Sudden Impact (1983)

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*. After The Enforcer, which was a very tired re-working of all the usual Dirty Harry motifs, the franchise might have, and probably should have, died. Of course it couldn’t die because Harry was too popular to let go (and indeed Sudden Impact would go on to be the highest grossing of all these films).
*. I’d call it a zombie franchise but that would just be confusing. In any event, you know what I mean. And in the event what’s interesting is that with Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool the series didn’t fully rebound but at least showed signs of a revived pulse.
*. Of course all of the essential elements are here as well, but they’re the least interesting part of the film. Instead of a minority partner Harry has a flatulent bulldog. Aside from that wrinkle, Harry is hauled on to the carpet by bureaucrats for his unorthodox methods, breaks up a couple of robberies, and gets chased by mobsters, all of which starts to seem a bit ridiculous after a while.

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*. What makes Sudden Impact difference is the change of focus. If you’re a fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels it’s sort of like The Spy Who Loved Me, which has Bond in it as the hero but he’s not really who the story is about. Here the story is about Jennifer (Sondra Locke) and the way she delivers rough justice.
*. I’ve commented before on how I don’t really care for Richard Schickel’s commentaries. He gets off to a bad start here as he talks about Jennifer’s murder of the man in the car in the film’s opening scene. This, he tells us, sets Sudden Impact apart as “the first and very nearly the only film, certainly the only film in popular genre filmmaking, that features a woman as a serial killer and indeed as a psychopathic serial killer.”
*. This is wrong on so many levels. In the first place, Jennifer is not a psychopath. If she were, Harry could hardly let her go at the end. I don’t even think she’s psychotic, as Schickel later tries to argue. She’s on a mission of vengeance, not sating an “irresistible impulse to murder.” When Jennifer suggests the killer is a psycho, Harry says s/he may only be someone collecting debts. Which, I think, we’re supposed to understand is closer to the truth.
*. Making matters worse is the way Schickel’s comment ignores the well-established film tradition Sudden Impact is working within. In brief, it’s a rape-revenge film. Within this genre (which, in Schickel’s defence, may not be considered a “popular” genre) Jennifer is a familiar figure and not at all unique. She is Jennifer from I Spit On Your Grave, Frigga from Thriller: A Cruel Picture, or Thana from Ms. 45 (Angel of Vengeance).
*. I don’t think there’s any question that Eastwood was aware of this background. For example, Krug in The Last House on the Left is Kruger in this film. I don’t think that could have been a coincidence. Or the fact that there’s a female member of the gang (Schickel likens Ray to Mercedes McCambridge in Touch of Evil, but I think it more likely she’s drawn from Craven’s Sadie). There’s also the reluctant and maybe a bit slow rapist who is also a stock figure in such films.
*. Locke and Eastwood were still a couple, but they have no chemistry on screen. I don’t think this matters. She’s not a love interest, despite an improbable if obligatory coupling (“I’m not sure I’m persuaded,” says Schickel). She’s Dirty Harriet, with much the same attitude toward getting tough on crime as his: a role that plays well with Locke’s pinched and neurotic look. Is it the lighting that makes her eyes seem like a shark’s, without any irises?

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*. Schickel, by the way, disagrees with the “Dirty Harriet” tag. He thinks that Jennifer’s too out of control. But (again) I think this is wrong. Jennifer is very much in control throughout. She’s just not a professional.
*. What the hell is Albert Popwell doing in this film? His character is Horace, but who is Horace? What is his connection to Harry? He seems to be connected to the police in some way, but it’s never made clear what his job is. Did Eastwood just want to give him a part in every Dirty Harry film?
*. That may seem like I’m being flip, but I’m not. Take as another example the character played by Bradford Dillman. He seems to be the same character as Dillman played in The Enforcer, but he has a different name (in fact he’s Lt. Briggs here, which is the same name as Hal Holbrooke’s character in Magnum Force). So what’s going on? The only explanation I can think of is that they figured he was playing the same guy as in the last movie but nobody bothered to check and see what his name was.
*. There’s a similar kind of sloppiness throughout the film. To take just one other example, the bulldog Meathead is introduced as male, but in a later scene is quite obviously replaced by a bitch. I mean, it isn’t even subtle. And yet this apparently didn’t matter to anyone.
*. Another dig at Schickel’s commentary: “it is one of the truisms of Dirty Harry movies that at some point he must get the tar beaten out of him.” Really? It happens in Dirty Harry, but in the others?
*. This was the only Harry film that Eastwood himself directed. Does it make a difference? I can’t see much that distinguishes the direction of this film from the others in the series. The most Eastwoodian thing about it is the story, with its flashback structure and sense of a historical crime being worked out.
*. Then again, I think Eastwood had a lot to do with the directing of all the Harry movies, whatever the credits said. Even in Dirty Harry Don Siegel was directing in what Eastwood would adopt as his own style for this period.

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*. Could Jennifer have done a worse job parking her car at the beach when she goes to kill Kruger? Not that it matters much, because the lot is empty, but one assumes those lines were painted for a reason and she’s kind of drawing attention to herself.
*. Schickel does get one thing right. He doesn’t think the movie quite manages a “seamless joining” of its two storylines, by which he means joining the seriousness of the tale of Jennifer’s vengeance with the jocular, generic action-movie stuff that is Harry’s stock-in-trade. This is very much the feeling I had. All the business of Harry shooting at robbers and being hunted by Threlkis’s men is superfluous and has nothing at all to do with what the rest of the movie is about.
*. So it’s not an entirely successful movie. It could, however, have played it safe and been much worse. After this, there wasn’t anywhere left to go except parody. Surprisingly, Eastwood had no problem with that.

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