San Francisco in the Nixon Era
This chapter pays particular attention to Dirty Harry’s representation of key themes discussed in the previous chapter, arguing that the film presents a refraction of San Francisco’s contemporary history. Once placed in its San Francisco context, Dirty Harry’s conservatism is revealed through links between real events and key scenes in the film. Key themes include the film’s impressionistic use of San Francisco’s geography; its representation of the counterculture, race, gender and sexuality; and the relationship between the city’s liberal elite, Callahan and the film’s principal villain. The chapter emphasizes Dirty Harry’s exploration of the methods used by criminals to manipulate legislation designed to protect their rights as American citizens. Its overriding argument is that the film’s ambiguities complicate and disrupt, yet fail to eclipse, the explicit and implicit conservative thrust of the film. Where a more nuanced film might have presented Callahan’s conservatism as the “least-worst” option in a complex world, Dirty Harry suggests that conservatism is the only genuine solution to the urban crisis.
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