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Dirty Harry: Top cop


‘Dirty Harry’ (1971) is the first film in the American film series featuring fictional San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division inspector, ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan, who is notorious for being extremely violent and ruthless in his methods. Actor, Clint Eastwood portrayed Callahan in all five of the series’ films.

The script of ‘Dirty Harry’ initially titled as ‘Dead Right’, was originally written by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M Fink. It narrated the story about a hard-edged police inspector Harry Callahan determined to stop Travis, a serial killer, by any means at his disposal. The original draft ended with a police sniper, instead of Callahan, shooting the villain. Another earlier version of the story was set in Seattle, Washington. Four more drafts of the script were written before the fourth one was approved.

When initial producer, Jennings Lang could not find an actor to take the role of Callahan, he sold the film rights to ABC Television. ABC wanted to turn it into a television film, however the amount of violence in the script was deemed too excessive for television, and therefore the rights were sold to Warner Bros. Warner Bros purchased the script with a view to cast Frank Sinatra in the lead. Sinatra was 55 at the time and since the character of Callahan was originally written as a man in his mid-to-late 50s, he fitted the character profile.

Unfortunately, Sinatra could not accept the offer as he had a problem with his wrist broken during filming of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962), and which prevented him from wielding Callahan’s signature Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver. John Wayne was then offered the role, but he turned it down because he didn’t “like being offered Sinatra’s rejections.” Producers then went after Robert Mitchum, but he also turned it down because he thought the role was a “piece of junk.” Burt Lancaster was then offered the role, but refused because he didn’t agree with the movie’s violence. Steve McQueen refused to make another “cop movie” after Bullitt (1968). Paul Newman too rejected it, with Eastwood – then only 41 – being finally offered the script and accepting the role.

Initially, Warner Bros wanted either Sydney Pollack or Irvin Kershner to direct the film. Kershner was eventually hired, when Sinatra was attached to the title role, but when Sinatra eventually left the film, so did Kershner.

When Eastwood agreed to star in the film, he had placed only one condition that Don Siegel directs the film. Siegel was under contract to Universal at the time, and Eastwood personally went to the studio heads to ask them to “loan” Siegel to Warner.

Scorpio, the villain was loosely based on the real-life Zodiac Killer, an unidentified serial killer who had committed five murders in the San Francisco Bay Area several years earlier. American war hero and actor, Audie Murphy was first approached to play Scorpio. Murphy was killed in a plane crash in 1971 and it is not known whether he had accepted or rejected the part. James Caan was also under consideration for the role. The part eventually went to a relatively unknown actor, Andy Robinson. Eastwood had seen Robinson in a play called ‘Subject to Fits’ and recommended him for the role; his unkempt appearance fitting the bill for a psychologically unbalanced hippie.

Filming for ‘Dirty Harry’ began in April 1971 and involved some risky stunts, with much footage shot at night and filming the city of San Francisco aerially, a technique for which the film series is renowned. Eastwood performed the stunt in which he jumps onto the roof of the hijacked school bus from a bridge, without a stunt double.

The soundtrack for ‘Dirty Harry’ was created by composer, Lalo Schifrin, who created the iconic music for both the theme of American television series, ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1966-1973) and the ‘Bullitt’ (1968) soundtrack, and who had previously collaborated with director, Don Siegel in the production of ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ (1968) and ‘The Beguiled’ (1971), 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.

The film caused controversy when it was released, sparking debate over issues ranging from police brutality to victims’ rights and the nature of law enforcement. Feminists in particular were outraged by the film and at the 44th Academy Awards ceremony protested outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, holding up banners which read messages such as “Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig”.

The benefit world premiere of ‘Dirty Harry’ was held at Loews’ Market Street Cinema, San Francisco, on December 22, 1971. The film was the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1971, earning an approximate total of $36 million in its US theatrical release, making it a major financial success in comparison with its modest $4 million budget.

A critical and commercial success, ‘Dirty Harry’ set the style for a whole genre of police films. It was followed by four sequels namely ‘Magnum Force’ (1973), whose plot revolved around a group of renegade traffic cops who are executing criminals that have avoided conviction in court; ‘The Enforcer’ (1976) about a terrorist ring calling itself the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force; ‘Sudden Impact’ (1983) in which Callahan is sent to a small town to follow up a lead in a murder case, which leads him directly to a rape victim who is out to avenge herself and her catatonic sister by killing the people who sexually assaulted them; and finally, ‘The Dead Pool’ (1988) that has Callahan finding out he is among the subjects of a dead pool, a game betting on deaths of celebrities, with someone trying to rig the game by killing the celebrities on one player’s list. However, not even one of these sequels was directed by Don Siegel. The four sequels were directed by Ted Post, James Fargo, Clint Eastwood himself and Buddy Van Horn, respectively.



