Clint Eastwood: The Man With No Name vs. Harry Callahan

This is the debut article of a new MovieFanFare feature we’re calling Character Witness. Here’s how it works: We pick an actor who is known for not one but two recurring characters—in this case Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of spaghetti western icon The Man With No Name and no-nonsense detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Then two MovieFanFare bloggers take sides, becoming character witnesses for each. The writers must deliver a sound defense, making capable & persuasive arguments about why each is more memorable/beloved/respected than the other. Readers can weigh in below in the comments section, judging which blogger was the better witness and ultimately rendering their own verdict about who they think is the better character. Court is in session.

Jason’s case for The Man With No Name

Already I’m at a disadvantage. Let’s do a brief rundown:

  • The Dirty Harry moniker is known practically everywhere; ask someone who The Man With No Name (TMWNN) is and chances are pretty good you’ll get a blank look.
  • Those who may somehow not know the character certainly are aware of Dirty Harry’s many sound bites (which I’m sure Brian will detail below) that have entered the world’s lexicon. What do I have to go on? No pithy quotes, that’s for sure. Hell, the guy hardly speaks.
  • Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum—“the most powerful handgun in the world”—puts any six-shooter TMWNN ever carried to shame.
  • Harry’s a cop. Despite his methodology he’s still a protector of the public working within societal rules (even if he despises the bureaucracy). The Man With No Name is a gunslinger.

I can hear Brian now: “Boo-frickity-hoo!” I agree.

The Man With No Name

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So what is it about The Man With No Name that makes him a better character? Well for starters he’s a great anti-hero. He’s a bounty hunter. A killer. He lies & cheats. He whores around. And yet in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly he’s considered “the good”! Despite all of this he does have a moral compass. In A Fistful of Dollars (the first of TMWNN trilogy) he manipulates rival gangs by pretending to befriend each, thus profiting from the ruse. However, when he discovers a woman—a “civilian” amongst the ruffians—being held captive he helps her escape. Why? “Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.” A mercenary, yes; cold-blooded, no.

Secondly, his ambiguous nature. The Man With No Name has no allegiance to anybody. He’s a lone wolf. Yet he forms uneasy alliances when it benefits him/his cause. He guns down baddies without mercy, but takes time to comfort fallen soldiers. TMWNN constantly plays both ends against the middle: robbing the robbers and exposing the hypocrisy of authority figures, pitting the two factions against each other for fun & profit…his own! In short, though TMWNN is dangerous you still want him on your side.

Next, he has style. Look at him. No need for shades or tailored threads. A sheepskin vest. Retro-cool poncho. Neckerchief. Atypical western hat. Week-old stubble. Weather-beaten complexion. Ever-present cigarillo. How cool is that?

Lastly, let’s be real. The Man With No Name is badass. Look again at the photo. You want to mess with this guy? That withering squint alone is a clarion call to get out of Dodge. Pride causing you to stick around? A flip of his poncho reveals his hand just barely touching his holstered revolver. With his steely eyes he assesses the situation, always planning several moves ahead. He knows when you’ll make your move before you do, and he’s lightning quick on the draw. You’re dead.

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I rest my case.
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Brian’s case for Harry Callahan

Well, yes, Jason is indeed at a disadvantage. But, he does make a good case. I do love me some Man With No Name, after all. He’s certainly one bad dude, and I agree that he’s definitely the better-dressed character. But, I’d also like to thank Jason for almost making my argument for me regarding Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Let’s get real here: This is a slam dunk. First of all, Harry has made just about every organization’s list across the board for best movie character, hero, tough guy, etc. I’m not so sure the same can be said for TMWNN, and even if he does make any lists, I doubt he’s higher than Harry. Furthermore, Harry has a couple more films available for fans to warm to his “charms.” Running them down in sequential order we have the initial Dirty Harry, then Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool which encompass almost two decades of hard-hitting entertainment. Need I really say more? Oh, but I will.

