Welcome to The 30 Dozen, a monthly exploration of the films that, like me, turn thirty this year. These are films that have been residing on my must-see list for ages, and those which I’m only now crossing off as together we each approach our third decade on this planet. As I examine one of these movies per month, I hope to glean from each some perspective on my approach of the big 3-0.
So here we are, month three, and already I’m demonstrating my trademark steadfast dedication to project parameters. And I’m not even referring to the fact that I made my March deadline by less than an hour. No, actually I’m seconds away from completely compromising the integrity of my own monthly undertaking. Namely, I’m about to hardcore cheat. You’d think that since I was the person who designated the rules that I would be able to adhere to them, and yet here we are talking about 1983’s Sudden Impact in March.
In my defense, the whole point of this exercise was to discover films that provided comfort, or at least insight, into my own aging process; into what it meant to be an uber geek turning 30. Sudden Impact was never on that radar because it didn’t technically meet the qualification of being released in 1984 (much as I myself was released in 1984). That being said, my recent first viewing of the fourth Dirty Harry installment at the Alamo Drafthouse had several profound effects on me AND it was released in December of 1983. Quibbling over a few measly weeks seemed suffocatingly bureaucratic.
And there too lies an appropriate case for Sudden Impact‘s inclusion in this series despite technical ineligibility. If there is one man who makes stock and trade of scoffing in the face of rules and regulations, a man who refuses to be a pawn of crippling bureaucracy, it’s Detective Harry Goddamned Callahan. So much like Dirty Harry himself, I’m going full loose cannon, bending the law, and discussing the personal impact of my first viewing of Sudden Impact.
Many people would assume that by the time a franchise reaches a fourth entry, quality begins to become subjugated to commerce. This theory is not without plenty of supporting evidence. It is one step beyond the trilogy mark (and the inherent compartmentalized story arc that tends to wrap up by movie three), so fourth entries have an especially uphill battle to justify their existence. This tends to be doubly true when a significant period of time has elapsed between parts three and four. Sudden Impact, however, doesn’t simply break the mold, it unloads an entire clip into the mold and then throws it off a building.
This is the point in the series where Clint Eastwood steps behind the camera; the only franchise entry he directed. I had heard it was a bit darker than the first three outings, but nothing could have prepared me for how that tonal shift, and more to the point Eastwood’s direction, would facilitate the most artistically distinct and arguably most satisfying Dirty Harry film of the bunch. The cinematography of this gritty revenge tale creates a filmic landscape that is equal parts Giallo Dirty Harry and pure, filthy Abel Ferrara. Basically, it was hitting all my nerd buttons perfectly.
My favorite moment in the entire film came when Harry Callahan, thought dead after a run-in with a gang of thugs, emerges resurgent standing across a dimly-lit pier, his Magnum clearly clasped at his side even in silhouette like the steely longsword of some kind of vengeance-fueled wraith. It’s the rebirth of a legend, and encapsulates the raging dreamlike noir of Sudden Impact‘s visual aesthetic.
Again, for exceedingly technical reasons, Sudden Impact should not qualify for this column, but it spoke to me in so many regards; several that directly applied to my turning 30 this year. First and foremost, Sudden Impact is the first time in the series in which Eastwood’s age really shows. In the earlier entries, which comprise only a five-year period from 1971-1976, Eastwood still seemed in his prime. He may have worn a crows foot or two by the time The Enforcer rolled around, but no one could ever have accused Detective Callahan of being too old for any manner of shit.
And yet despite the advancement of his years, Dirty Harry is never sharper, never possessed of more swagger, frankly never suitably dirtier than he is in Sudden Impact. You could make a formidable case for the original entry being his strongest outing as the character, but ask any casual film fan to quote a line from a Dirty Harry movie and I’d wager more than half of them throw out, “Go ahead…make my day.” That line isn’t spoken until Sudden Impact. Hearing the cliche about age being naught but a number is one thing, seeing one of cinema’s greatest badasses embody the maxim is something quite different.
Though not endowed with one eighth as much pure cool as is Harry, if I can maintain my character, my personality anywhere near as well as Detective Callahan in Sudden Impact, the prospect of aging seems decidedly less intimidating. At the very least maybe by venturing into a third decade on Earth I can excel beyond the point of being labeled as a “punk;” a group with whom Harry seems to take regular exception.
There was also the fact that I was watching these films at the Alamo Drafthouse sitting next to my father. If you’ve followed my writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me gush about my dad. He’s the reason I do what I do. He was that rare anomaly; both a jock and a geek as a kid. When I was growing up, he introduced to the greatness of directors like John Carpenter and had me listening to old radio episodes of The Shadow. He allowed me to rent stacks and stacks of 80s slasher films long before I probably should have been permitted to do so, and some of our favorite father-son chats revolved around Hitchcock and Captain Quint from Jaws. One of his favorite characters in film has always been Harry Callahan.
This marathon represented the first time I had seen any but the first Dirty Harry film, and to watch them with dad, who happened to be in town for a visit, was an experience of perfect star alignment. It further cemented in my mind that a true geek is a geek for life, and in fact aging against a backdrop of tech revolution offers so much potential for an augmentation of geekery. My dad has only become more expressive about his favorite TV, movies, and radio programs as technology has advanced to the point of putting more and more of his passions at his fingertips. He has scoured back through so many episodes of Columbo on Netflix and can readily recite guest stars from season to season. I can only hope that as media advances alongside my own number of years on this planet, that I too will be afforded the opportunity to further my own scholarship of film.
Finally, and by complete accident, Sudden Impact managed to blast loose a mental logjam that had been plaguing a creative writing project of mine. I am currently working on a screenplay in which the main character is an older police officer. I have charted out this character’s story, and I know all of the obstacles he will face, but I could not see him in my mind. I couldn’t quite discern his demeanor, his arsenal of personality quirks and flaws. Then I realized that I was looking for Dirty Harry from Sudden Impact. Imagining this older police veteran as Dirty Harry wasn’t quite apropos, it specifically had to be Sudden Impact‘s Dirty Harry. That’s not to say I’m going to cut/paste his dialogue or try and find a sturdy Clint Eastwood impersonator, but my character finally has a exemplar; a symbolic creative patriarch.
There is a lot more I could write about this film, and indeed the impact it suddenly had upon me, but I’ll reserve the rest that I might make another of your days in the future. Once more, I fully acknowledge the entirely technical grounds for Sudden Impact‘s disqualification, but while this movie has beaten me to the 30-year finish line, its temporal odometer has yet to roll over into thirty-one.