The opening sniper scenes in ‘Dirty Harry’ are shot from atop San Francisco’s Bank of America Building on California Street. The sniper’s target is a girl swimming in the pool on the roof of the Holiday Inn in Chinatown a few blocks north on Kearny Street.

The final scene, in which Harry Callahan throws his badge into the water, is homage to a similar scene from 1952 movie ‘High Noon’. Eastwood initially did not want to toss the badge, believing it indicated that Callahan was quitting the police department. Don Siegel argued that tossing the badge was instead Callahan’s indication of casting away the inefficiency of the police force’s rules and bureaucracy. Although Eastwood was able to convince Siegel not to have Callahan toss the badge, when the scene was filmed, Eastwood changed his mind and went with Siegel’s preferred ending.

After the film was released, Andy Robinson who played Scorpio, received several death threats, and had to get an unlisted phone number.

Such was the success of ‘Dirty Harry’ that Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel found themselves being invited to address police gatherings.

A police department in the Philippines ordered a print of ‘Dirty Harry’ for use as a training film.

‘Khoon Khoon’, the 1973 Hindi movie, was a remake of ‘Dirty Harry’, with Mahendra Sandhu and Danny Denzongpa enacting the roles of Harry Callahan and Scorpio. Interestingly, Warner Bros took the producer of ‘Khoon Khoon’ to court for this scene-by-scene illegal remake and received $50,000 in punitive damages from the production house – Eagle Films.




A psychopathic serial killer calling himself ‘Scorpio’ (Andy Robinson) shoots a young woman in a San Francisco swimming pool from a nearby rooftop. SFPD Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) finds a blackmail message demanding the city pay the killer $100,000 or for each day his demand is refused, he will commit a murder, and his next victim will be “a Catholic priest or a nigger”. The chief of police (John Larch) and the mayor (John Vernon) assign Callahan to the case, despite his reputation for violent solutions.

Soon Scorpio targets a gay black male, but is interrupted by a police helicopter and escapes. Later that night, Callahan and his rookie partner, Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) pursue a likely suspect, but it turns out to be a false alarm. When Scorpio kills a young black boy from another rooftop, the police believe the killer will next pursue a Catholic priest. Callahan and Gonzalez wait for Scorpio near a Catholic church, where a rooftop-to-rooftop shootout ensues, with Callahan attempting to snipe Scorpio with a rifle while Scorpio returns fire with a submachine gun. Scorpio escapes, killing a police officer disguised as a priest.

Scorpio then demands $200,000 for a teenage girl he has kidnapped, threatening to suffocate her to death. The mayor decides to pay and tells Callahan to deliver the money with no tricks, but the inspector wears a covert listening device, brings a switchblade, and has his partner follow him. As Scorpio sends Callahan to various payphones throughout the city to make sure he is alone, the chase ends at Mount Davidson. Scorpio brutally beats Callahan and tells him he’s going to kill him and let the girl die anyway, just as Gonzalez comes to his partner’s rescue but wounded in the process. Callahan stabs Scorpio in the leg, but the killer escapes without the money.

The doctor who has treated Scorpio’s wound phones the police and tells Callahan and his replacement partner that he has seen Scorpio in Kezar Stadium. The officers break in and Callahan shoots Scorpio in his wounded leg. When Scorpio refuses to reveal the location of the girl and demands his rights, Callahan makes him confess by standing on the wounded leg, but the police are too late to save her.

Ironically, as Callahan had searched Scorpio’s home without a warrant and improperly seized his rifle for evidence, the district attorney (Josef Sommer) has no choice but to let Scorpio go. Outraged, Callahan warns that Scorpio will kill again and follows him on his own time. To thwart Callahan, Scorpio pays to have himself beaten by a thug, and then claims the inspector is responsible for it. Despite Callahan’s protests, he is ordered to stop following Scorpio. He then meets up with Gonzalez, who is in physical therapy. Gonzalez voices his thoughts about leaving the police force.

Meanwhile, stealing a Walther P38 pistol from a liquor store owner, Scorpio kidnaps a school busload of children and demands a $200,000 ransom and a plane to leave the country. The Mayor again insists on paying but Callahan angrily refuses when asked to deliver the ransom. Instead, he locates the bus and jumps onto the top from a bridge. The bus crashes into a dirt embankment and Scorpio flees into a nearby quarry, where he has a running gun battle with Callahan. Finally Scorpio spots a young boy sitting near a pond and grabs him as a hostage.

The inspector feigns surrender, but fires, wounding Scorpio in his left shoulder. The boy runs away and Callahan stands over Scorpio, gun drawn, retorting “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Scorpio feels intimidated for a moment, but then foolishly lunges for his pistol. Callahan shoots him instantly, causing him to fall into the water. As Callahan watches the dead body floating, he takes out his inspector’s badge and hurls it into the water before walking away.

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