Or rather, Harry will. There are all his famous lines—almost innumerable. (One could actually make the observation that there are too many to count in Sudden Impact, alone). While TMWNN lets his actions speak louder than his words, Harry allows his action AND his words to speak rather demonstratively for him. Obviously, there’s the whole scene in Dirty Harry where Callahan poses to a baddie that he must ask himself the question, “Do I feel lucky?” “Well, do ya, punk?” There’s the one just about every human being knows from Sudden Impact: “Go ahead, make my day.” Incidentally, some states have even enacted the Make My Day Law, which protects homeowners who use lethal force against intruders. How’s that for “impact”? From The Dead Pool there’s, “Maybe I’ll start my own dead pool, and put you on it,” and there’s also another favorite of my mine from Magnum Force, “Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot!” I think I’ve made my point here.
OK, one more…

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Classic!

But, let’s get to the actual meat of the Harry Callahan character. While Jason is absolutely correct that TMWNN is an anti-hero, Dirty Harry is perhaps the ultimate reluctant hero. Sure, it’s his job and sworn duty as a member of the police department to protect the innocent, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy combing the crime-infested city streets looking for society’s scum and putting his life at risk, which actually makes him more endearing. He does it because he has to, because he’s the only one for the job who’s capable of doing it, and because he’s often—despite outward appearances—the only one who truly cares. Most folks surely can also relate to his rebellious nature, often defying authority to cut through bureaucratic red tape and ridiculous regulations. This is especially the case when these rules come at the expense of his ability to protect said innocents.

Furthermore, over time the Dirty Harry character has not only become a popular film icon but also reminds film buffs of a time when things were somewhat more, well, “free,” for lack of a better word. I always hear some folks out there crying rivers about how dirty and offensive current films are, but I’m not so sure I agree. We currently live in a super politically correct age, and anything that’s considered remotely controversial is often shied away from. Don’t believe me? Check the ratio of current PG and PG-13 releases to R-rated releases. What I’m trying to say is that the world could use Dirty Harry again. Movies like that franchise don’t really get made that much anymore, at least not properly. In an age where there are so many bleeding hearts out there pleading for the rights of irredeemable criminals, maybe what cinema needs is another ruthless cop who isn’t afraid to go out and blow the dregs of society away. A little visceral vigilante escapism? Yes, please! That’s what Dirty Harry represents to me, and that’s why he’s the man. Now, where’s my .44?

  • Bill Pentland

    Both make good points; however, as Jason said, he was at a marked disadvantage. The westerns came at the dawn of Eastwood’s film career. Dirty Harry was a character pretty much built on TMWNN – like Hec Ramsey from Palladin, theoretically. Eastwood, with a certain amount of fame from Rawhide, had to build that character and the spaghetti westerns gave him that vehicle. Watching For a Few Dollars More with my cohorts while in high school gave us a whole new image of what it was to be a badass. Ponchos, cigarillos, few words, direct action – great stuff!

  • JUanita Curtis

    Enjoyed the debate style and both made excellent points but I have to agree Dirty Harry is the winner. Never warmed to TMWNN or spaghetti westerns – maybe its just a mans world!!!

  • Blair Kramer.

    The problem with comparing Dirty Harry to The Man With No Name is the fact that both characters are extremely one dimensional. Harry may have a tad more emotional muscle than the Western gunman, but not much more. Also, their demeanor is essentially identical. Both characters are grim, taciturn, and violent. Comparing the two is rather like comparing yourself to your mirror image. The differences are meaningless. If you think about it for a moment you realize that we learned the true identity of The Man With No Name in the early 70′s. He stepped into a time machine in the late 19th century, traveled 100 years into the future, only to emerge as Dirty Harry Callahan!

  • mike jaral

    I guess eveybody has a favorite eastwood movie, the dirty harry movies I like much better than the man with name movies, even though I can watch the westerns over and over again. seems like I like two mules for sister sara the best, it’s probably my favorite. just something about that movie.

