Kevin: Today is an important date in the history of cinema, as it marks the birth of Scott Eastwood’s father, Clint Eastwood, 87 years ago in San Francisco. In addition to siring future multiple Oscar-winner Scott with a stewardess in the mid-‘80s, Clint has been known to act in and direct a movie or two on occasion, including the “Dirty Harry” series. It’s probably no coincidence that his character, Det. Harry Callahan, made it his mission to clean up the streets of Clint’s hometown, although ironically by almost single-handedly wiping out crime in the city he probably helped raise property values and attract the Silicon Valley billionaires who have made San Francisco unaffordable for the very people Callahan was protecting.
Either way, Tough Guy Digest is celebrating Clint’s big day with our write-up of if not the best “Dirty Harry” film, at least the most entertaining: “Sudden Impact,” in which Callahan barely breaks a sweat against some of the dumbest adversaries ever put on film:
(Originally posted Jan. 4, 2017)
Kevin: John McClane and Hans Gruber. Rocky and Ivan Drago. Casey Ryback and William Strannix. Riggs and whatever the South African guy was named in “Lethal Weapon 2.” Many action fans think that an iconic hero is only as memorable as the villain he is up against. Well that was certainly not a belief shared by Clint Eastwood when he directed the fourth installment of the Dirty Harry franchise, “Sudden Impact.”
San Francisco’s least-going-by-the-book cop did start out with a worthy adversary in 1971’s “Dirty Harry,” which ended with Det. Harry Callahan jumping on to a moving school bus and then engaging in a long foot chase with serial killer Scorpio before giving his opponent the chance to see how lucky he was (Spoiler alert: not very). But by 1983 Clint apparently decided he wanted to exert as little energy as possible, which is why in “Sudden Impact” he faces off against possibly the slowest bad guys – both in mind and in reflexes – in action cinema history.
This is signaled early on when Callahan goes to get coffee at his usual diner spot, leading to a catchphrase so famous that a certain former-actor-turned-president used it in one of his speeches. (Warning: If you have not seen “Sudden Impact” yet and perhaps are waiting until 2018 to catch it on its 35th anniversary, you may want to avoid the following spoiler-filled videos):
Note to any enterprising young criminals out there: If in the middle of your robbery you are confronted by an imposing badass who says his friends are the name of a major gun manufacturer while he reaches into his jacket, START SHOOTING IMMEDIATELY! I would also advise the guy on the receiving end of Callahan’s “Make my day” line that the whole “putting a gun to the hostage’s head” thing doesn’t work as well when you instead point the gun toward the ceiling, as he inexplicably does.
Also, we can’t really avoid the elephant in the room here, which is that viewed through a modern politically correct lens, the depiction of the all-black criminal gang and their jive-talking leader (“What you doin’ pig-head sucka”) is – as the kids might say today – “problematic as fuck.” In fact, Clint’s view of how African-American criminals talk hasn’t changed much since the bank robber who first got to hear Callahan’s “Do you feel lucky speech?” in “Dirty Harry”:
(Weird bit of trivia: After appearing as the bank robber in the original, actor Albert Popwell showed up as different characters in the next three Dirty Harry movies, first as a pimp in “Magnum Force” and then as a black militant in “The Enforcer,” before moving up to play one of Callahan’s detective colleagues in “Sudden Impact.” Hey, maybe he was actually supposed to be the same guy, who started out in crime before turning his life around and not only joining the same police force that tried to imprison him, but becoming an equal of the man who shot him in the arm all those years ago. Unlikely I know, but I’d like to imagine, okay?)
In Clint’s defense he’s doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the criminals in this movie, as he makes sure to leave room for Italian mafia hitmen, young punks, and even redneck women to feel hot lead in the film. In fact the worst of the lot are a group of white scumbag rapists who all sport mustaches. I have a feeling the real reason Clint wanted to direct “Sully” was to finally show the American public that not all men with mustaches are horrible sexually depraved scum (only 70%).
Either way, I have to believe that Robert Townsend had the “Sudden Impact” diner scene in mind when he wrote the Dirty Larry parody in “Hollywood Shuffle.” (Skip to the 3:16 mark, NSFW):
(Note: This is the second time we have referenced a scene from “Hollywood Shuffle,” following Part 1 of the “Die Hard” Round Table. Seriously, “Hollywood Shuffle” is still hilarious and you should seek it out at once.)
Anyway, later Callahan is attacked by the aforementioned Italian mobsters who are seeking revenge for Harry indirectly causing their boss to have a heart attack at a wedding. As you’ll see, even though the main plot of the film involves Sondra Locke killing off the men who raped her and her sister years before, “Sudden Impact” has enough side stories that it often feels more like a pilot for a Dirty Harry TV show.
After Clint does his version of fleeing – which is more like mild jogging – the mobsters pursue him to the top of some stairs and discover only two places he could have hidden: some empty oil drums and a large garbage bin. Well obviously Clint’s too tall to fit into an oil drum, which is why the bad guys walk right past those without even checking and open fire on the garbage bin. But it looks like someone learned to crouch, as Callahan emerges from one of the drums and opens fire on his really lazy opponents.
Callahan has little time to relax however, as a short time later he’s attacked while in his car by a murder suspect who has a score to settle with Harry after getting released on a technicality by some liberal female judge, most likely a Carter appointee. He and his buddies drive right up to an unsuspecting Callahan and rather than shooting him, which they could easily do, they beat his car with baseball bats and throw Molotov cocktails at him. They at least make Callahan burn a few calories when he gets out of his car and throws a Molotov back at them, causing their vehicle to plunge into the San Francisco Bay.
But the movie saves its slowest and dumbest bad guys for the very end, when Callahan faces off against the mustachioed sleazeballs by standing right out in the open and walking slowly toward them, which looks cool on film but is tactically unwise:
If you can explain to me what the bad guys’ plan was that would be great, because I sure don’t get it. A very large man approaches you with his gun at his side and pointed down, and even when he gets close and you already have your guns ready, you just stand there and … what? Wait ‘til Callahan hopefully has a heart attack or gets attacked by crows before he can start shooting? I’ll let you watch the movie to see how the last bad guy gets taken out, which is very satisfying even though, once again, Callahan probably puts more effort into picking up his coffee even on mornings when he’s not having to shoot jive-talking diner bandits.
Audiences didn’t seem to mind though, as “Sudden Impact” is still by far the highest-grossing of the Dirty Harry movies, raking in $67 million and placing in the top 10 in 1983 among “Return of the Jedi,” “Flashdance,” and “Trading Places.” Which just proves my longstanding theory: People love watching Clint Eastwood shoot other people. In fact I’m sure audiences would flock if Clint came back as Dirty Harry one more time today, and even if it was just two hours of him gunning down shoplifters from his wheelchair as a greeter at Wal-Mart, they’d still prove to be worthier adversaries than any of the dopes in “Sudden Impact.”