At least a third of Sudden Impact is director, producer, and star Eastwood doing a Hitchcock homage starring Sondra Locke. Locke doesn’t speak during the Hitchcock homage sequences; she just walks silently, staring at various things, remembering her horrific origin story, then shooting some rapist in the balls and then the head. Now, Sudden Impact is Dirty Harry 4, coming seven years after the previous entry; Eastwood’s in his fifties now. There aren’t young chippies throwing themselves at him (I mean, Locke’s fourteen years younger, but she’s still a grown woman), but he’s still got to contend with unsympathetic police brass. They don’t understand how dangerous the world has become, and only a man like Dirty Harry can get results.
The movie opens with Locke offing her first rapist, but we don’t know he’s a rapist yet. She’s just killing some guy in a Hitchcock homage. Then it’s off to court for lady judge Lois De Banzie to disrespect Eastwood’s authority and let young punk Kevyn Major Howard back out on the street. Eastwood didn’t have any evidence. Then Eastwood goes and interrupts a coffee shop robbery where he kills the only four Black people in the movie so far, just before Locke has an interaction with some Hispanic toughs. Impact’s main villains will be all white, but the movie is determined to remind the audience cities are full of ethnic types who are just criminals.
Also, one of the main villains will be a lesbian. Audrie Neenan. She hopefully fired her agent after this one.
But we’re getting ahead because it takes Sudden Impact forty minutes to get the actual plot, which will be Eastwood investigating the secrets of coastal city “San Paulo” (filmed in Santa Cruz), where Locke just happens to have returned to kill all her assaulters. See, ten years before, Neenan brought coworker Locke to a party (along with Locke’s little sister) but as a set up for some local boys to rape them (occasionally under Neenan’s direction). Sudden Impact is Eastwood doing a seventies exploitation picture in the eighties, with the Hitchcock vibes, and then all Eastwood’s one-liners about how all those liberals, and intellectuals, and smooth-talkers don’t understand how policing needs to be done. From the business end of a very special .44 Magnum, because it’s the eighties, and there’s got to be some kind of tech angle to it.
Just to pad out the run time, Eastwood also stars a gang war with uncredited Michael V. Gazzo, so there can be lots of shootouts in scenic San Francisco. Eastwood, as a director, does a great job showcasing the locations. Impact’s got a great crew—Joel Cox’s editing is great, and Bruce Surtees’s photography is muted and lush—even if the action set pieces are a bit blah. It’s just Eastwood going from shootout to shootout. Occasionally, boss Bradford Dillman yells at him. Dillman’s back from the previous movie playing the same part but with a different character name. Eastwood’s only friend—his Black friend, no less—is played by Albert Popwell. Popwell’s back from the original Dirty Harry, where he was at the business end of a one-liner; apparently, since 1971, Eastwood rehabilitated him and turned him into a cop.
Better movie, no doubt.
Lalo Schifrin’s music varies from inspired to grating–his Hitchcock-y music for Locke’s great. The opening music’s weird, though, especially since the titles are an homage to The Maltese Falcon’s San Francisco Bay shots. Shame Eastwood didn’t realize they could’ve nodded towards movies with good stories for the plotting.
He’s not good. He’s bored all of the time, annoyed some of it. The director’s cut must be about him having to pass bladder stones. Locke’s awesome during her silent walking around scenes. Once she’s got to talk, she’s terrible. Except when she’s got the exploitative but prestige scene where she tells her catatonic sister how she killed the first rapist. From that scene, it seems like Locke will have some pay-off dramatically.
Not even after Eastwood gives her an excellent thriller chase sequence on a carousel.
By the third act, Impact’s gotten over its intentional casual racism and dog whistling. It seems like there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the momentum, especially not after that great thriller sequence. But then it turns out Eastwood had one more homage up his sleeve; for some inexplicable reason, which either has a great story or a tragic coincidence, Eastwood directs his Dirty Harry action scenes like he’s the slasher in a slasher movie.
Then it’s nice the end titles have a Roberta Flack song, but it’s not a good Roberta Flack song. Sudden Impact makes some very intentional references to the previous Dirty Harry movies, but only their very seventies technical choices.
Again, the whole thing’s fascinating. But certainly not rewarding. Certainly not any good.
There is—eventually—a cute bulldog, however. Though Eastwood really leans in on bulldog’s farting. Uncomfortably so.