Dirty Harry Is and/or Isn’t Fascist Propaganda

In 1971, Dirty Harry set out the blueprint for pretty much all cop movies that followed. Clint Eastwood plays a cynical detective – a loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules – who gets teamed up with a rookie cop even though he prefers to work alone. Its reputation is more or less as an entertaining action film and a nasty piece of fascist propaganda: Harry couldn’t give less of a shit about your civil rights, and the film is emphatically not about him learning the error of his ways.

Harry is an extraordinary piece of shit. A guy is about to jump off a building, and they send Harry up to talk him down: Harry punches him in the face. Another cop explains to the rookie why they call him Dirty Harry, saying Harry hates everyone, including a whole list of racial slurs. In the famous “are you feeling lucky?” scene, Harry’s so fucking cold-blooded, reciting his memorised cool-guy speech while he threatens to kill someone, and it’s chilling. But also: it is a cool speech, and he is a cool guy. Like his spaghetti westerns, Eastwood plays an essentially monstrous character with such rock-solid charisma that you find yourself drawn in. The way he speaks through his teeth, the way he squares his jaw, the way he holds a gun: he’s magnetic. This is the essential dilemma of Dirty Harry: are his coolness and his monstrosity in tension with one another, or are they one and the same? Does the film think all the awful shit Harry does is cool? Is it part of what makes him cool?

Roger Ebert called the film fascist (he gave it three stars out of four). Pauline Kael also called it fascist. Gene Siskel called it dangerous. And Dirty Harry is definitely not one of those films where its point of view on its immoral characters is so obvious and forthright that I find debate about it vaguely exhausting: like, there are real people in the world who think The Wolf of Wall Street is pro-Jordan Belfort because even though it’s an incomparable descent into hell, it’s also funny, and those people are geniuses next to the people who think Starship Troopers is fascist. But Dirty Harry is not a misunderstood satire, not really. I think seeing it as fascist makes a lot of sense: if Harry is cool, if you like him and root for him, if you take the ticking time bomb torture scenario the film sets up at face value, then Dirty Harry is an argument for extrajudicial torture, violence as first resort, and a police state.

But Dirty Harry isn’t an “argument”. It’s a film.

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2019 in Film(s That Didn’t Come Out in 2019)

Check out previous installments here and here.


There’s a huge pressure on anyone who wants to talk or write seriously about film to pretend as if they’ve already seen every great film ever made, even as dozens more great, must-see films appear every year. It’s always been there, obviously, but it’s been magnified – like so many futile anxieties – in the age of social media, where showing off your esoteric knowledge of the medium can sometimes seem more like the film nerd version of an Instagram flex than a sincere celebration of film and its history. It creates a paralysing urgency around over a hundred years of art and it’s tempting to throw up your arms and give up. Where do you even start? Just let Disney make the choice for you and shovel whatever focus-tested crap they’re releasing next into your waiting mouth.

That pressure can be exhausting at times, but it’s an argument for logging off, not giving up. We already loved film when we started this blog and we’ve only fallen deeper and deeper in love over the past few years. It’s hard to overstate how much it has meant to us, how much it has enriched our lives to explore this beautiful art form, as practiced across the world over a century of human endeavour.

Beauty is one of the things that makes life worth living and, despite all indications to the contrary, there is an abundance of it. That’s the joy of accepting you’ll never see every great film ever made: there will always be more great films that you’ll get to see for the first time.

In February, we’ll go through our favourite new releases of the year when we post the fourth annual Sundae Film Awards. But looking back on the year in film shouldn’t just mean looking back at what came out this year. 2019 is the year Ciara finally saw Alien, gasped and giggled through her first Jackie Chan movie and got into borrowing DVDs from the library, the year Dean found Tarkovsky on All4, had his heart exploded by Point Break and watched Lillian Gish basically invent screen acting in Way Down East. So here are some of the best films we saw in 2019 that didn’t come out in 2019.

It’s no big deal if you haven’t seen them, but we definitely recommend checking them out.

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