abide by their own rules, which are not exactly the same as the rule of law.

For example, Popeye and Russo terrorize an African American bar full of narcotics users not once but twice in the film. This has very little to do with plot or theme; it is primarily to set a violent tone. All they find out is that there are no hard drugs around, thus setting the scene for Charnier's shipment. But the casual violence of these scenes, which include a police beating outside the bar reminiscent of 1994's Rodney King incident, suggest that policemen follow the rules of their subculture, not of the law. Popeye insults blacks and hits blacks because he is "allowed" to do so. His job gives him little monetary award, but a fair amount of power. In The French Connection, society puts up with the police subculture in exchange for social order.

The film is generally in favor of giving police the broad powers they need to be efficient, and it at times ignores the abuses that result. Popeye Doyle, violent, impulsive, and dedicated, is regarded as a hero. According to William Friedkin, Popeye is the kind of tough cop that's needed in the very difficult, perhaps impossible, fight against narcotics.6 However, at the end of the film, Doyle's behavior does come under scrutiny. In the showdown with the criminals, Doyle is intensely searching for Charnier in the many rooms of an abandoned industrial building. He almost shoots his own partner, Russo. Then he does shoot Mulderig, one of the federal agents on the case. Ironically, Mulderig had complained much earlier that the last time he and Doyle worked together, a good cop got killed. Russo is horrified by this turn of events, but Popeye, obsessed, hurtles off into the darkness in search of Charnier. The film ends on a freeze frame of the dark, wet interior of the building. Who knows who else Doyle may have shot, after the freeze frame? The French Connection, generally supportive of a macho police subculture, ends with a terrifying moment of doubt.

Dirty Harry (1971) is another powerful action movie about a morally questionable cop. It presents a film-long confrontation between San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) and deranged killer Scorpio (Andy Robinson). Scorpio begins by shooting, from long range, a young woman swimming in a rooftop pool. He also kills, in the course of the film, a ten-year-old black boy, a policeman, and a fourteen-year-old girl. In the film's concluding moments, he hijacks a school bus and threatens the lives of several young children. Callahan, known as Dirty Harry, makes apprehending Scorpio a personal priority. However, after he succeeds in trapping and wounding Scorpio in Kezar Stadium at night, the district attorney declines to prosecute because of lapses in legal procedure. Scorpio then evades Harry's unofficial surveillance by paying someone to beat him up and blaming Callahan. This sets up the final action scene on the school bus. Though ordered not to interfere with Scorpio's request for ransom money, Callahan saves the kids, kills Scorpio, and throws away his San Francisco police star in disgust.

Dirty Harry presents a San Francisco overrun by crime and sexuality, as represented by the red-light district, a woman known as ''Hot Mary,'' a homosexual in the park, a sexual threesome involving two women and a man, a bank robbery which takes place as Harry eats his hotdog lunch, a frequently robbed liquor store, and of course Scorpio himself. Scorpio is a character without backstory, but his long hair and peace symbol belt buckle identify him with the hippies, the antiwar movement, and the social changes of the 1960s. In terms of local San Francisco history, he is also identified with the serial killer known as Zodiac, a notorious figure who wrote taunting letters to the newspapers and was never caught. Scorpio preys on the weak and kills for pleasure, which makes him unpredictable and hard to stop. Only Harry's fanaticism, equal to or greater than Scorpio's, is able to stop the killing.

Harry himself is out of control. He is called ''Dirty Harry'' because of his general misanthropy, because he takes all of the police department's dirty jobs, and because he does not stay within the limits of law and custom. A relevant usage of ''dirty'' circa 1970 would be ''illegal, unethical, and violent,'' as in ''dirty'' espionage or a ''dirty'' war. Note that this is a quite different metaphoric use of ''dirty'' from the ''dirty hippies'' in Joe, or the ''dirty foreigners'' in Kristin Ross's Fast Cars, Clean Bodies. "Dirty" is a rich, multivalent term in modern Western societies. In Dirty Harry, the argument for illegal and unethical operations would be that society is breaking down, conventional lines of authority are ineffectual (neither the mayor nor the district attorney has a clue about how to fight crime), and only heroic action which goes beyond arbitrary rules can stem the tide.