  • kittypackard

    Fabulous idea, looking forward to many more Character Witness studies and this was an inspired place to start…

    Dirty Harry is an icon. Brian’s case is absolutely on the money. And I think, in a way, he’s right: film DOES need another Dirty Harry. A man who doesn’t give a damn about political correctness and isn’t afraid to blast out and eye for a flipping eye.

    HOWEVER.

    All things considered. I am ALL up in Jason’s kool-aid on this one. For me, THE man is absolutely The Man With No Name. And not just for the cigarillo. Cinema’s truly timeless characters are enigmatic, totally subjective and open to interpretation: allowing the viewer to relate to something within that character that affects them very personally. The broad spectrum of Leone’s films, for me, is a perfect environment for that. Harry has a very pointed agenda conducive to his (reluctant) political agenda. Leone’s Man With No Name? This badass is timeless and agenda-less: he is as much 21st century as he is 19th century and I love that malleable nature. Regardless of age or background or belief, there is something in The Man With No Name that resonates so very globally. For me, that’s truly timeless and, in a word, classic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1063274681 Irv Slifkin

    great idea for a column.

  • Matt D

    It’s gotta be Harry Callahan. If we compared all Eastwood’s western “heroes” then that would get the edge b/c Josey Wales and Bill Munny are equally unforgettable and heck – Bronco Billy is one of my personal faves – but just between Blondie and Dirty Harry – got to go with the man with the biggest handgun in the world that will shoot punks heads clean off. Those films solidified Clint as the action hero of his generation (which basically crosses over into several other generations and he wins there too)

  • Zarkoon

    For me, the real difference is in the quality of the movies. “Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” are far better movies than any of the Dirty Harry movies. In particular, none of the Dirty Harry movies is even close to the quality of TGTB&TU. “For a Few Dollars More” is the weakest of the Man with No Name movies, but it’s at least as good as the best Dirty Harry movies.

    The Dirty Harry movies have some good lines–and they pretty much all have some embarrassingly bad lines, too. Even if one agrees with the political agenda of the DH films, the fact remains that they’re awkwardly polemical. The Leone westerns are far less polemical–even though TGTB&TU is a pretty effective (and curiously violent) antiwar statement.

    Finally, there is little humor in “Fistful of Dollars,” but both FaFDM and TGTB&TU are often very funny. The humor makes them far less heavy-handed than the DH movies.

  • larrycop

    I enjoyed the debate very much and like most of the other commets I’m a fan of both characters. However, I have to go with Dirty Harry. Being a police officer for over 40 years I can appreciate the administrative BS that police officers have to put up with just to do thier job. Yes, Callahan steps into muddy waters sometimes but it is to ultimately get the bad guy. Ethical?? NO but I don’t know of any real police officer that would say “God, I wish I could get away with that”. Police officers deal with the worst scumbags on the face of the earth and society lets them. So I say “GO FOR IT HARRY”

    • Vaibhav

      Incredible pnraormfece..have you seen the entire thing? He may get a nod because thats what the movie was made for Oscar nods but with that accent he’s not winning.

  • larrycop

    Sorry some editing was needed. I ment to say ETHICAL?? NO but I don’t know of any real police officer that wouldn’t say “GOD, I wish I could get away with that”. Police officers deal with the worst scumbags on the face of the earch and society lets them go. So I say “GO FOR IT HARRY”

  • ganderson

    I’ve got two words to say: ‘sound track’. I’m surprised Jason and the commenters have not mentioned anything about Ennio Morricone’s haunting scores as the reason the man with no name will always trump Callahan. If ever there was a motion picture character, a mystique, and an atmosphere established by music, it’s been in all three Man with No Name movies. The best marriage of scene, character and sound track ever is in that great three-way showdown at the end of TGTB&TU as Morricone’s “Ecstacy of Gold” echoes across the barren landscape, the conclusion punctuated by gunfire! And don’t get me started on the “coyote wail” theme song. TMwithNN and Morricone win hands down.

