Top positive review
39 people found this helpful
The original Dirty Harry: complex and challenging
on 7 April 2005
From the fantastic opening sequence in which the credits are scrawled graffiti-style on the sidewalk and the camera closes in on filthy rainwater rushing down the gutter, this movie employs a series of interesting and offbeat visual, structural and sonic devices to explore its themes of fate and corruption and to keep the viewer constantly surprised and challenged. Preminger's refusal to emotionally signpost the narrative with an intrusive musical score allows the crackling of police radios, the rattling of subway trains and the ambient traffic noise to form a kind of realistic soundtrack to the film. Absence of musical pointers also intensifes the moral ambiguity of the protagonist's actions. Long scenes (such as the beautifully taut sequence filmed beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in which Dana Andrews disposes of the body of Gene Tierney's estranged husband) take place in virtual silence, inviting us to construct our own moral perspective and to concentrate on the gorgeous deep-focus black and white photography. Structurally, too, Preminger keeps us on our toes. The scene which in any other film would be the climax of the action, involving an inevitable shoot-out and a quick resolution of the story's moral conflicts, is here omitted completely: we simply hear about it afterward. For some viewers this might be disconcerting, but its effect is to sustain the ambiguity to the end and to leave the destiny of the central character somewhat unresolved. It's as fitting and complex an ending as the studio system would allow to Ben Hecht's clever and twisty screenplay which piles cruel irony on top of cruel irony for Detective Dixon, "half cop, half killer" as the bad guy calls him, driven by a hatred for hoodlums which is exceeded only by hatred of himself. As the original vigilante cop, the grim-faced Dana Andrews brilliantly conveys this unstable brew of vicious anger and self-loathing. By contrast, Gene Tierney's role as the good-girl saviour of our shadowy hero is slightly trite. It's the most conventional thing about this challenging and intriguing movie. The restored print used on the BFI's DVD edition is immaculate.