The key point where individual heroism and law diverge in Dirty Harry happens after Harry has delivered ransom money for fourteen-year-old Ann Mary Deakin to Scorpio. Scorpio kicks Harry several times and decides to kill him. Chico (Harry's new partner) distracts Scorpio but is wounded himself. Harry knifes Scorpio in the leg, but Scorpio escapes. Later that night,

Dirty Harry warner brothers.

Clint Eastwood as tough, cynical cop Harry Callahan. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art/ Film Stills Archive.

Dirty Harry wa rner brothers.

Harry Callahan (Eastwood) gets all the dirty jobs. Here he rescues a would-be jumper from a building ledge. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art/Film Stills Archive.

Dirty Harry wa rner brothers.

Harry Callahan (Eastwood) gets all the dirty jobs. Here he rescues a would-be jumper from a building ledge. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art/Film Stills Archive.

Harry gets a tip that Scorpio lives as an illegal squatter in Kezar Stadium, and he enters the stadium without a warrant. He kicks open doors, scares Scorpio out onto the playing field, wounds him with a gunshot. Then Harry extracts the location where Ann Mary is being held by grinding his foot into the wound on Scorpio's leg. Unfortunately, Ann Mary is already dead. At this point, we cut to the district attorney's office, where the D.A. complains about Callahan's procedural lapses: no warrant, not reading the suspect his rights, extracting a confession via physical abuse or torture. Callahan is shocked (but not too shocked). What about the girl? What about her rights? At this point a Judge Bannerman, called in by the D.A. as a consultant, says that he understands Harry's point, but that under the law Scorpio cannot be charged.

This scene could have been played as a conflict between two valid points of view: the need for swift action versus the need for legal safeguards. The

D.A. could have subjected Harry to blistering criticism because he blew the case. Harry could have gotten a search warrant within minutes, I assume, for such an emergency situation. Because of his lone wolf approach, a killer will go free. Harry then could object, with vehemence, that a young girl's life was in danger. But the film does not play the scene this way. The D.A.'s criticism is fairly mild, and both he and the legal expert seem defeated in advance. The way is left clear for Harry's fanaticism.

Beyond this legal argument, Harry turns out to be a rather complex, and not always heroic, character. The film suggests that his tough, unyielding, unfeeling side stems from a personal tragedy. His wife was killed in a traffic accident, by a drunk. To compensate, or perhaps to hide from his grief, Harry has become a fanatical, at times sadistic, cop. He believes in nothing, certainly not in law or government; nothing except his own limited ability to right some wrongs. In a further twist, Harry is linked visually and the-matically to Scorpio. Both are tall, both have long hair (Scorpio's longer than Harry's), both are good with weapons. Both peer out over the city from high perches; John Baxter proposes that Harry is San Francisco's ''avenging angel,'' Scorpio his ''satanic'' challenger.7 In one extraordinary moment, their subjectivities even seem to merge. At Kezar Stadium, the avenging Harry approaches the wounded Scorpio. Harry demands to know where the girl is. Scorpio protests that he has rights. Harry begins to step on Scorpio's wound. Threatening music (the ''Scorpio motif'') comes up, the focus becomes soft, and the camera floats up and away (helicopter shot). We therefore miss the exact method Harry uses to get information from Scorpio. A realistic shot seems to be transformed into someone's subjective perception, but whose? Both of these wounded adversaries could be experiencing an out-of-body experience created by pain, fatigue, and emotion.8

