Dirty Harry revisited

Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films have an underlying theme. I would say it is the need to go outside the rules set by the hidebound bureaucrats and politicians of the administrative state to get the job done. Harry Callahan is, after all, a detective in the San Francisco police department. It’s the San Francisco of the early ’70s, to be sure, at least in the first Dirty Harry film, when Ronald Reagan was governor of the state. Still, the revolt against liberalism was palpable.

Pauline Kael famously described the original Dirty Harry of 1971, directed by Don Siegel, as a “right-wing fantasy [that is] a remarkably single-minded attack on liberal values.” She also called it “fascist medievalism.” Despite the march of Progress, some things never change.

Kael’s disapproval didn’t exactly suppress the popular appetite for Harry Callahan. Four sequels followed, the last in 1988.

Eastwood’s performance at the Republican National Convention this past Thursday played out a variation of the Dirty Harry routine, with Eastwood in his accustomed role, blowing through the rules to get the job done. The New York Times reports:

Behind the scenes, Mr. Eastwood’s convention cameo was cleared by Mr. Romney’s top message mavens, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens, who drew up talking points that Mr. Eastwood included, in his own way. They gave him a time limit and flashed a blinking red light that told him his time was up. He ignored both. The actor’s decision to use a chair as a prop was last-minute, and his own.

“The prop person probably thought he was going to sit in it,” a baffled senior aide said on Thursday night.

Mr. Eastwood’s rambling and off-color appearance just moments before the biggest speech of Mr. Romney’s life instantly became a Twitter and cable-news sensation, which drowned out much of the usual postconvention analysis that his campaign had hoped to bask in.

It also startled and unsettled Mr. Romney’s top advisers and prompted a blame game among them. “Not me,” an exasperated-looking senior adviser said when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In interviews, aides called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

I think the Times probably reflects Team Romney’s point of view (and not just the Timesmen’s wishful thinking) Thursday night when it adds that Eastwood’s performance “suggested a slip-up inside the button-down, corporate-style headquarters of the Romney campaign in Boston.” According to the Times, Eastwood was operating on his own: “Romney advisers so trusted Mr. Eastwood, 82, that unlike with other speakers, they said they did not conduct rehearsals or insist on a script or communicate guidelines for the style or format of his remarks.” (Romney reportedly enjoyed the performance, but we’ll never know.)

It was hard to imagine that the highly cautious Team Romney had approved Eastwood’s performance, and they apparently didn’t. If the Times report is accurate, it appears that their reaction to it mirrored (reasonably, in my opinion) the WTF? reaction of Paul Mirengoff.

But you have to wonder. If Eastwood’s performance turns out to have been successful, will we find those anonymous Romney aides claiming credit under their own name for their foresight in letting Eastwood get the job done, or just silently reaping the rewards? That’s more or less the way the world works in Dirty Harry‘s City Hall.

UPDATE: With the assistance of Wikipedia, I have corrected Kael’s quoted criticism of Dirty Harry above. Thanks to the commenter below for catching my error.