Clint Eastwood, who has directed eight films since 1971’s Play Misty for Me, has shown an interest in making smaller, more personal movies lately. And since he still reigns as one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, if he wants to make a small, personal movie, he can make it.
But some of his pet projects have fizzled with audiences accustomed to Eastwood’s gunslinging or his comedic partnerships with orangutans. Bronco Billy died in the summer of ’81, and Honkytonk Man disappeared last Christmas.
Eastwood—who has displayed competency behind the camera—is no dummy (even though some of his critics have accused him of being as animated as the average ventriloquist’s prop). He knows his fans love to see him stalking the streets of San Francisco in the guise of Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan.
Just in time for the lucrative Christmas season, then, arrives Sudden Impact, the new “Dirty Harry” installment, the first one since The Enforcer in 1977. Eastwood produced and directed this entry, as well as essaying the role of Harry Callahan once again.
Clint’s hair may be a little thinner on top these days, but he still has the steely gaze and the steady walk that embody Callahan’s brutal code of justice—a code that doesn’t always sit too well with Harry’s superiors at the San Francisco Police Department.
Sudden Impact isn’t 10 minutes old before Harry’s wiped the floor with a whole bushelful of assorted Bay Area punks, psychos, and culturally backward types. But he doesn’t look for trouble, he says; it just seems to follow him around.
The bloodletting gets so bad that the department sends Harry off to the sleepy coastal town of San Paulo, to check up on a lead in a murder case, and mostly just to get him out of San Francisco. He doesn’t know—although the audience does—that the murderer is in San Paulo, right under his nose.
We learn early that the strange series of murders is being perpetrated by a painter (played by longtime Eastwood leading lady Sondra Locke) who is avenging the 10-year-old rape and beating of her younger sister and herself.
So she’s got her code of justice, too; clearly a woman after Harry’s heart. And sure enough, the two find themselves in a tentative romantic involvement.
But there can’t be too much time devoted to the mushy stuff in an action movie such as this one, and Eastwood shrewdly piles on the gun play. He’s done a pretty good job of it, considering the fact that the script is a fairly old-hat series of showdowns.
As usual, the bad guys aren’t just bad, they’re vermin, engaging in every kind of animalistic behavior. By the end of the movie, the audience was cheering each extermination.
It’s a good finale—a whirring, spinning shoot-out at a carnival. Eastwood may not be Alfred Hitchcock, but he knows how to stage a fight.
And Sudden Impact may not be great cinema. But Eastwood fans are going to like it.
First published in the Herald, December 14, 1983
It was nice of me to allow that Eastwood had displayed competency behind the camera, but to be fair to me, he hadn’t reached Unforgiven levels yet, and Sudden Impact is no great film. It did give the world an all-time catchphrase in “Go ahead…make my” etc., cannily appropriated by the sitting President at the time.