In its technique, Dirty Harry is a mixture of realism and what Jack Shadoian calls ''symbolic fantasy.''9 The location shooting in San Francisco is meticulously realistic, especially in detailing the predicaments and tragedies of the victims: the naked, asphyxiated Ann Mary pulled from a hole in the ground, the young kids on the bus. The scenes involving police routines are good action fare, often understated but with riveting moments of tension. Except for Harry, none of the characters is well developed. The D.A., the mayor, even Chico and his wife are presented in an economical shorthand, and Scorpio derives some of his power from not being described or understood. Harry himself is an odd character, half embittered detective and half Superman. The mythic or Superhero aspects of his character derive in large part from the Sergio Leone Westerns, where Eastwood played the strong, silent Man with No Name, a Western good-bad guy with an amoral, nihilistic streak. Audiences identify with this character without necessarily expecting him to uphold the Good and the Just. The Superhero aspect of Harry resides with his powerful gun, the .44 Magnum, and the ritualized speech with which he baits criminals to try their luck. Other larger-than-life qualities of this character are his impressive, silent silhouette, his well-tailored clothes (though in a bow to realism, Harry worries in an early scene about damaging his $29.50 slacks), his ability to withstand pain, his appetite for the dirtiest, most demanding police work. Dirty Harry is even shown as a Christ figure; the scene where Harry is tormented by Scorpio takes place against the backdrop of an enormous cross on San Francisco's Mt. Davidson. Harry's individual, macho passion is presented as San Francisco's best hope against crime. In its emphasis on a larger-than-life hero Dirty Harry is almost Batman, except that this particular hero is physically and emotionally vulnerable, liable to break like a tightly wound spring. At the end of Dirty Harry, the prognosis does not look good for either Harry or the city of San Francisco.

Popular with audiences, Dirty Harry was harshly attacked by the leading American film critics. Pauline Kael called the film ''fascist medievalism'' as well as ''right-wing fantasy.''10 Andrew Sarris described it as ''one of the most disturbing manifestations of police paranoia I have seen on the screen in a long time.''11 Roger Ebert said, ''The movie's moral position is fascist.''12 Although Dirty Harry affirms individual heroism, and not any sort of collective political movement, it does advocate a more-or-less autonomous police power. Harry Callahan has only contempt for his bureaucratic superiors and for the liberal court decisions protecting citizens' rights (e.g., the Miranda decision). The filmmakers have provided this character with a situation— the kidnapping of Ann Mary Deakin—in which the due process of search warrants and suspects' rights could do grievous harm. However, even Eastwood's sympathetic biographer Richard Schickel notes that the film overstates its case—in emergency situations like this, the suspect's right to remain silent (as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment and the Miranda decision) might not apply.13

I would describe Harry not as a fascist but as a vigilante. His agenda is not racist or dictatorial; it is, in an American context, right-wing, conservative, law and order. In the second half of the film Harry disobeys a series of orders and solves the Scorpio threat using his own values and methods. He becomes a police vigilante. John Milius (an uncredited writer on Dirty Harry) describes Harry Callahan like this: ''Dirty Harry is not really the police; he's kinda a fella that's acting on his own.'' Milius seems to approve of Harry's vigilante stance; he connects it to the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.14 I disagree with Milius; whatever the motivation, police vigi-lantism is scary. Does the nightmare of Scorpio justify a cop unrestrained by law or government?

Director Don Siegel and star/producer Clint Eastwood15 were surprised by the outpouring of criticism against Harry's social stance. They regarded Dirty Harry as a good action film, with an up-to-date and somewhat ambiguous hero. Siegel made the point that he did not necessarily agree with the hero;16 Eastwood, more conservative politically than his director, defended the film's approach to law and order.17 To some extent, Dirty Harry is a victim of its own economical and highly visual construction. In many scenes, a lack of verbal exposition and a heightened visual sense present Harry as a Superhero and San Francisco as a den of evil. Although other scenes combat this view, the film overall does have a comic-book quality which simplifies its sociopolitical perspective. Dirty Harry tries to address the tangle of competing rights (suspect's rights, victim's rights, society's rights) brought to the fore by liberal Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s, but it is too simple and too biased to be the definitive film on these issues.18

In his visual exposition of Scorpio, director Siegel seems to have outsmarted himself. Speaking to Stuart Kaminsky, Siegel describes creating visual cues to suggest that Scorpio is a mentally ill Vietnam vet. Siegel thinks that the peace symbol belt buckle is a symbol of self-delusion: ''It seems to me that it may remind us that no matter how vicious a person is, when he looks at himself in the mirror, he's not capable of seeing the truth about himself . . .''; Scorpio ''really feels that the world is wrong and he is right, that he really stands for and believes in peace.''19 This psychological construction is ingenious, but visual symbols tend to diverge from predefined, unitary meanings. Many commentaries on Dirty Harry see the peace symbol on the belt buckle as a simpler construct, an identification of Scorpio with the hippies and the antiwar movement. The attempt at psychological depth thus becomes an index of social conflict.

