An Ultimate Ranking of the Dirty Harry Franchise Movies
The Best of Dirty Harry Callahan. Ranked.
Tough assignment, this one. The Dirty Harry franchise is my favorite action movie series. Why? Clint Eastwood, of course! The man redefines bad ass in these movies, and his charisma and “don’t give a damn” attitude puts other Hollywood tough guys to shame, even now.
I grew up on these flicks. When I was 8, I saw the first film on VHS, then the second, then the third, and then the fourth. I was lucky enough in 1989 to catch The Dead Pool on the big screen during its Australian theatrical run, and I LOVED IT!!
I’m expecting to catch hell for my rankings, as this beloved films series has created much debate among fans, and left-wing commies who consider the pics nothing more than an extended advert for fascism. The commies couldn’t be more wrong.
5. MAGNUM FORCE (1973) Director: Ted Post
Harry’s second adventure is certainly bigger and more epic than the first, but it’s also far more complicated and preachy than it needs to be, and as a result, the pacing of the movie feels off, and at 124 minutes, is mercilessly long-winded. This time Harry is up against a gang of vigilante cops who will stop at nothing, and spare no one, in their quest to rid San Fran of crime. If civilians get in the way, it ain’t their problem. Naturally, Harry is soon in their crosshairs and fighting for his life. While it’s interesting that despite his brutal tactics and take-no-prisoners attitude, Harry himself is against the vigilantes. They fight the crime, without compromise. He fights to protect the people and uphold the law, well, his version of the law. There’s certainly some meaty stuff to this film, but by the time the conclusion comes around, it all ends rather drearily. Thankfully the film survives by the effortless charisma of Eastwood and his sterling supporting cast. The shooting range sequence ain’t half bad either!
4. THE DEAD POOL (1988) Director: Buddy Van Horn
Eastwood’s last appearance as gruff San Francisco inspector Harry Callahan came to be when Eastwood promised his long-standing homebase studio Warner Bros. a hit after they financed some personal films he wanted to make. Instead of phoning it in (not Clint’s style), he delivers a violent, albeit somewhat lighter, Harry adventure that passes comment on media manipulation and political correctness gone mad. All of this occurs while Harry and his new Asian partner are chasing a serial killer, and fighting off murderous mobsters who want to bury Harry. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but the story is more relevant than ever now, and Clint easily slips back into the character with ease. And there is some strange comfort from watching him blast the hell out of bad guys with his now legendary .44 magnum. Not as solid as some of the other entries, but still fun. And Lalo Schifrin’s music is an added bonus. Harry’s final one liner is a scream!
3. THE ENFORCER (1976) Director: James Fargo
Back to the formula that worked so well, The Enforcer is more of a straight up cop vs. crims action/thriller. And a damn good one, and definitely the most accessible of the series. There’s a little bit of plot, involving Harry taking on some terrorists who wanna blow the hell out of his beloved city, but mostly the film is about Harry and his new partner, Kate Moore, played perfectly by Tyne Daly.
Moore somehow unlocks the softer side of Harry, and to our surprise, he lets her in. The two actors work well together, the direction is sharp and fast and there isn’t any dead points in the screenplay. The action sequences are brutal, like the opening liquor store robbery and climax on Alcatraz, and there’s also a brilliantly realized and shot foot chase over the rooftops of San Francisco that makes the most of the city’s stunning locations.
Funny but also moving, thrilling, and loaded with the requisite .44 magnum shootouts, The Enforcer is easily one of the best in the Callahan series. I frequently go back to it all the time. Regular series composer Schifrin was unavailable and was replaced with noted jazz composer Jerry Fielding, who’s score is, not surprisingly, jazzy and full of beat, and perfectly in tone with the mid 70’s culture of the film. All and all, a well-made and explosive effort in the franchise with another mega-star turn by Clint.
2 SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Director: Clint Eastwood
This is a tough one, and the end result was almost a tie. In Sudden Impact, Callahan is after a lone shooter, who is gunning down perverts all over San Fran and neighboring cities. He’s also got his hands full with some mobsters who blame Harry for their death of their beloved don. Harry did in fact cause him to have a heart attack at his daughter’s wedding, and the scene is definitely one of the pic’s highlights as it is humorless, and showcases Harry’s utter contempt for crime. Unlike the other Harry films, this one has a little more on its mind – is murder a crime if the victims deserve it? Harry soon finds himself attracted to the vigilante shooter, played by his then real-life live-in love Sondra Locke, and he begins questioning his belief in the law.
Eastwood brings Harry full circle as a cop sworn to uphold the law, to man who realize that the justice system has let down a victim. He knows he’ll have to abandon what he believes to make it right. Sudden Impact is an effective, and bold entry into the series, and even with all the story and nuances, it still manages to deliver the expected shootouts and violent thrills we’ve come to love from a Dirty Harry picture. It’s got it all: Vile bad guys. Check. Cool music. Check. Excellent action scenes. Check. And the film has a great supporting turn from Locke, who is given a meaty role for a change. Incidentally, this is was the only Dirty Harry film that Eastwood chose to direct himself, maybe because of the story and potential for impact, and it’s the best looking film in the series by far. Well done, sir.
1 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Director: Don Siegel
Renegade cops exacting their own brand of justice on criminals might seem like old hat these days, but back in 1971, it was unique, and when Dirty Harry arrived, it exploded across screens, introducing a new modern hero to audiences: San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan. Already familiar with audiences from his spaghetti westerns and TV shows, Eastwood made the role his own, and ended up making himself a superstar in the process. The story is straight forward, a grizzled cop is after a homicidal killer who is gunning down innocents all over the city, but thanks to the earnest, and almost confronting style of the film, it seems fresh, scary and even worse, real.
Back in the day, Hollywood cops were well-dressed, well-spoken gents who wore fedoras and packed snub-nose .38 revolvers. Their methods of catching of the bad guys was straight forward, and legal. Harry is the polar opposite of these past law enforcers. Hard-boiled, bitter, angry, and packing a giant .44 magnum. Harry is no gentleman and he has his own rules. It was quite a culture shock to audiences back in 71 and the film still holds up to this day. Andrew Robinson must get a special shout at as the villain. He is so sick and repulsive that by the time the end of the films rolls around, we can’t wait for Harry to blow a giant hole in him.
Eastwood copped flack for his performance in the film, with many civil liberties groups, the press and commies labelling his character a fascist. Of course, he didn’t care, and went on to make four more of these hugely successful films, and thank God he did. Modern action cinema entered a new era when Dirty Harry premiered, and it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have gotten other classics actioners like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard had this film not come out. Eastwood introduced the “silent loner” hero with Harry, and other big stars like Stallone, Seagal and Norris soon followed his lead. Imagine if they hadn’t?
Dirty Harry was a one-of-a-kind movie that launched a whole new genre. The film is too well made and acted to be dismissed as popcorn entertainment, and that’s why it’s still awesome today. Anyone who hasn’t seen these film, needs to check ‘em out – now!!
From a small country town where not many films played, Kent Church grew up on a steady diet of Coca Cola, horror magazines and action movies on VHS. If the movie didn’t have Chuck Norris or Eastwood on the cover, he wasn’t interested. His one core belief: Arnold Schwarzenneger must be President!! And James Woods vice –President…
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