Asymmetrical Harry Callahan

It is noteworthy that all of the Dirty Harry films take place in and around San Francisco Bay. Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were murdered in cold blood in San Francisco City Hall in 1978, chronologically in the middle of the film franchise. Supervisor Dan White shot Mayor Moscone in the Mayor’s office and then walked to the other side of City Hall and shot Milk five times. White had to walk around Milk’s desk, bend down, and place the revolver inches from Milk’s head to fire the fifth shot, leaving his revolver empty. White served only five years for murdering two elected officials. This piece of history and local color is evidence that the Dirty Harry franchise was not merely a shoot’em up string of movies aimed at pulling down blockbuster receipts. To be clear: Justice has been perverted in the hands of bureaucracy. Art imitates life.

Screenwriters Harry Julian Fink and his wife Rita did not write the Dirty Harry screenplays to satisfy the bloodlust of Clint Eastwood fans or to cash in on box office receipts. They wrote it because they had philosophical questions to raise about justice in society. The Fink’s present justice as a zero sum gain versus a defunct system of laws in society.  Harry Callahan must completely win or completely lose. If Harry wins, justice is served illicitly. If the law is respected, then justice is miscarried.

The winds of Western Philosophy fill the sails of this Malspaso Armada. When Harry is in a crisis, the audience wills him to blast a loophole through social morality. Whether the audience is a mob bent on revenge or social justice is up to interpretation. As a body of work, the Dirty Harry franchise has entertained me immensely through the years and more recently as I viewed the films again for this little writing project. From watching these movies I conclude that in the society I live in, justice either prevails or it loses completely. The law has made a compromise of justice. Because justice is a zero sum gain, if justice did not win, then justice must be completely lost. A free press is our best defense against tyranny of government or of mobs. And although I prefer law and order, I can’t imagine living in a country where Inspector Harry Callahan is not possible.