Opening with a tribute "to the police officers of San Francisco who gave their lives in the line of duty", Dirty Harry serves as a decidedly ambiguous memorial. Hugely controversial at the time of its 1971 release and still sniped at today for its alleged vigilante agenda, it's easy to see why Clint Eastwood's most (in)famous role stuck in so many craws. Inspector Harry Callahan is an unmercifully brutal operator, who bears down on Scorpio - Andrew Robinson's impressively vile serial killer - with a single-minded viciousness very similar to that of his prey. And that's the point. Don Siegel's film draws an uncomfortable parallel between law breaker and enforcer, highlighting the intractable problem of how to tackle beast-like criminality without becoming an animal yourself.
It's a bleak, uncompromising vision, executed with unsettling realism and imbued with an insidious aura of grime. The action may be leavened with a dry wit (Harry: "When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross"), but Dirty Harry has none of the self-parodic levity of its sequels. As a brooding, compelling thriller, this is up there with Touch Of Evil. Watch it. Then go take a shower.