Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sudden Impact

When one thinks of modern film noir, obvious candidates include “Chinatown” (1974) and “L.A. Confidential” (1997). An equally strong candidate is “Sudden Impact” (1983), the penultimate Dirty Harry film starring Clint Eastwood. With its vengeance-wielding femme fatale (whose musical motif is a haunting saxophone solo), a world where past sins carry enormous consequences into the present, and a setting that looks bucolic on the surface but at night turns into an unimaginable hellhole, it’s a true film noir classic.

Director Howard Hawks said a good movie has three good scenes and no bad scenes. “Sudden Impact” is loaded with good scenes throughout – and no bad scenes.

Take the film’s first 15 minutes, which play like a highlight reel of Inspector Harry Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) career. We first have a grisly murder scene where a woman shoots a man in the genitals and forehead after a make out session in a car parked on a cliff overlooking San Francisco.

A courtroom appearance by Harry gets him a scolding from a judge offended by Harry’s tactics and potential civil rights violations of the defendant, who is immediately set free.

This is followed by a memorable scene in an elevator where the slimy defendant and his buddies taunt Harry, who grabs the guy and compares him to various forms of dog****.

Harry then confronts a Mafia leader at his granddaughter’s wedding, causing him to have a heart attack.

We then get the film’s most famous scene, where Harry gets his morning coffee at a diner (served by his old Universal 1950s contract player buddy Mara Corday) only to interrupt a robbery in progress, and uttering his famous phrase, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Of course, this is followed by the obligatory scene of Harry being criticized by his superiors for his tactics.

Violence is a way of life for Harry, who can’t walk down a street without someone trying to plug him. To get him out of town, Harry is assigned a case of a seeming serial killer (the genitals and face shots have turned up in another victim). He traces the first victim to the town of San Paulo, and this is where the film plunges headfirst into noir territory and doesn’t let up until the end.

Harry meets Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), an artist who is in town to restore the hobby horses on the town’s carousel. Other bodies soon pop up in San Paulo, also shot execution style in the genitals and forehead.

I’m hardly giving anything to say that Jennifer is the killer, taking revenge on the participants of a horrendous gang rape of Jennifer and her sister, an event that left her sister institutionalized. Jennifer is an avenging angel who dispenses her own brand of justice – a kindred spirit to Harry.

On its surface, the beachfront community of San Paulo looks like the most pleasant place on Earth, but at night ugly things happen. Awful, despicable things, and a populace that turns monstrous once the sun goes down. The thing is, no one seems to care.

Harry goes to a bar for a beer and is looking for anyone who knew the first victim. All the customers start laughing when informed of their friend’s death. No small town friendliness on display here.

Harry shows up in San Paulo just in time to foil bank robbery. He later takes out a mob hit man in the halls of the local hotel.

Oddly, the local law enforcement, headed by local sheriff Pat Hingle, barely raises a shrug at the mayhem descending on the town.

We don’t even get stereotypical dialogue along the lines of, “This used to be a peaceful town until you showed up.” No, murders and violence seem to be the norm here. Harry’s presence seems almost like an afterthought to the local carnage.

The climax is a good one, with Harry taking on three thugs on a carnival boardwalk late at night. The silhouette shot of Harry standing there with his Magnum, backed by Lalo Schifrin’s first-rate musical accompaniment, is an iconic moment in Eastwood’s directing career.

By the time the movie ends, one gets the impression Harry is more than happy to leave San Paulo. In Harry’s world, small town America is every bit as vile and corrupt as the big city.

P.S. “Sudden Impact” does teach a very important life lesson, courtesy Inspector Callahan. Never, ever put ketchup on a hot dog. I haven’t done it since.


ClassicBecky said...

Interesting and entertaining post, Kevin. It has been years since I saw this movie and just don't remember a lot about it. Now I'm going to have to see it just to find out why I shouldn't put ketchup on a hot dog!

Anonymous said...

I saw the beginning of this one and cannot figure out the first victim. Did he know who she was when he started making love to her? The rest of the guys sh kiled remembered her when i caught the last parts. This guy was dumb or really desperate for a woman. Sondra Locke was sexy and a real turn on. She certainly gives him a hard on as she kisses him and fiddles with his balls in his car. Surely he got seduced big time. When she shoots off his balls though she is just evil! But what a beautiful killer she is.

Kevin Deany said...

I don't think he knew what happened when he got killed. She seemed to get more confident in her killings as she went along, becoming more confident in confronting her abusers before shooting them.

watch movies online said...

Hi kevin.Very nice post.The movie deep impact got very good reviews around the world.Movie was thoughtful.I saw it many times.Full marks to story,screenplay ,action

Steve said...

Sondra Locke was very sexy in that car scene but also very scary. She has a deadly stare in her eyes that her victim just does not see until it's too late. Shooting him in the balls before killing him was pretty cruel too. She is definately not a sweety! Poor guy.

Anonymous said...

The first victim did not have a clue why this gorgeous woman he was just making love to has a revolver trained on his balls. He just got seduced by the ever so beautiful Sondra Locke that he just never realized she was the homely little college girl he had gang raped with his friends so long ago. He looks terrified and stares into her appealing sexy eyes,shocked knowing this foxy babe is going to shoot him in the balls. She does just that and then kills him with a head shot. Sondra Locke is deranged but what a looker! Poor dude.