Dirty Harry  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Dirty Harry is a 1971 film directed by Don Siegel, the first of the series. Clint Eastwood plays the title role, in his first outing as San Francisco Police Department inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan.

From his debut in Dirty Harry, Callahan became the template for a new kind of movie cop: a borderline vigilante who doesn't hesitate when crossing professional and ethical boundaries in pursuit of his own vision of justice. The "Dirty Harry" archetype does not shy away from killing, either; all of the Dirty Harry films feature Callahan killing criminals. He justifies such conduct by saying that it "gets results" in cutting down crime. This rationale rarely impresses his superiors, who have threatened Callahan with suspension and firing many times.

Influence and popularity

Clint Eastwood's iconic portrayal of the blunt, cynical, unorthodox detective who is seemingly in perpetual trouble with his incompetent bosses, set the style for a number of his later roles and, indeed, a whole genre of cop films. The film resonated with an American public that had become weary and frustrated with the increasing violent urban crime that was characteristic of the time. The box-office success of Dirty Harry led to the production of four sequels.

"Dirty" Harry Callahan also helped popularize Smith and Wesson's Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver. The film initiated a modest increase in sales of the powerful handgun, which continues to be popular some thirty-five years after the film's release. Throughout the film Eastwood's Model 29 is lionized as an all-powerful instrument capable of sending assailants flying wildly through the air, while in reality the round is far less-dramatic than depicted. The .44 Magnum round is not considered to be a practical caliber for urban police use due to difficulties in recoil (target re-acquisition) and its ability to penetrate multiple surfaces, greatly increasing the likelihood of injuring bystanders.

The cop who cares more for justice than rules motif was one subsequently imitated by a number of other films; the movie can also be counted as the seminal influence on the Italian tough-cop movies Poliziotteschi which dominated the 70s and that conquered critics in Europe and then back in the U.S. as well.

Although Callahan is arguably Clint Eastwood's signature role, he was not a top contender for the part. Indeed, the role was originally written for Frank Sinatra, but the singer had broken his wrist ten years earlier (possibly during the filming of The Manchurian Candidate) and found the large handgun too unwieldy and declined the role. John Wayne was considered for the role at one point but was not offered the part due to his age. Eastwood was only offered the role after Steve McQueen and Paul Newman likewise declined the role for varying reasons. An earlier version of the story was set in Seattle, Washington. (Wayne later portrayed a Dirty Harry-like detective in McQ, a 1974 film directed by John Sturges and set in Seattle.) One of Eastwood's stipulations for accepting the role was the change of locale to San Francisco, which is his hometown.

Scorpio, the film's antagonist, was based on the real-life Zodiac Killer, who was on the loose in San Francisco at the time. The Zodiac Killer has never been caught. In a later novelisation of the film, Scorpio was referred to as "Charles Davis," an escaped Canadian mental patient. Audie Murphy was first approached to play the Scorpio Killer, but he died in a plane crash before his decision on the offer could be made. The part eventually went to a relative unknown, Andy Robinson. Robinson's portrayal was so chilling that after the film was released he reportedly received several death threats and was forced to get an unlisted telephone number. In real life, Robinson is a pacifist who despises guns. In the early days of principal photography, Robinson would flinch violently every time he fired. Director Don Siegel was forced to shut down production for a time and sent Robinson to a school to learn to fire a gun convincingly. [1] Nonetheless, he still blinks when he shoots.


The soundtrack for Dirty Harry was created by composer Lalo Schifrin, who created the iconic music for both the theme of Mission: Impossible and the Bullitt soundtrack, and who had previously collaborated with director Don Siegel in the production of Coogan's Bluff and The Beguiled, both also starring Clint Eastwood. Schifrin fused a wide variety of influences, including classical music, jazz and psychedelic rock, along with Edda Dell'Orso-style vocals, into a score that "could best be described as acid jazz some 25 years before that genre began". According to one reviewer, the Dirty Harry soundtrack's influence "is paramount, heard daily in movies, on television, and in modern jazz and rock music".

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dirty Harry" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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