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Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan

Updated on August 1, 2017

Tough Cop

With crime escalating and the economy on a hellish roller coaster-dive, it is a perfect time to view 1970s tough, cop action thriller known as Dirty Harry. The script was written by married team Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink (based on her unpublished story), Dean Riesner and John Milius (unaccredited) is a lesson on a tight, fast tempo story. The story is driven with a .44 Magnum worth of sharp dialogue that launched a legend in movies.

Direction and Editing Sets the Pace

Don Siegel’s stylish almost surreal at times direction and editing set the pace for Clint Eastwood in an incredible performance as Harry Callahan, a middle-aged, individualist, unconventional cop who throws away the rule book but gets the short end of the stick. The screenwriters give Callahan some of the most memorable lines and smart comments ever in the history of film, thus establishing the territory on how far a script goes to created the anti-hero of all jerks while keeping the audience on his side.

The story is based on the unsolved Zodiac murder case happening in San Francisco that is eerily contemporary today. The opening scene of a public tribute to San Francisco policemen killed in the line of duty fades to a muzzle-barrel end of a high-powered rifle of a serial sniper, a baby-faced, hippie killer, on a rooftop with a telescopic lens aimed at a young woman in a yellow, one-piece swimsuit. She swims laps, he pulls the trigger, bullet hits her and she sinks below the surface as the water turns red.

Harry Callahan

Enter Harry Callahan investigating the crime scene by himself, the lone wolf. He finds the used shell of the shot and a ransom note pinned to a TV antenna. The first of the few words he says throughout the film is a direct response “Jesus.”

The handwritten note from the deranged sniper calling himself Scorpio that says he will enjoy killing one person every day until his is paid one hundred thousand dollars. It will be his pleasure to kill a Catholic priest or a nigger. Can’t help but remind us of the recent sniper killings in the D.C area.

Favorite Dirty Harry Quote

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Great Dialogue

Spiteful and rude Callahan is called to the Mayor’s office. After the Mayor inquires what he has done about the Scorpio case so far, Callahan complains waiting, “Oh well, for the past three-quarters of an hour, I’ve been sitting on my ass in your outer office, waiting for you.”

Unforgettable Cop Scene

Up next is probably one of the most unforgettable cop scenes in film history that quite often gets mistaken for the film’s opening scene. On a San Francisco street, Callahan drives up in his navy blue sedan and parks illegally at the red curb in front of an adult bookstore, strides over to a local Burger Den restaurant to order his usual, a jumbo hot dog. The lacking excitement he casually asks the cook about a tan Ford across the street in front of the bank. He suspects a bank robbery and asks the cook to phone the police department and report a two-eleven in progress. Callahan says, “Now, just wait until the cavalry arrives,” he hears the bank's alarm system and a gunshot, after one bite of his hot dog and says, “Oh, Sh-t!”


Cool and Collected Strides

Callahan cool and collected strides outside pulling out his monstrous, long barreled, heavyweight Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum. He single-handedly stops the heist by shooting the fleeing bank robbers. Still chewing his hot dog he fires his sixth shot at the last fleeing robber. He looks down at his pant leg that indicates blood seeped through from a leg wound. He walks over to the entrance of the bank and threatens the wounded robber who is reaching for his shotgun on the sidewalk. With the .44 Magnum in view, Callahan states his most memorable, tough cop line (repeated again almost verbatim at the film’s end) when he baits the criminal to gamble on luck with his streetwise version of Russian Roulette.

The dialogue contributes to the fast pace movie while the audience clearly sees Callahan as a tough, unscrupulous cop. In the film review for the New York Times critic Roger Greenspun describe Callahan, “Dirty” is Harry’s given epithet, and he carries it proudly enough. But he is really a knight in shining armor whose dirtiness is mostly rubbed on from the scummy world he keeps trying to wipe clean.”

Do I feel lucky?


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