Last night I watched Dirty Harry. I was a bit put off at first by what I felt was a movie populated by cheap caricatures presented as real people--the guy attempting suicide was particularly abrasive, obviously there to make a point about how Harry's insensitivity wins the day. But once I got into the film as a fantasy, I enjoyed it. As a lot of critics said, it's a right-wing fantasy, but despite being a solid lefty myself, I'm usually pretty good in indulging in fantasies ideologically opposed to me. Anyway, when you reduce it to the idea of single-handedly making the world a better place, it's a story anyone can enjoy. And my liberalism is hardly threatened by the unlikely set of circumstances and skewed representation of the law that the film uses to show how great it would be if one man with a big gun had total authority.
When you compare Dirty Harry, which aroused a furore of controversy, with 300, a film far more rife with bigotry that was casually accepted by the world with scarcely more people complaining than me and Alan Moore, one can see how greatly times have changed. Here's a quote I found rather curious from the Wikipedia entry;
Feminists in particular were outraged by the film and at the Oscars for 1971 protested outside holding up banners which read messages such as "Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig".
So remember, if you're a feminist, that means you agree 100% with those protestors.
I suppose this bit from the Wikipedia entry was from a fan of the film and demonstrates the sort of strawman villains set up by the film being carried over into real life. Feminism is necessarily a pretty big umbrella when one remembers it's simply a belief in the justice of gender equality. Sarah Palin considers herself a feminist, yet she supports a number of policies many (like myself) would claim are antithetical to gender equality.
I was curious about what the "feminist" criticism of Dirty Harry was, but googling only got me reviews by people complaining about the supposed feminist criticism. But I would guess some criticism was drawn by the fact that the movie has no female characters but lots of naked women--Harry sees a woman stripping in her apartment through his binoculars while on a stake out, there's a scene in a strip club, and one of the victims of the film's villain, the "Scorpio killer," is a teenage girl found naked.
The movie might have been made by sexists, but I don't see it as a particularly sexist film. Certainly not like Madigan (also directed by Dirty Harry director Don Siegel). Unlike Madigans several screeching and selfish peripheral female characters, the one time Harry talks to a woman, the wife of his injured partner, her anxiety over her husband's dangerous career is sympathetically portrayed. Mostly Dirty Harry seems like it was put together by guys who don't know much about women and have realised it--they don't even attempt exploring female characters, and see no conflict in showing some gratuitous female nudity. I'm not sure I see a problem with it myself--as much as the political ideology of the film, any application to real life is dependant upon the consciousness of the viewer.
In the context of the film's sexual innocence, though, Harry's larger than average magic gun takes on even more fetishisitic significance. I kept thinking of Taxi Driver, and it occurred to me that Taxi Driver may well have been a sort of reply to Dirty Harry. The lonely, sexually immature and fascist philosophy is presented in Travis Bickle who is then surrounded by a more realistic world. The humane exercise of Taxi Driver is in how we don't hate Travis for these personality traits.