"Dirty Harry" meets his match in a woman whose sense of justice is even stronger than his in SUDDEN IMPACT, the fourth entry in the series and the only one in which Clint Eastwood directed himself. One of the seamiest and most brutal of the lot, it's brimming with over-the-top gore,
blistering action, and some hilariously foul-mouthed dialogue and one-liners, including the now-legendary "Go ahead...make my day," a threat that was quickly adopted by then-President Reagan.
Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), an artist from the small seaside town of San Paulo, is tracking down and killing a group of men and one lesbian who raped her and her sister a few years earlier, leaving her sister completely catatonic. When the body of a man from San Paulo is found in San
Francisco with bullet holes in his groin and head, Frisco homicide detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) goes to San Paulo to investigate. Harry gets a cold greeting from the local police chief Jannings (Pat Hingle), who inexplicably tries to keep him away from the case, but Harry is
undeterred. He bumps into Jennifer and becomes romantically involved with her, not knowing she's the killer. Jennifer continues to murder the members of the gang one by one, but when she gets to one of her last targets, who turns out to be Jannings's son, she's ambushed by Mick (Paul Drake), the
most vicious of the group. Mick kills Jannings and drags Jennifer to the beach to rape her again, but Harry appears and kills Mick. Harry then plants Jennifer's gun on Mick, making it look like he had been the murderer all along, and lets Jennifer go.
SUDDEN IMPACT is a hard-hitting actioner in which Eastwood examines the darker aspects of Dirty Harry and comes up with a brooding, grim drama that probably comes the closest to the nihilistic tone which was set by director Don Siegel in the original. Like most of the films Eastwood has directed,
the story deals with transference of guilt and twisted sexuality (not to mention the symbolism of Harry's new longer-barrelled Magnum .44 in a plot dealing with castration), and there is also the rather bizarre recurrence of having a character played by Sondra Locke--who was Eastwood's lover at
the time--being brutalized and gang raped, something she was also subjected to in Eastwood's THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) and THE GAUNTLET (1977) (perhaps he was subconsciously trying to tell her something). Eastwood also throws in some unmistakable Hitchcock references, as the first murder takes
place under the Golden Gate Bridge, which recalls VERTIGO (1958), and Jennifer sometimes bears an uncanny likeness to Tippi Hedren's cool blonde character in MARNIE (1964), while the finale takes place on a runaway carousel, a la STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951).
Aided by ace cinematographer Bruce Surtees (nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness" for his ultra-noirish lighting, or lack thereof), Eastwood handles the visuals in a lean and dynamic manner that would make Siegel proud, but his control of the narrative is less successful and the plot is disjointed
and overlong. Apparently intent on providing non-stop thrills, the film creates one high-speed, set piece after another in the first 45 minutes, which essentially have nothing to do with the actual plot. They are exciting, however, as Harry blows away some hoods robbing a diner, crashes the
wedding of a mob boss' daughter and causes the mobster to have a heart attack, is chased by some punks who try to kill him by throwing molotov cocktails in his car, and breaks up a bank heist the second he arrives in San Paulo. The cartoonish script boasts the usual outraged sentiments about
revolving door justice and how criminals have more rights than victims, as well as a full quota of the kind of outrageously politically incorrect stereotypes that one could never get away with anymore. There's a bitchy female judge who lectures Harry about his tactics, a slew of criminal, jive
talking blacks ("Whatcha doing--you pighead sucka"), and pasta-eating Mafiosi, and for good measure, a sadistic, ultra-butch lesbian who talks like a sailor and cackles with glee while Jennifer is being raped. But Eastwood keeps things moving at a furious pace and the series' formula of having a
steely-eyed "dinosaur" like Harry cutting through the red tape and vanquishing the scum of the earth remains irresistible. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
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