Dirty Harry: fascist?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Daniel J.S., May 3, 2004.

  1. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2003
    Messages:
    220
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Having watched this film again recently, I came to the conclusion that yes, Harry Callahan is a fascist character. We see that civil rights mean nothing to him: at the football field, Scorpio stops when Harry yells at him. He's unarmed, but he shoots him in the leg anyway; then he tortures a confession and the kidnapped girl's location out of him. This mucks up the whole deal as we all know (the warrantless search could have been justified because of the exigent circumstances regarding the girl, but the police brutality got everything thrown out). The film makes a point to show that Harry is just as violent and destructive as the criminals he pursues. Yet director Don Siegel makes sure we side with Harry's ultra-right wing views by presenting the "liberal" characters who espouse constitutional rights as milquetoast-looking weasels, like the D.A. who informs Harry that Scorpio will go free.

    However, here's the thing: just because a film presents problematic ideology, is that reason to call it a bad film? My politics are as liberal as liberal gets, and I find the "criminals don't deserve any protections" trend in action films disquieting to say the least, but the film is still very exciting, suspensful, brilliantly edited and shot, and well acted. Eastwood has so much magnetism that I can't help but side with him. Often when I read reviews of films, I find that the reviewer seems to think that just because s/he likes the film, then it can't possibly be racist, sexist, fascist, whatever (check out this review to see what I mean). A film's quality doesn't really have much to do with its ideology. In fact, I'd say there are many "great" films that have problematic constructions of gender, race, ideology, etc. These constructions need to be recognized and culturally contextualized (both at the time it was made, and how we read it now). I mean, Gone With the Wind is considered one of the "great" films; does that automatically mean it doesn't infer that blacks missed the slave south as much as the whites did? The opening card says those times are "gone with the wind" as if we should be nostalgic for it. Just because you like a film that reflects the racist culture it was made in (which isn't to say our own culture isn't profoundly racist) doesn't mean you're a racist yourself.

    Discuss.
     
  2. Paul McElligott

    Paul McElligott Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    Messages:
    2,598
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Real Name:
    Paul McElligott
    Dirty Harry is absolutely a piece of right-wing fantasy, intended to appeal to the side of us (even the liberals) that thinks the scum of the earth are getting away with murder.

    On a reality level everything about the film is oversized, testerone-laced bunkum. A cop like Callahan wouldn't last a week in the political climate of the 70s and 80s (twenty years earlier, however, in the age of L.A. Confidential I'm sure he would have fit right in). No cop in their right mind carries a .44 Magnum. After you've gotten off one shot and are trying to put your arm back into its socket, the bad guy empties his 9mm into you and runs off.
     
  3. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2000
    Messages:
    2,376
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    110

    No. It's a fantasy, and I don't there's anything wrong with indulging in stories that clash with your main philosophies in life, so long as you understand that you're watching a fantasy. There is a natural part of human nature that likes seeing the guilty punished in a really harsh way, which is why movies like Dirty Harry work even with people that would never advocate that sort of thing in real life (I'd like to think that means just about everybody [​IMG]).

    Also, IMO it's actually helpful to watch movies (or read books or whatever) that carry different messages than what you agree with in real life because by understanding the points that other sides make, it often broadens and strengthens your own views, whether you adhere to your original beliefs or move on to something else.
     
  4. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 1998
    Messages:
    9,955
    Likes Received:
    347
    Trophy Points:
    9,110

    Of course it is, but are you really surprised, and do you think the film is somehow unique in this regard? Hollywood specializes in fantasies of all kinds. For example, how many people have huge studio apartments with a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline, which is what we often see in movies? There have been numerous threads about how characters violate the laws of physics, never run out of ammunition, etc.

    With respect to ideology, I once saw a program on PBS hosted by Eli Wallach that talked about the extremely one sided, negative portrayal of businessmen in Hollywood, basically almost always showing them as dishonest and/or corrupt and/or evil and/or capable of murder, etc. That's a stereotype as bad as any racial/sexual/ethnic stereotype you can name. Once again, this is a fantasy portrayal used for story purposes. Does that make it a bad film? Not necessarily, but it has no more to do with reality than Dirty Harry or his "liberal" antagonists.

