This is the debut article of a new MovieFanFare feature we’re calling Character Witness. Here’s how it works: We pick an actor who is known for not one but two recurring characters—in this case Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of spaghetti western icon The Man With No Name and no-nonsense detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Then two MovieFanFare bloggers take sides, becoming character witnesses for each. The writers must deliver a sound defense, making capable & persuasive arguments about why each is more memorable/beloved/respected than the other. Readers can weigh in below in the comments section, judging which blogger was the better witness and ultimately rendering their own verdict about who they think is the better character. Court is in session.
Jason’s case for The Man With No Name
Already I’m at a disadvantage. Let’s do a brief rundown:
- The Dirty Harry moniker is known practically everywhere; ask someone who The Man With No Name (TMWNN) is and chances are pretty good you’ll get a blank look.
- Those who may somehow not know the character certainly are aware of Dirty Harry’s many sound bites (which I’m sure Brian will detail below) that have entered the world’s lexicon. What do I have to go on? No pithy quotes, that’s for sure. Hell, the guy hardly speaks.
- Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum—“the most powerful handgun in the world”—puts any six-shooter TMWNN ever carried to shame.
- Harry’s a cop. Despite his methodology he’s still a protector of the public working within societal rules (even if he despises the bureaucracy). The Man With No Name is a gunslinger.
I can hear Brian now: “Boo-frickity-hoo!” I agree.
So what is it about The Man With No Name that makes him a better character? Well for starters he’s a great anti-hero. He’s a bounty hunter. A killer. He lies & cheats. He whores around. And yet in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly he’s considered “the good”! Despite all of this he does have a moral compass. In A Fistful of Dollars (the first of TMWNN trilogy) he manipulates rival gangs by pretending to befriend each, thus profiting from the ruse. However, when he discovers a woman—a “civilian” amongst the ruffians—being held captive he helps her escape. Why? “Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.” A mercenary, yes; cold-blooded, no.
Secondly, his ambiguous nature. The Man With No Name has no allegiance to anybody. He’s a lone wolf. Yet he forms uneasy alliances when it benefits him/his cause. He guns down baddies without mercy, but takes time to comfort fallen soldiers. TMWNN constantly plays both ends against the middle: robbing the robbers and exposing the hypocrisy of authority figures, pitting the two factions against each other for fun & profit…his own! In short, though TMWNN is dangerous you still want him on your side.
Next, he has style. Look at him. No need for shades or tailored threads. A sheepskin vest. Retro-cool poncho. Neckerchief. Atypical western hat. Week-old stubble. Weather-beaten complexion. Ever-present cigarillo. How cool is that?
Lastly, let’s be real. The Man With No Name is badass. Look again at the photo. You want to mess with this guy? That withering squint alone is a clarion call to get out of Dodge. Pride causing you to stick around? A flip of his poncho reveals his hand just barely touching his holstered revolver. With his steely eyes he assesses the situation, always planning several moves ahead. He knows when you’ll make your move before you do, and he’s lightning quick on the draw. You’re dead.
I rest my case.
Brian’s case for Harry Callahan
Well, yes, Jason is indeed at a disadvantage. But, he does make a good case. I do love me some Man With No Name, after all. He’s certainly one bad dude, and I agree that he’s definitely the better-dressed character. But, I’d also like to thank Jason for almost making my argument for me regarding Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Let’s get real here: This is a slam dunk. First of all, Harry has made just about every organization’s list across the board for best movie character, hero, tough guy, etc. I’m not so sure the same can be said for TMWNN, and even if he does make any lists, I doubt he’s higher than Harry. Furthermore, Harry has a couple more films available for fans to warm to his “charms.” Running them down in sequential order we have the initial Dirty Harry, then Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool which encompass almost two decades of hard-hitting entertainment. Need I really say more? Oh, but I will.
Or rather, Harry will. There are all his famous lines—almost innumerable. (One could actually make the observation that there are too many to count in Sudden Impact, alone). While TMWNN lets his actions speak louder than his words, Harry allows his action AND his words to speak rather demonstratively for him. Obviously, there’s the whole scene in Dirty Harry where Callahan poses to a baddie that he must ask himself the question, “Do I feel lucky?” “Well, do ya, punk?” There’s the one just about every human being knows from Sudden Impact: “Go ahead, make my day.” Incidentally, some states have even enacted the Make My Day Law, which protects homeowners who use lethal force against intruders. How’s that for “impact”? From The Dead Pool there’s, “Maybe I’ll start my own dead pool, and put you on it,” and there’s also another favorite of my mine from Magnum Force, “Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot!” I think I’ve made my point here.
OK, one more…
But, let’s get to the actual meat of the Harry Callahan character. While Jason is absolutely correct that TMWNN is an anti-hero, Dirty Harry is perhaps the ultimate reluctant hero. Sure, it’s his job and sworn duty as a member of the police department to protect the innocent, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy combing the crime-infested city streets looking for society’s scum and putting his life at risk, which actually makes him more endearing. He does it because he has to, because he’s the only one for the job who’s capable of doing it, and because he’s often—despite outward appearances—the only one who truly cares. Most folks surely can also relate to his rebellious nature, often defying authority to cut through bureaucratic red tape and ridiculous regulations. This is especially the case when these rules come at the expense of his ability to protect said innocents.
Furthermore, over time the Dirty Harry character has not only become a popular film icon but also reminds film buffs of a time when things were somewhat more, well, “free,” for lack of a better word. I always hear some folks out there crying rivers about how dirty and offensive current films are, but I’m not so sure I agree. We currently live in a super politically correct age, and anything that’s considered remotely controversial is often shied away from. Don’t believe me? Check the ratio of current PG and PG-13 releases to R-rated releases. What I’m trying to say is that the world could use Dirty Harry again. Movies like that franchise don’t really get made that much anymore, at least not properly. In an age where there are so many bleeding hearts out there pleading for the rights of irredeemable criminals, maybe what cinema needs is another ruthless cop who isn’t afraid to go out and blow the dregs of society away. A little visceral vigilante escapism? Yes, please! That’s what Dirty Harry represents to me, and that’s why he’s the man. Now, where’s my .44?