Double Bill #05: Dirty Harry & Death Wish

Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) are two movies that deal with the urban crime wave of the 1970’s when gang violence, murders, subway crime, robberies and muggings skyrocketed. Both films present a distinctive one man army, a new type of hero, to deal with that. Both lead actors of the films, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, had starred in Sergio Leone’s legendary Westerns in the 1960’s and both had made the move to action pictures during the following decade. The films have similarities like strong violence, an ineffective and outnumbered police force and a ‘hero’ who takes matters in his own hands. But the characters are quite distinct. Bronson’s Paul Kersey is an architect and a liberal who only has a change of heart after the violent murder of his wife and the rape of his daughter. Eastwood’s Harry Callahan is an ultra tough, ultra-macho cop from the beginning who illustratively takes out a gang of robbers while eating a hot dog. Like Kersey, he is a vigilante; he breaks the rules if that enables him to stop the criminals on the loose. Both Death Wish and Dirty Harry were controversial at the time as they could be viewed as being in support of vigilantism. And both successful movies led to a series of five films total that all starred the original leads Bronson and Eastwood. And finally; none of the sequels were as good as the original movies. What Dirty Harry introduced was the disturbed psycho as villain. Andrew Robinson is terrific as serial killer Scorpio (loosely based on the San Francisco Zodiac killer). Clearly, this formed inspiration for the serial killer genre that emerged a decade later. Death Wish also features scary criminals, most notably the original gang (that includes a young Jeff Goldblum) that invade the house of the Kersey family. This is still a disturbing scene when viewed today. Death Wish got a remake in 2018 starring Bruce Willis, but Dirty Harry didn’t yet get one. This makes sense as finding a new Clint Eastwood will not be an easy feat. Imagine any other actor delivering iconic lines like “Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” with so much venom like Eastwood does.

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