American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations

By Lester D. Friedman | Go to book overview

1973
Movies and Legacies
of War and Corruption

FRANCES GATEWARD

If one word succinctly describes the year, it would be crisis. The nation's economic future looked bleak as the recession continued and inflation spiraled out of control. The prime lending rate of banks climbed to 8 percent. President Nixon ordered a sixty-day price freeze for consumer products in an attempt to provide a cooling-off period. Industries previously considered stable were now struggling to avoid bankruptcy. General Motors, for example, laid off 86,000 workers, adding more unfortunates to the already high unemployment rolls. Straining wallets were not helped by OPEC's embargo against Western Europe and the United States, motivated by American and European support for Israel during the October Yom Kippur War against Syria and Egypt. The price of heating oil and gasoline skyrocketed, and Congress acted to conserve fuel by lowering the interstate speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. The Nixon administration, reinaugurated in January, soon began to unravel as investigations into the Watergate scandal began on Capitol Hill. At the same time, the Justice Department revealed that Nixon's reelection committee had accepted illegal campaign contributions from Gulf Oil, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Braniff Airways, Phillips Petroleum, American Airlines, and Ashland Oil, among others. Vice President Spiro Agnew, under investigation for receiving kickbacks while serving as the governor of Maryland, pleaded nolo contendere to charges of income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of other criminal charges. He resigned his office and was given a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of $10,000.

Corruption seemed to be as pervasive in American culture as Coca-Cola and began to show up increasingly on movie screens across the nation. The antagonists in crime thrillers were no longer threats to the social order from without, but rather from within the very institutions whose mandates were to “protect and serve.” “Dirty Harry” Callahan, the tough extra-legal vigilante cop from Don Siegel's 1971 film, returned to mete out justice in the

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