Someone is killing men, first shooting them in the balls and then the head execution style. Detective Harry Callahan has been sent to investigate the murders to get him away from San Francisco and keep him out of trouble. Dirty Harry couldn’t stay out of trouble if he tried.
Clint Eastwood chose Sudden Impact to be the Dirty Harry movie that he would work both behind the camera as well as in front of it. I don’t know if there was much of a difference between this Dirty Harry movie and the ones that preceded it. It seems to me like Eastwood simply mimicked the pattern and development of the earlier efforts instead of showcasing the Oscar winning style he would display years later in Unforgiven.
While he started the movie off with a long, wide shot of San Francisco, the fact that the film would move out of the city and into a small town on its outskirts meant that the film would lose the one constant character that was just as important as Dirty Harry himself. That would hamper the directing style of Eastwood when it came to visuals, and the rest of the movie appeared to repeat shots from the original.
Harry Callahan starts the movie attending the trial of a criminal who is let off the hook for the exact reason as the Scorpio killer from the original Dirty Harry movie. Thanks to an illegal search and seizure of evidence by Harry, the criminal is let go. As with the first film, Harry seems to be the only person who understands that criminals need to be off the streets. Unfortunately, if Harry doesn’t kill them, they are likely to go free.
Then he goes to get a cup of coffee. It is almost a carbon copy of the hotdog scene from the original. Harry goes to an original hangout, this time a diner, and uses his sense of intuition to realize there is a robbery going on. He then returns, breaks up the robbery, kills all the criminals with the exception of the final survivor. Just as in the first movie, he delivers an ultimatum as he trains his gun on the criminal. This time it is “Go ahead, make my day.”
One problem I had with the film is the reason Harry is sent out of town is because he is at the mercy of the mafia after he drives their mob boss to a heart attack. He leaves town, after killing three of the four men sent to take him out. Later in the film, he kills the fourth and the danger is now null and void. I would wonder why only four members of the Mafioso would be sent to take out Callahan and then no one after that. It’s a minor gripe.
The plot device that makes the movie work so well is a woman being the psychopathic killer. To make it work better, they gave the woman a perfectly good reason for her vigilante action. Take a look at a rival franchise from the same era, Death Wish, and you find a very similar storyline. The only exception is the killer being hunted by Dirty Harry in this movie would be the hero in the Death Wish movies. In this film, in the eyes of Harry Callahan, she is just another killer.
The movie then goes from one set piece to the next, in a simple narrow plot line. Murders begin to pile up while Harry finds resistance from law enforcement officials in the small town. More people die, both at the hands of the female killer as well as some petty criminals who gun for Harry as well. Then the movie reaches its conclusion in what has to be considered a cheat. The original aspect of this chapter in the franchise becomes just another plot device by the end of the movie.
The acting is quite strong and the night visuals in the small town are professionally set up. Pat Hingle is fantastic as the chief of police in the small town and Eastwood is as fantastic as usual in his trademark character. The one character I was disappointed with was Sandra Locke, who as the killer needed to either bring pathos or furious vengeance to her role, but instead comes across as flat and very boring. She is disappointing compared to the killers of the previous movies. The minor thugs come across much stronger and, since they are who you are supposed to hate, they save the movie in the end. However, as a rape/revenge character, she fails miserably.
Sudden Impact would not work on its own merits because of the weakness of the vigilante aspect of the film. However, thanks to the addition of Dirty Harry to the rape/revenge storyline, it ends up a decent chapter in the story of the San Francisco detective. It is not a great movie but it is an average one that rises above others thanks to Dirty Harry.
There is an audio commentary track with Clint Eastwood’s biographer Richard Schickel. He talks with a calm, conversational voice, both relaxing and at times boring. However, he has provides great insight into the film.
There is one feature on the disc called The Evolution of Clint Eastwood. The feature is broken up by decade, starting with his first break in the 1950’s, the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, the Dirty Harry movies in the 1970s, and his movement into more directing in the 1980s. Much discussion is given to the difference between his directorial attempt in Sudden Impact and the differences between his character in this movie and the previous ones. Interesting trivia includes the fact that Eastwood directed his scene with “the jumper” in the first Dirty Harry movie. The feature then moves into his successful directing career beginning in the 1990s. The interviews for the feature include conversations with The Hughes brothers, Tyne Daly, Hal Holbrook, Michael Madsen, Tom Fontana, John Milius, Paul Haggis, James Fargo and Joe Carnahan. It’s a solid feature for anyone who is a fan of Eastwood.
Trailers for every Dirty Harry movie round out the special features.