Free Essay on Mystery-Western Genre

Published: 2023-01-19
Free Essay on Mystery-Western Genre
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Movie Criminal justice Character analysis
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1438 words
12 min read

Dirty Harry is a 1971 American action thriller film produced and directed by Don Siegel. The movie narrates the story of San Francisco that is being terrorized by a psychopathic sniper called Scorpio. In a letter he writes to the San Francisco Police Department, Scorpio claims that he will continue killing until his demands are met. Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan is assigned the task of tracking down and apprehending the menacing killer at all cost. The tracking unravels into a chase with the killer exploiting the legal system to get free. Depending on the type of crime film narratives, Dirty Harry falls into a disguised western category, in which an outsider saves the victim or a defenseless community. This essay seeks to expound on the elements in the Dirty Harry movie that make it a disguised film.

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Dirty Harry film upheld the idea of purgative violence as a central path to justice. The traditional Western holds the belief of redemptive and purgative violence. The Western movie delivers justice by playing through scenes of separation, temporary deterioration to a more primitive state, and finally regeneration through violence. Like the Western, Dirty Harry deploys standoffs or shootouts at key scenes during the film, and works to the final ejection of the violent criminal through an act of redemptive violence on the part of the protagonist. The character, Dirty Harry, not only validates violence but also extrajudicial police action. In one scene, Dirty Harry tortures Scorpio by grinding his bruised leg on the ground after shooting him on a football field. In another, he stabs Scorpio in the park provoking a screech of pain from him. Dirty Harry is representative of the "shoot first-think later" school of policy which he thinks is the best way to get the outlaws out of the streets. In this kill-or-be-killed environment, too much thinking is dangerous. For example, when Harry discovers his partner, Chico, has a degree in Sociology, he warns, "Don't let your degree get you killed." The glorification of violence to such levels is characteristic of the Westerns.

Dirty Harry is caught between the restriction of the ineffective political, legal, and law enforcement institutions of the city and his will to capture the outlaw (Umland 90). This is typical of Westerns. Dirty Harry, who possess a principled idea of justice ad undisputable moral stand, takes the law into his hand. He overrules institutional authorities and laws as a way to uphold justice. Just like the westerns, order, justice, and law are reduced to mere nonconcrete constructions. Scorpio is tortured by Dirty Harry to reveal where he buried alive the young girl which he does. The courts, however, let Scorpio free on the ground that the "4th, 5th, 6th and probably 14th amendments" of the suspects were violated. Dirty Harry was a character that had bent the Miranda rules which protect criminal suspects by assuring them they would get a "Miranda Warning" of their constitutional rights before police interrogation. In many Westerns, the protagonist finds himself in a position that requires them to decide to either quit or pursue the outlaw. In Dirty Harry, Inspector Harry finds himself in a similar occasion when Scorpio is freed by the system.

Moreover, the mayor is cooperative with Scorpio's second demands after he hijacks the school bus with children. The bureaucracy and failure in the law could have easily discouraged Dirty Harry, but he soldiers on with his pursuit and finally takes down the "bad guy." Harry thirst for justice is met by superior officers who are willing to negotiate with Scorpio and lawyers who are more concerned with the Killer's rights than those of the victim.

The individuality of Dirty Harry also makes the movie a disguised Western. The Westerns champion the individual in the face of the arbitrary system (Umland 111). Dirty Harry exhibit characteristic that shows he does not work in favor of teamwork. He wears a smart grey suit rather than a uniform like other police officers. Moreover, he ignores other police officers and does the tracking of Scorpio on his own. This shows his independence. Dirty Harry kept its western references less explicit but operated from the same assumptions in its depiction of the lone sniper. Scorpio, who is made the villain does not represent American society's problems but hinges the problems on a single aberrant individual. Put differently, and the film illustrates that society's problem is an uncontrollable villain of primal, profound evil. However, while the danger of this killer would seem to call for strong severe power, the films object to control of the situation by police institutions but celebrate the intervention by an individual. Dirty Harry is defined by his singular ability for action, and he must free himself from the restrictions that impedes this position, including the authority in which he is ostensibly part of. His is in a sense a "primal man" which to some degree makes Dirty Harry a disguised western

The opening sequence of the film has some western elements. This is especially portrayed in the setting through the choice of camera shots and angles. The extreme close up of the badge is a western style technique. The opening sequence also makes use of a female character in the scene where a sniper aims at the target. The female target, in this case, is not ugly; this will elicit stronger emotions in the audience as they feel more disappointed by the death of a prettier girl than an uglier one. The choice of a woman rather than a man is informed by Westerns use of a woman as an object of violence. The opening scene can also be described as being an urban western. In the scene where Harry is at the lunch counter, which is across the bank where a robbery is taking place, he asks the owner of the luncheonette to call the police. He continues eating launch and says, "Now if they'll just wait for the calvary to come." This is characteristic of Western genre stereotyped situations illustrating the standard duel between the sheriff and the bad guy. Bad Harry foils their escape with well-aimed bullets that stop the car and deter the thieves.

Dirty Harry is categorized as an urban western because of the landscape it utilizes. The Westerns were filmed in studios but often used the desolate corners of Oklahoma, Montana, and Kansas among others. This gave the filmmakers the ability to show the vast plains, looming mountains, and canyons. Dirty Harry, however, utilizes the urban landscape of San Francisco. The language takes the urban slang and uses words like "nigger," "queer," and "spic." In the third series of the Dirty Harry films, "The Enforcer," Harry is assigned a woman as his new partner. For the white, male chauvinistic, women have no place in the violent, masculine world of urban law enforcement. The racist, sexist and homophobic stances in Dirty Harry show it is a disguised Western. Moreover, Dirty Harry also bring masculinity through its characters. The cop, Dirty Harry is identical with the Western figure of a lone male frontiersman who continually veers into the excess. The film establishes the ground for man to base his masculinity and asserts that they are accountable for, his responsibilities and how he must react to in terms of violence to save those weaker than him. The film connects other cultural manifestation of a traumatized and damaged masculinity. In the end, Dirty Harry is a Western manque as Harry throws away the badge indicating an unredeemed hero. Harry's masculinity s excessive and is displayed in several scenes (Baker 103). When Scorpio sees the gun, he remarks, "My that's a big one, explicitly homoeroticizing the scene to which Harry replies, "Do I feel lucky." Harry response displays the phallus not only to the outlaw but also to the audience (Baker 103).

The essay has examined elements in the Dirty Harry film that makes it a disguised Western. The essay has looked at the clash between the protagonist and the legal system and how it propels other actions in the films. The essay has also examined the element of individuality common in Westerns and how it has been used in the film. The opening sequence and the ending part of the film also contain Western characteristics. Moreover, masculinity, as well as language, are characteristic of Urban Westerns.

Work Cited

Baker, Brian. Masculinity in Fiction and Film: Representing Men in Popular Genres, 1945-2000. A&C Black, 2008.

Siegel, Don. " | Dirty Harry | Movies." of WB Movies, TV, Games, and More!,

Umland, Rebecca A. Outlaw Heroes as Liminal Figures of Film and Television. McFarland, 2016.

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