Analyse the features used in the opening scene of ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971)

This is my first piece of work on the blog, it is the analysis of the opening scene of ‘Dirty Harry’ – Looking at setting, camera, mis-en-scene, editing etc.

In the first few seconds of the Dirty Harry opening scene, it is clear the film is going to be set out in ‘Letter box’ format – this is to give the viewer a peripheral view – so that they can see more of the film and therefore it has more of a overall impact. The first establishing shot shows the San Francisco police badge, the image then cross-fades to a pan/tilt of all the police officers that have died up till 1970’s. Immediately we understand that the cops are represented as the ‘good guys’ (protagonists) in this film due to the morbid non-diegetic sound (church-like bells). This also gives the impression of a ‘noble, high status’ attitude towards the police officers as the tune of the church bells could be considered mournful and symbolize a ‘pure and undeserved death’.

The music distorts as the camera shows an extreme close up/POV of the gun – the viewer now knows that the gunman is the antagonist, and due to the gun covering the antagonists face, we get a sense of mystery or ‘enigma code’ – it is also clear from background knowledge of this genre that the film will be based around murder/crime – perhaps based on this crime alone; like a guessing game. The antagonist also has wild, orange-red hair, a possible symbol of a fiery and uncontrollable personality. The scene changes, and it’s clear from the sniper overlay on a high angle, that this shot is the point of view of the antagonist. A woman is within the frame the camera follows her in a ‘tracking shot’, she is attractive and visually appealing, mainly to stimulate male attention, by doing which, makes it clear that the film revolves around a gender specific (in this case male) audience, typical for a cop or action film.

When the camera zooms out, we can see that the woman is swimming on a rooftop pool, i.e. a penthouse pool, this gives the ideology that she is a rich or famous person or is in contact with someone who is. This influences the viewer’s way of thinking: it is now clear that the antagonist is aiming to kill someone of a fairly high status, this makes the descending murder more important and gives some background information, ‘Why would someone want to kill a seemingly high positioned member of society?’. As the camera completes its zoom, the antagonist comes back into frame, making it clear, once again, that the gun is aimed at the woman. The slight pause, at the end of this shot, it matched with a slight stint in the non-diegetic sound, perhaps to give viewers a moment to consider the unfolding events.

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Returning to the tracking shot of the woman, with the sniper overlay still in effect, the music mellows and there is a silence. Followed by a flash cut of a finger on a trigger which is accompanied by the diegetic sound of a gunshot. It is now clear from the reaction shot, that the woman has been shot and is now dying/drowning in the pool, the diegetic sound continues, accompanying her death with relevant sounds. The flash cut, represents the quickness and sudden movement of, the trigger being pressed backwards, the guns jerky movement after being shot and matches the sharp sound of a gunshot.

Onto the next cut, where a tracking shot shows a well presented man entering the pool top. It is clear from the bustling amount of people around him, the non-diegetic sound being less tense and more ‘typical cop film’ music, and the camera being placed on the pool top -where as before was only viewing the pool from a distance – that it is later in the day, and people have found out about the murder. The man is dressed smartly in a suit and tie, which due to the relevance gives the viewer the idea that he is a detective, furthermore, his hair is combed and precise a complete opposite to the killers ‘fiery mane’, this enforces the idea of him being of high status (a detective) as he is the opposite of the killer. It is clear from the way he poses as the camera becomes a close up and his mysterious shades, that he is the protagonist, and that he is good at his job due to the almost ‘savior’ like way the camera presents him. The protagonist has the looks of a typical ‘movie-hero’; square jaw line to show masculinity, stubble to show how he is rough and manly, and once again, his well-groomed hair.

As the protagonist walks around the pool side, shown by a tracking shot, the character does not interact with any other people, in fact they turn to look at him in ‘awe’, this supports the viewer’s instinctive reaction of a powerful man. Next there is a low angle (almost floor level) shot showing the protagonist and another male character, crouched next to the deceased lady. In the background of this long shot, there is a sky scraper, from this angle it is clear the protagonist looking up at the building, as only the back of him is visible. This scene confirms the earlier ideas, that the man is good at his job, due to his very quick recognition of the problem, it seems effortless how he just looks up and sees that is is clear the antagonist was positioned up there, when the number of other people on the top of the building seemed clueless. He even removes his glasses as he looks up, removing an element of his rather reclusive personality.


The scene develops as he continues to walk across the street, showing a grand tilt shot of the sky scraper as he stands beneath it, making it look very threatening and some abstract shots as he walks over metal floors and a fan – diegetic sound. There is some non-diegetic sound to link these scenes together, but this is mainly a title sequence. The protagonist then walks across the rooftop, showing a high angle long shot with him and the golden gate bridge. Making it clear, again, that this film is currently situated in San Francisco. Also the idea of him looking over the city, gives an element of him being the guardian or as mentioned above, savior of the city.

There is the diegetic sound – the jingle of metal on a hard surface, and the non-diegetic sound, softens as the protagonist picks up the empty shell of a bullet, seen by an extreme close up shot. After tucking the shell into an envelope, which seems to be labelled ‘Detective’ confirming the viewers idea. There is a low medium shot, which tracks his movement as he steps onto the higher part of the roof, he is once again standing ‘over’ the camera, showing a dominance due to the way the viewer is seeing him. The opening scene is completed by a close up shot of the protagonist reading a note, and saying ‘Jesus’ – this gives the viewer incentive and interest to continue to watch the film. As after the protagonist has been built up to be such a powerful and important person, even he is shocked by the letter.


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