Over the past few weeks, I’ve finally begun working my way through the Clint Eastwood, 35 Years 35 Films box-set I got for Christmas (in fact, this page will be pretty dominated by Clint for awhile, thanks to this thing). Obviously, I decided to dive right into the Dirty Harry series.

The first Dirty Harry is a classic, and rightfully so. It totally holds up, and I’m fairly sure you could release it in theaters today and it would still be a hit. It would probably have a few more explosions or something, but overall it could be the same movie and still take off.

Although none of the Dirty Harry sequels were critical successes initially, the first three were very popular, and have earned some belated respect. I really enjoy the first two. The first sequel, Magnum Force, has a cool story, with Harry taking on a group of vigilante cops. The whole idea is supposed to be about pointing out how similar Harry is to these guys – the main difference being that he only kills people when involved in an actual shootout, whereas these guys will just kill anyone they consider a criminal, even during a traffic stop. Oh, and they also kill a cop to cover their tracks. Pretty sure Harry wouldn’t do that, either. Anyway, this a good sequel, and another one that feels surprisingly modern in terms of onscreen violence and its action scenes.

The third film, The Enforcer, has a somewhat overly simplistic story and band of villains – a lame terrorist group based on the Symbionese Liberation Army, who were all over the news back then (1976). As a result, the plot itself isn’t as easy to get into as the previous films, but the whole thing is saved by the addition of a female partner for Harry, played very well by Tyne Daly. Needless to say, Harry isn’t exactly thrilled with having to work with a woman, although the movie of course goes the expected route of him starting to have a begrudging respect for her. The relationship between the two is very well done, and makes up for the somewhat boring dramatic thrust of the film.

So now we come to Sudden Impact, from 1983. Eastwood was actually finished with the character in his mind after The Enforcer – this one only happened because Warner Bros. conducted a survey which revealed audiences really wanted to see the character again. Well, be careful what you wish for. I remember liking this movie when I watched it years ago, but I can’t really say the same for it now. It’s the only Dirty Harry movie directed by Eastwood, which you would think would be a positive sign. But, nope.

It’s about a woman (played by Eastwood’s then real-life squeeze Sondra Locke) seeking revenge against the men who gang-raped her and her sister years ago. While investigating the case, Harry quite coincidentally strikes up a relationship with her, unaware that she is actually the murderous vigilante he is looking for. Not only is it pretty hard to swallow that this would happen, but watching Harry flirt and hook up with somebody is just weird in general.

Oddly, there is an entire subplot in the film that at first seems important, but is eventually completely forgotten about. Early in the film, Harry harasses a mob boss at his daughter’s wedding, which causes the mob boss to have a fatal heart attack. For the rest of the movie, Harry is targeted by assassins, obviously hired as revenge for this act. But this is never resolved. He just gets attacked a couple times, always survives and kills the would-be assassin, but there is no end to the story. I guess we’re just supposed to assume that this is now going to be a regular part of Harry’s life from now on.

Also, there is a surprising amount of violence against women in this film. I mean, I know it’s about rape and everything, but geez. Not only does Sondra Locke get extremely roughed up by the villains (twice, technically), but Harry himself punches a woman in the face. Sure, she’s one of the bad guys, but still. It’s not that this element bothered me (it’s just a movie, after all). I just found it interesting…I doubt you’d see this stuff if the movie was made today.

The overall problem with Sudden Impact, I think, is that Dirty Harry was just such a product of the ’70s, and doesn’t really work in another era. This is the first Harry movie of the ’80s, and it’s just way TOO MUCH of an ’80s movie – a cheesy ’80s theme (check it out below), silly villains, and unnecessary comedy (did Harry really need a flatulent bulldog that pees on everything?). It almost feels more like a parody of the previous Harry films than a brand new entry.

The only saving grace is a number of great one-liners from Eastwood. Of course, everyone knows “make my day” (which a lot of people think came from the first film, but didn’t actually show up until this entry), but there a lot of other great one lines, as well. It’s a very quotable film…but perhaps not a very re-watchable one.

Next up in the Harry series is the final entry, The Dead Pool, which is universally considered the black sheep of the series. Since Sudden Impact has already taken the wind out of my Dirty Harry sails, I think I’ll take a break and watch some other Eastwood movies before re-visiting that one.

This review originally posted in Trevor Likes Movies on March 7th, 2011.