    Carl Sagan pointed out that the same thing is done to scientists in Hollywood--they are typically shown as amoral, murderous megalomaniacs and/or socially clumsy nerds. Is that a positive stereotype to show to bright young kids? No. Is it a fantasy? Yes. Can a film showing a scientist in such a manner be a good film? Sure.
     
  5. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 1998
    Messages:
    7,798
    Likes Received:
    11
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Dirty Harry is no 32 on my alltime favs list.

    The film is also reflects the time it was made. The Zodiac Killer(who also inspired the film) was terrorizing the Bay area,Nixon was in the White House,Charles Manson was out there,The Black Panthers were facing off with Cops,Crime, drugs,hedonism,etc were everywhere.

    Im sure alot of people at that time though the human race had reached thepoint of no return.

    As Paul said I think it was meant to appeal to the side of us that wants to whipe arway the scum of the earth, even if we have to bend some of the rules to do it.

    Harry is a anti-hero,like Mad Max(who wasnt the nicest guy either).

    I think Dirty Harry is a freakin masterpiece personally[​IMG]
     
  6. Anthony Clifton

    Anthony Clifton Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 1999
    Messages:
    157
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Is that you, Ms. Kael? [​IMG]
     
  7. Cam McFarland

    Cam McFarland Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Messages:
    699
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    If MY daughter was kidnapped, I would want
    somebody like Harry Callahan looking for her.
    And, I wouldnt care if he shot the UNARMED prime suspect in the leg, & maybe tortured him later to
    get information out of him.


    What about YOU????
     
  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    5,110

    So glad I'm not the only one! [​IMG]

    M.
     
  9. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    Joined:
    May 19, 2002
    Messages:
    12,060
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    (emphasis mine)

    Just a polite reminder that prime suspect does not equate to guilty.
     
  10. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 1998
    Messages:
    9,955
    Likes Received:
    347
    Trophy Points:
    9,110


    That's exactly where the fantasy aspect of Dirty Harry comes in. We KNOW the guy's the perpetrator, we KNOW he's utterly despicable, etc., therefore we KNOW that Harry Callahan's tactics are justified. It's often that way in movies. Thelma and Louise and Sleeping With the Enemy are feminist fantasies, because the audience knows things people don't normally know. I think Cam is asking if you would behave the same way if you were in the "I know who the bad guy is" movie scenario.
     
  11. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2003
    Messages:
    220
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0


    Of course you're right on both counts. In fact, it's interesting that these films are financed by the very coporate types so disparaged. What are we seeing here? Self-hatred? Why would executives finance films that portray them in such a bad light? I guess they realize that in an era where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, the working class needs a release for their frustrations. It is hard to have sympathy for those making at least six figures when you're struggling to make ends meet, but it is poisoning the well.

    As a college-boy myself, it kinda gets my goat when educated people are always portrayed the way you describe. Why such disdain for academia? Especially with the long standing mind/body split (of course the split advocates mind in the sense of reason and making moral choices, not necessarily intellect)? Whenever I see depictions of university life on TV or in movies, where new students find themselves lost at sea, with every professor being a complete asshole, I find myself thinking "hey, it wasn't like that for me!" Maybe I'm just remembering the time I started university four years ago wrong. [​IMG]
     
  12. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 1998
    Messages:
    9,955
    Likes Received:
    347
    Trophy Points:
    9,110

    Being an engineer myself, I'm always ticked off at the typical portrayal of engineers as socially ignorant/clumsy, clueless about female sexual advances, etc. Every engineer (and geologist) in the office where I work is anything but, and if people saw the babes at the parties one of my geologist friends has, they'd know how completely off base that image is. [​IMG]
     
  13. Cam McFarland

    Cam McFarland Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Messages:
    699
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0



    THanks Robert...[​IMG]

    But, actually it was the question I wanted answered

    If it WAS YOUR DAUGHTER, wouldnt you want
    somebody capable of doing this looking for her???
     
