In this episode Chris and Allen discuss the final outing for Clint Eastwood’s iconic character “Dirty” Harry Callahan in The Dead Pool (1988). The first four movies in the series, released from 71 – 83, all saw huge box office returns. The Dead Pool however struggled at the box office as Die Hard, released the same month, re-shaped what movie audiences wanted from action heroes.
As Callahan begins his investigation into the death of rock star Johnny Squares (Jim Carrey) on the set of the horror movie Hotel Satan. He soon discovers that some of the film crew are involved in a celebrity-death betting game called The Dead Pool. Gambling on the likelihood of death for high profile celebrities due to their age, lifestyle or profession. The killer has decided to rig this particular game and the names on Hotel Satan director Peter Swan’s (Liam Neeson) list begin to meet their untimely fate.
Harry’s own star is on the rise in the wake of his testimony which helped to convict mob kingpin Lou Janero. When he and, new partner, Al Quan (Evan Kim) foil a Chinatown restaurant robbery they discover Harry’s name alongside, the now deceased, Johnny Squares’ on a dead pool list. Callahan finds himself caught between a serial killer and the cross hairs of Janero’s crew out for revenge.
Shit Out Of Luck:
Over the series Harry has earned his reputation as a hard nosed, unorthodox and uncompromising detective. Given every dirty job and butting heads with incompetent authority figures along the way. The original film, directed by frequent Eastwood collaborator and mentor, Don Siegel was greeted with as much praise as controversy on its release. Feminist groups protested the movie at the Academy Awards and some critics denounced its apparent fascist moral position. The film sparked heated debate about police brutality and victim rights. Both Siegel and Eastwood reject the claims and over the series the character slowly changed in attitude if not always in action. Dirty Harry is a true cinema icon, sales of Smith & Wesson’s Model 29 .44 Magnum sky rocketed in the wake of the film and many of his popular catchphrases are ever present in the lexicon, if not always quoted or attributed correctly. Arguably the most famous of these “Go ahead, make my day” wasn’t uttered until the fourth film, Sudden Impact. For that films Italian realease that line was translated and used as the title “Coraggio, fatti ammazzare” (“come on, let me kill you”)
By 1988, and deep into the Regan era, we find an older and slower, if equally gruff and bull headed, Harry fighting department pressure to become the face of Police Public Relations. With Eastwood, now 58, he certainly knew this was his last outing with the Magnum .44 and his sharp one liners. Joking in an interview that Dirty Harry VI would see him pursue bad guys on his walker or, retired, fly fishing with the .44. His Dead Pool co-star Neeson seems to have no such issues becoming a bona fide action man in his fifties and sixties with movies like the Taken trilogy, The A Team and Clash of the Titans.
This was the second of three Eastwood movies directed by Buddy Van Horn, Eastwood’s longtime stunt double, the others being Any Which Way You Can (1978) and Pink Cadillac (1989). Van Horn an actor, director (including assistant director and 2nd unit credits), stuntman and stunt coordinator began his association with Clint on Coogan’s Bluff in 1968. Continuing to work with him throughout their careers until Van Horn’s retirement after the Eastwood directed J. Edgar in 2011.
The Dead Pool is notable not only for being Clint’s last outing as Callahan but also as being the least profitable of the franchise and the shortest at 91 min. It features the first “dramatic” role of Jim Carrey, billed as James Carrey, it’s also the second film of Patricia Clarkson and the only Dirty Harry film not to feature Albert Popwell.
Popwell credited as Bank Robber in Dirty Harry has the distinction of having Clint deliver the memorable “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky punk? Well do you?” line. He then played the pimp J.J. Wilson, Big Ed Mustapha and Detective Horace King in the subsequent movies. He too originally worked with Clint on Coogan’s Bluff but couldn’t appear in The Dead Pool due to scheduling issues.
A franchise which began as a “ripped from the headlines” movie with a maverick cop hot on the trail of a, Zodiac-like, killer through the streets of San Francisco. The series had an incredible influence on action cinema, courted controversy, inspired copycat killings and comic book creators, spawned a series of novels, two video games and made over $800,000,000 at the box office. This final installment feels weak by comparison. Harry trailing the unhinged killer of an Axl Rose style rocker and a Pauline Kael substitute film critic (Kael had savaged the 1971 original and called it a right-wing fantasy) along the way he is chased by a toy car and surrenders his one true partner, the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, only to dispatch the final baddie with a Sven Foynd harpoon cannon. He walks off into the moonlight with his love interest, Clarkson’s news reporter, having saved her from danger with nary a scratch on him. It all feels a little too pedestrian, silly, or maybe just too 80’s, for it to take its place comfortably in the gritty series.
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