Action Semi-Trilogy

Day 34. 79 pages, 38,225 words.

On Saturday, as mentioned, I attended a bit of a bro-movie night at Mr. and Mrs. Fahrenheit’s place. A grand day was had by all, many unhealthy snacks and drinks were consumed, and it all went a bit pear-shaped on my trip home, but otherwise it was grand.

For random reasons, we opted to watch a weird buddy-cop chronology of eras and sequels: Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon 2, and Die Hard 3 (aka. Die Hard With a Vengeance). These were very interesting to watch, as examples of movies from 1971, 1989 and 1995 respectively.

First of all, I had no idea that the first Dirty Harry movie was based on the Zodiac killer case. We just watched Zodiac a little while ago. Uh, I suppose Dirty Harry was better, because it was an action cop movie … although Zodiac had that dramatic real-events sort of feel to it and possibly more nuanced performances. But this isn’t a review of Zodiac.

Scorpio, Garak

I also had no idea that Scorpio and Garak were the same guy. Well picked, Mr. dreameling.

The sequence of stories said some interesting things about … well, I won’t say “police procedure”, because these are movies, but at least about attitudes towards police action. In Dirty Harry, Scorpio is essentially released due to the shoddy-but-effective way Callahan dealt with his capture and the securing of the murder weapon. Evidence had to be discarded and there was no case against him.

This served the plot because Scorpio could then go free, allowing Callahan to follow him illegally (this is worth noting because Riggs and Murtaugh did exactly the same thing to the South Africans with diplomatic immunity in Lethal Weapon 2) and be there when he went nuts again. He then extrajudicially murdered the guy, although it could feasibly be self-defence because they were shooting at each other (again, only because Callahan was arguably harassing Scorpio, I don’t know where the Stand Your Ground law comes into play here). Either way, Callahan was not acting as a cop at the time and after killing Scorpio he actually throws his badge into the lake. He knows that he acted as a vigilante and was not worthy to carry the badge – and moreover he didn’t want to, because he had done the right thing while as a cop his hands would have been tied by a legal system that favours the criminal. It was deep and complex and very sad, showing a great disillusionment with the word of law.

It was pretty bleak the way the girl ended up being dead, too – but it did help to seal Scorpio’s fate. And the bus-load of school kids were saved.

You're off your case, chief!

I ruined it a little by being unable to stop making McGarnagle jokes.

The idea that a cop who was “taken off the case” and resorted to semi-legal-at-best tactics to get results went from wild-but-believable in Dirty Harry to purely comedic in Lethal Weapon 2, and finally to is-he-even-a-cop-what-is-this-I-don’t-even in Die Hard With a Vengeance. And by that stage, we’re not even batting an eyelid. Riggs and Murtaugh get promoted in the next movie, instead of quitting in disgrace and spending time in jail. And I don’t know what McClane was doing. The idea that cops should discard a binding and unfair justice system in order to get the black-and-white pure-and-simple evil guy just went from one extreme to the next, and at some point we just seemed to lose sight of the fact that they were actually doing the wrong thing and should at least feel conflicted about it.

As we went from movie to movie, it was also interesting to see how Hollywood’s sense of prudishness increased. Now, a lot of this was to do with the character setup and dynamics throughout each movie. Die Hard With a Vengeance, for example, really only had a couple of female characters, namely psycho-knife-slasher Katya and sarcastic-rejoinder-cop Kowalski, so there wasn’t much of a sample. But Dirty Harry didn’t hesitate to show regular neighbourhood ladies topless, and even a full-nude shot of an ostensibly-fourteen-year-old dead girl. Lethal Weapon 2, eighteen years later, showed a few artistically gratuitous shots of waist-up-naked Rika Van Den Haas, while Die Hard With a Vengeance barely managed a bra-clad Katya.

And of course, in none of these movies was there a hint of male nudity.

Dressed to kill, ie. as a school teacher.

Callahan kept his suit and tie and tweed coat with elbow patches on for basically the entire movie.

There was even another little link-up in the form of “peeping tom” jokes  between Dirty Harry (“You owe it to yourself to live a little, Harry…”) and Lethal Weapon 2 (“I’m a Peeping Tom, Rog, it goes with the badge. And it’s fun sometimes, too.”).

It’s amusing to note, as a random aside, that the recurring theme of bad guys demanding money and a plane to get to some safe country seems to run strong through all of these movies. Seeing as how this has never ever worked, and bad guys never ever get on the plane and get away, one wonders why they keep making this request. Oh, the South Africans in Lethal Weapon 2 have a boat, and the bad guys in Die Heard With a Vengeance sneak across the border to Canada, but in neither case does it make a whit of difference to the murderous cops.

The link-ups, as mentioned, were numerous and ranged from subtle to blatant. It’s worth noting that Dirty Harry featured a criminal who made the cop run around the city from phone booth to phone booth, under threat of murdering again. And then Die Hard With a Vengeance had exactly the same concept. All three movies, of course, had the concept of the wild card cop who worked alone being paired up with some ludicrously mis-matched partner, although this too grew more extreme as the decades passed. From Callahan, who hated everyone (“especially Spics”), being teamed up with Chico, to Riggs and Murtaugh (they got their Odd Couple routine over with in the first movie and by Lethal Weapon 2 were mainly playing on in-jokes about their friendship and personalities), to McClane and Carver (barely even a cop, and not a cop at all), the celebration of diversity and the magic that can happen when generally hateful and cynical people team up against an utter, murderous evildoer grew more colourful with the passing years.

The repeated Row, Row, Row Your Boat usage in Dirty Harry and Die Hard With a Vengeance was a little eerie, but runs with the theme of a bad guy threatening children. Although Gruber ended up not being exactly that sort of guy, the threat was there.

Die Hard With a Vengeance earned some additional poignancy points for Carver’s line about a cop getting killed in Harlem leading to there being a thousand trigger-happy cops in Harlem the very next week. Twenty years later, this seems like a charmingly naïve prediction.

Three quite excellent movies. And watching them back-to-back was a very interesting experience.

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5 Responses to Action Semi-Trilogy

  1. Pingback: They Hate Us Because They Anus: The Interview | Hatboy's Hatstand

  2. dreameling says:

    For the next bro-movie night, how about we go for something other than pure action? Between the Arnie mayhem before and this buddy-cop marathon, that’s a lot of high-caliber shooting and shit blowing up. (Nothing wrong with that in itself, of course, one hastens to add.)

    I gotta say I was a little disappointed that Lethal Weapon 2 didn’t hold up better. It was one of my favorites as a teen. Too much comedy for the adult me, I’m thinking, and a bit shoddily put together as well.

    • stchucky says:

      I’m up for whatever. Aaron’s continually pestering me to watch Edge of Tomorrow (no, I haven’t seen it yet), and I’m still interested in seeing Oblivion. Maybe we could do a bit of a sci-fi jag?

      • dreameling says:

        A sci-fi jag sounds good (even though I don’t actually know what a “jag” is; but I can guess). Or a fantasy jag.

        I’ve seen Oblivion three times now, once in the theater and twice on Blu-ray (with and without the commentary track). But I guess I could watch it one more time. Edge of Tomorrow I’ve only seen once (at the theater) and I’m definitely buying the Blu-ray, so that would work just fine.

        I wonder if there are any recent scifi movies I haven’t seen that we could watch as the third movie. Lucy? Or maybe just go for something classic? (Of course, Mr. Fahrenheit may again insist on some kind of weird thematic logic, so who knows what we’ll end up watching.)

  3. thelinza says:

    Scorpio looks less threatening as a space alien.

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