In general, Dirty Harry is clearly a film to the right of The French Connection. It supports not only the subculture of the police but also the extreme individualism of a hero with no use for established authority. The possible metaphoric extension of this vigilante cop to something like South American death squads (political assassination teams, often composed of soldiers or police officers) is indeed frightening. Perhaps as a "correction" to this reading, the next Dirty Harry film, Magnum Force (1973), shows Harry foiling the plans of a police death squad. In Magnum Force, Harry is clearly a man, not a Superman, and he chooses the current system of law enforcement, with all its flaws, over the predictable abuses of the secret death squad. The correction suggests that Eastwood, despite his continued defense of the original Dirty Harry, prefers Harry as an aggressive, unorthodox cop, and not as a social avenger.

In Death Wish (1975), the issue of fighting crime with extralegal means has lost most of its ambiguity. Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a successful architect in New York City. One day a racially mixed group of young hoodlums follows his wife and daughter home from the supermarket. They kill the wife and rape the daughter, who ends up in a mental hospital. Kersey, though showing no outward emotion, begins to prowl the streets and subways of New York at night, inviting attack. When threatened by muggers, he becomes efficiently violent himself, killing and wounding a wide variety of punks.20 Kersey is eventually caught by the police, but instead of holding him as a criminal and inviting extensive coverage from the press (which sympathizes with Kersey), they tell him to get out of town.

Kersey takes a train to Chicago. At the Chicago train station, he sees some young hoods terrorizing a victim. Kersey gives the hoods his best smile and mumbles "This is going to be fun.'' A concept which in Joe was thoroughly outrageous (hunting hippies with a rifle can be fun) has in Death Wish become formulaic, routine (hunting young criminals is both fun and socially beneficial).

Joe, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry examine ideas of vigilan-tism and/or excessive police violence in an original and sometimes ambiguous way. In all three, a right-wing perspective on the necessity of extralegal violence is balanced by a certain amount of doubt (less doubt in Dirty Harry

Death Wish paramount pictures.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a vigilante hunting young criminals. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art /Film Stills Archive.

Death Wish paramount pictures.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a vigilante hunting young criminals. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art /Film Stills Archive.

than in the other two films). In Death Wish, however, there is no ambiguity. The Bronson character has been injured, and he strikes out to respond. He is not hindered by the law or by organizational strictures; indeed, the police more or less approve of his actions, which is another reason why they choose not to arrest him. About the only complexity in Death Wish lies in the way Kersey stalks his prey. He appears to be a victim, ripe for plucking, but he is instead a ruthless predator. The title Death Wish seems to mean ''a desire to kill'' rather than ''a desire to die''; although absolutely fearless, Kersey does not behave suicidally.

Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry presents an impassive, unfeeling, misanthropic face to the world. The film eventually gets around to explaining this public face and shows that Harry cares passionately about the death of the innocent and the pursuit of the guilty. Kersey in Death Wish, on the other hand, maintains an unfeeling impassivity from the death of his wife through the rest of the movie. He has a tiny range of emotion: bleak smile, uncaring stare. This impassivity, like Eastwood's cool nonchalance, may derive from the films of Sergio Leone; Bronson was one of the stars of Once upon a Time in the West. Bronson's stare suggests an anger that is beyond pathology, anger that is simply a given. This persona of stolid anger proved surprisingly popular with cinema audiences; Bronson became, in the mid-seventies, one of America's most popular movie stars.

The issue of urban crime was inflected, in the early 1970s, to cover attitudes toward social change, young people, and drugs. Movies such as Joe, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry use crime to attack social difference and mount conservative defenses of middle America. However, these films are surprisingly ambiguous in their populist sentiments, responding to the complexity and turmoil of the period. Joe is an antihippie movie, but it concludes by criticizing the older generation. The French Connection is a police-centered action film which includes a terrifying final scene of Popeye stalking anything that moves. Dirty Harry is another police-centered action film, but it focuses on fractures between the rank-and-file police, the city bureaucracy, and the law. Only in Death Wish, made a few years after the other films, does the cop/vigilante film become formulaic, with the character played by Charles Bronson methodically blasting away at urban gangs.

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