Filmsite Movie Review
Sudden Impact (1983)
Pages: (1)

Sudden Impact (1983) is the fourth "Dirty Harry" film (and the highest grossing film of the series), and noted as the only one that was directed by star Clint Eastwood. The other films included:

  • Dirty Harry (1971)
  • Magnum Force (1973)
  • The Enforcer (1976)
  • Sudden Impact (1983)
  • The Dead Pool (1988)

It popularized the phrase: "Go ahead, make my day" - a line that was similarly spoken first by undercover detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) in Vice Squad (1982) a year earlier, as he held a gun to the face of about-to-be arrested pimp Ramrod (Wings Hauser) ("Come on, scumbag, make your move, make my day").

The film's female vigilante plot was similar to I Spit on Your Grave (1978) (aka Day of the Woman), resembled a version of Death Wish (1974), and was paid homage to in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films from 2003-2004.

The story was highlighted by its final climactic set-piece - a suspenseful chase through a carnival, including a Giant Dipper roller coaster ride and a spinning carousel, similar to the runaway out-of-control merry-go-round set-piece in the ending of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951). Other Hitchcock references included Vertigo (1958) (the murder under the Golden Gate Bridge, the style of the flashbacks, etc.), the Psycho-like opening (a lengthy zoom shot beginning with aerial views), and Marnie (1964) (the film's female character resembled Tippi Hedren).

The crime thriller was enhanced by the dynamic, jazzy music score by Lalo Schifrin (often resembling Hitchcock's favorite composer Bernard Herrmann), and the ending credits theme song "This Side of Forever" by Roberta Flack.

The Story

Just before one of the most famous movie lines of all time, San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) enters his favorite coffee shop diner, the Acorn Cafe in the city. Consumed with reading a newspaper, he doesn't notice that his regular waitress Loretta (Mara Corday) is attempting to tip him off to a robbery in progress by pouring an excessive amount of sugar into his normal large, $1 dollar black coffee order. Outside the cafe, after taking a sip, he spits out the disgusting-tasting coffee, and turns to suspiciously notice CLOSED signs being placed on the doors.

He returns through the cafe's back entrance, explaining ("I just came back to complain"), and begins to threaten and taunt the armed black robbers who have taken hostages at gunpoint: ("Now you boys put those guns down...Well, we're not just gonna let you walk outta here"). The main crook asks who "we" refers to ("Who's 'we' sucka?"), as Callahan pulls out his super-sized .44 Magnum while responding: "Smith and Wesson - and me." He opens fire and shoots down four of the thieves, and then doesn't flinch as he points his Magnum at one of the surviving threatening criminals who has taken Loretta as a hostage - he aggressively urges him with bravado:

Go ahead, make my day.

Police sirens are heard as the corner diner is surrounded (after alerted by the gunfire), and a few police officers with guns drawn assist Callahan, as the man surrenders.

Callahan is ordered by his superiors to take a vacation after a few further instances of unconventional crime fighting. He finds himself involved with painter-artist Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke, Eastwood's off-screen lover) - an Historical Society patron in the seaside town of San Paulo (actually Santa Cruz, California with its famed Beach Boardwalk area). She had exhibited her morbid, disturbing and raging artwork in a Dark Visions show in San Francisco, and takes care of her now-catatonic and vegetative, hospitalized sister Beth (Lisa Britt). It is revealed in brutal flashbacks that Jennifer and Beth were both gang-raped ten years earlier on the beach under a carnival boardwalk.

Taking the law into her own hands, Callahan eventually learns that female serial killer Jennifer is vengefully, one by one, executing (and castrating) the gang members who raped her. The leader of the rapists is revealed to be nasty, foul-mouthed, ultra-butch lesbian Ray Parkins (Audrie J. Neenan), aided by the gang’s psychotic leader Mick (Paul Drake), and others including Kruger (Jack Thibeau) [Note: a nod to a similarly-named character in Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972)] and Tyrone (Wendell Wellman).

Mick meets his deserved fate by being phallically-impaled on the horn of a unicorn on the boardwalk's carousel, after being shot by Callahan.