Dirty Harry’s San Francisco

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Abstract

This article argues that Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971) is first and foremost a San Francisco film, a perspective that has been ignored by current literature. The article merges a close reading of the film’s narrative, iconography, and semiotics with an analysis of the film’s representation and refraction of San Francisco’s history, politics, culture, and popular image. It exposes the extent of the film’s conservative credentials, placing particular emphasis on Dirty Harry’s critique of liberal politics, which blamed liberal law and order policies for the urban crisis which faced both the fictional and the real city. Through a reading of major figures in the film and their relationship to San Francisco, the article reveals how Dirty Harry became a commentary on wider debates about crime and the counterculture in American cities. It concludes that Dirty Harry rendered San Francisco an important symbol for the debates between liberals and conservatives over the legacy and meaning of the nation’s recent past. It suggests that in doing so, the film itself also became an active player in these very debates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
JournalThe Sixties: a journal of history, politics and culture
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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