I am sure that I do not have to introduce the character of Dirty Harry Callahan. Sudden Impact was the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, preceded by Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, and The Enforcer. And preceding The Dead Pool.
I have very mixed feelings about Sudden Impact. On one hand, it is a sleazy repugnant little film. Easily the worst of the Dirty Harry films. But for me, it represents one of the rites of manhood. The film was released in 1983, with a ‘R’ certificate, which meant that in Australia, no one under the age of 18 years could see the film. I would have been around 15 years old when the film was released, and therefore was too young to go to a screening.
At this time, I still lived in the country, up north on the Murray River. But frequently the family would make trips on the weekend to Melbourne. We would often stay at my aunt and uncle’s place and sleep on the floor, as it was cheaper than hotel accommodation. One of these trips coincided with the release of Sudden Impact. And somehow, I managed to convince my father and my uncle to take me to see the film. My thinking was, that if I was accompanied by two men who were clearly over 18, then the staff at the cinema would not question my age. So it was, the three of us went into the heart of the city to see Sudden Impact on a Saturday night.
I remember walking beside them, proud as punch. I also remember, the sex show spruikers asking us to “step this way gentleman, show starts right away”. With a firm hand on my shoulder, my dad steered me past these temptations, and towards the movie house. There was no trouble at the cinema whatsoever, and we all enjoyed the film. And that is one of the things about Sudden Impact; it is a film, that should be seen on the big screen and with a crowd. The film has quite a few comedic moments, and these play a lot better with a crowd. When the crowd laughs, you laugh. And this comedy balances out the more sleazy aspects of the film.
This is something that I noticed years later when the film became available on video. On television, and without a crowd behind me, my reaction to the film was very different. Initially, at the cinema, I thought the film was fantastic. An exciting blend of blazing Magnum action, and witty dialogue. But on video, with much of the humour diluted, you’re left with a tale of rape and revenge, and even Callahan’s motives are dodgy. At the end of the film, he puts himself above the law, allowing a killer to go free.
But the film reached a level of popularity beyond its story, when Ronald Regan – President of the United States at that time – quoted the ‘Make My Day!’ line from the film. Much like Rambo: First Blood Part II, the film and its loner hero came to epitomize the new America – a country that was regaining its sense of worth after the Iran hostage situation. Many words have already been spent analyzing the political content in the Dirty Harry films – so I’ll move on, leaving that to the experts.
The story is quite simple. Sondra Locke plays a woman who, along with her sister, was gang raped by a bunch of students led by a psychopath. Many years later, she starts seeking revenge shooting the offending members. After the few few deaths, the psychopath cottons on to what’s happening, and decides to strike back. But naturally enough, standing between both parties is Harry Callahan – armed with a new weapon – the .44 Magnum Automag. Gun-porn fans rejoice.
It almost seems funny looking back at it now, and seeing how far Harry Callahan had changed from the original Dirty Harry, to the stylized and somewhat sleazy mayhem in Sudden Impact. It’s only Eastwood’s presence and the .44 magnum that ties it all together.
As I said, I have very mixed feelings about the film. I know it is not very good, but maybe because of the built in affection I have for it, I cut it more slack than most.