  14. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2003
    Messages:
    220
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I would like to think that if it were my daughter, the cop on the case wouldn't do something like that, since it will only result in the perpetrator being set free. These laws aren't designed to protect criminals so much as to prevent police from abusing their power. If it was okay for Harry to do that to Scorpio, where does it end? What if by some chance, he had the wrong guy? Anyway, the "what if it were you?" argument isn't the best way to make your case, since there is no hard facts to go on. It hasn't happened to me. The question asks for speculation and plays on emotion. It's not a solid, logical argument.
     
  15. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Messages:
    6,531
    Likes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    5,610


    Not to mention that it may result in your daughter being set free (which is what that particular scene in Dirty Harry was all about). Nope, wouldn't want that. :wink:

    IMHO, Dirty Harry was not all cut and dry fascism, it was situational, anti-bureacratic, anti-bulls*&t "fascism". To quote the part in the film that made this clear -

    Harry - "Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy."

    Mayor - "Intent? How did you establish that?"

    Harry - "When a man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher's knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross!"

    And yes, it was fantasy, but sometimes a blunt instrument like Harry is what we need to break through the silly bulls*&t in society.
     
  16. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    Joined:
    May 19, 2002
    Messages:
    12,060
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0

    Actually no, because in real life, unlike the movies Dirty Harry (or anyone else) won’t know who really is guilty. All Callahan can do is to torture someone that he believes might be guilty (but may well be an innocent, innocently accused), but he won’t be able to know that he is only torturing the real guilty party.

    Put the shoe on the other foot. If you were the wrongly identified prime suspect, would you want Callahan to be able to torture you, or to be constrained by law?

    As Robert points out, the movies are fantasy, not real life.
     
  17. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Messages:
    6,531
    Likes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    5,610


    Actually, Callahan knew definitively that Scorpio was the one who kidnapped the girl. Scorpio as much as admitted it both at the tower and on the field.
     
  18. Cam McFarland

    Cam McFarland Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Messages:
    699
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Well, you changed my mind Daniel.

    [soap box mode on]

    While I was worried that my daughter was dying,
    instead of having somebody that was willing to go
    the extra mile, & not afraid to break some eggs,
    I would much rather some pansy-a$$ed, one bullet
    carrying, afraid of his own shadow, & worried
    that he might get a demotion if he hurt a suspect,
    detective on the case. So that at least when they
    found her lifeless body, I would happy knowing that
    the individual that could have told us where she
    was didn' have his rights violated.

    [soap box mode off]


    If it was my daughter, civil rights be damned....
     
  19. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2000
    Messages:
    2,376
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    110

    When I was a kid, I loved amoral, murderous megalomaniacal scientists in movies. They made science look like great fun [​IMG]

    Socially clumsy nerds? I dunno, I guess I was watching different movies. Most of the non-villainous scientists I remember, from old movies at least, were actually square-jawed, manly studs who looked cool in a white labcoat, always carried a pipe around, and usually had a hot lady scientist hanging off of them. I thought Pierce Brosnan's character in Mars Attacks! was a wonderful parody of these characters [​IMG]
     
  20. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2001
    Messages:
    4,951
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The "if it was your daughter" is irrelevant, because people under that kind of stress do not make rational decisions. But I hope if, God forbid, something like that should happen to me, I wouldn't want others' rights trampled on.
    Laws are in place to protect all citizens from this kind of behavior.

    I think it's sad that some people are making it out like the only way to fight crime is to pick two irrational extremes: ineffectiveness or tyranny. That is an insult the many hard-working, ethical law enforcers and detectives who protect us everyday without resorting to animalistic brutality and shitting on the Constitution.

    I say all this as a total Clint/Dirty Harry fan. The movies are just that- movies. They're stylistic entertainment pieces, that's all. I also like watching Jason hack teenagers up in Friday 13th part II, doesn't mean I want one of him around.
     

Share This Page