Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sudden Impact

The only Dirty Harry movie directed by Clint Eastwood, SUDDEN IMPACT is the one in which Clint says “Go ahead...make my day” — a catchphrase that went so viral even President Reagan used it in a speech two years after the film came out. The film was a hit — it opened at number one at the box office, out-grossing the premiering SCARFACE (!) and CHRISTINE — and audiences openly cheered the violence.

Eastwood’s San Francisco police inspector, “Dirty Harry” Callahan, kills so many people in SUDDEN IMPACT that he is first suspended and then sent to a small California town to investigate a series of vigilante murders. The killer is a sympathetic one: Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), the victim of a gang rape years earlier that left her sister a catatonic and Jennifer out for revenge. A sympathetic villain, perhaps, but a weak one, as Locke isn’t a strong enough actress to project the proper represssed rage and, despite their long romantic relationship, she and Eastwood never had much on-screen chemistry.

The weak central plot in the screenplay by Joseph C. Stinson (STICK) actually works to SUDDEN IMPACT’s advantage. As a series of unrelated action setpieces, Eastwood’s film is a lot of fun. Bad guys with guns seem to pop up everywhere Harry goes, and he can’t even take vacation days without stumbling into a crime scene. Eastwood directs the chases and shootouts for maximum excitement, and Stinson (and possibly uncredited script polisher Dean Reisner) ensures Harry always has the perfect bon mot to punctuate each confrontation.

Scored by Lalo Schifrin (DIRTY HARRY), who lays down a killer cue to announce Harry’s arrival in the climax, SUDDEN IMPACT was the last Eastwood hit for almost a decade until UNFORGIVEN revitalized his career. Even the fifth and final Dirty Harry movie, THE DEAD POOL, despite featured roles for unknowns Jim Carrey (THE TRUMAN SHOW) and Liam Neeson (TAKEN), was a 1989 bomb.

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