  • likeicare

    I have to echo ganderson’s comments here. Dirty Harry never had a film score that was NEARLY as iconic as TMWNN. Since I read this, er, “shootout” column (pun intended) I cannot get Morricone’s haunting themes out of my head. Brilliant work, and really puts the winning hand in TMWNN in my book. Don’t get me wrong, I like the DH movies, and many lines have become common parlance, part of the rhythm of our society. But the music trumps the lines any day. All you need to do is hear that whistling theme, and you know a shootout is imminent. Brilliant work by Maestro Morricone. Done deed, all.

  • Raif D’Amico

    Loved all the Clint movies……BUT DIRTY HARRY IS THE WINNER. We live now,the West is in the past. Harry satisfts the need and thurst to kill evil and stick it to the bleeding hearts and the bureacracy.Harry gets it done now for the good of life…TMWNM has other agendas going.I like Harry and I think Clint does too.

  • Rita

    Between Dirty Harry and TMWNN, hands down the best character is Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood will always be remembered as Dirty Harry. Hope Hollywood doesn’t ever try to remake these, like they did True Grit. Dirty Harry is Eastwood’s most memorable character but I have to say my favorite Eastwood movies is “The Outlaw Josey Wales” followed by “Two Mules for Sister Sara” and “High Plains Drifter”

    • Randy

      Yes – I never turn the channel when I see these – also Hang Em High and Pale Rider are two more favorites

  • marjorie

    I’m surprised by the overwhelming leaning toward Harry. The Harry movies are, first and foremost, cheesy action flicks. They’re meant to be. The one-liners are delivered for cheese – to caricatures of criminals, because Harry is a caricature of a cop. He’s a sketch you buy at a carnival with exaggerated and understated features designed to make you laugh.

    On the other hand you’ve got TMWNN.
    1. better music
    2. better clothes
    3. better stories
    4. better bad guys
    5. better better production on every level
    6. better dialogue
    7. young, scruffy Clint is way sexier than Clint in a bad one button polyester suit. (Sorry, I’m a chick and it counts)
    8. better acting by the man in question (Seriously? You’re going to try and argue the point?)

    ….and the clincher

    9. Clint’s TMWNN flicks are the reason there are westerns … and spaghetti westerns. They raised the bar and created a whole subset that people just weren’t content to lump in with the rest of the westerns before and since. And even those folks that give you the blank stare when you say TMWNN will think of him when you say “spaghetti western.”

    At best Dirty Harry is one of several tough cop/action movie characters, and while he may be iconic, there are loads of cop movie franchises… (Lethal Weapon and DieHard, for example) and loads of vigilante movies (Death Wish, for example)where people go shoot up a bunch of criminals to save the red tape. So he’s a cop that doesn’t mind shooting criminals to avoid red tape… that’s, er, ground-breaking, really…

  • eddie moscone

    first dirty harry is great the others not so hot but those man with no name are all classics and great itilian westerns. no contest there man with no name made eatwood a legend for those of us that remembered seeing them on theater screens

  • Rich

    I do not believe that you can realy separate the two characters. Harry is an older, wiser TMWNN. Harry is a bounty hunter turned lawman. In all three Leone westerns, TMWNN has a since of justice, be it that which will benefit him in some way or other. This evolves into the Harry character, that is why he gets the assignments that he does get. His boss knows that he will work outside the box. Any relation to the Bullett character of Steve McQueen? Remember that he was a Bounty Hunter before he was a lawman.

  • Joe

    Both are great characters but his character in “High Plains Drifter” was also a badass. Similar to TMWNN.

  • Gord Jackson

    TMWNN and Harry Callahan are the mob of “The Ox Bow Incident” individualized and taken to its logical conclusion. They may both be well played, but neither one of them is any more admirable than Michael Corleone. They’re thugs, no better than those they pursue.

  • Jim Foster

    Clint as Harry Callahan for this fan, although I thorougly enjoy his TMWNN character as well.

    The Dirty Harry movies make a point of illustrating how a cop risks his life tracking down the dregs of society only to have them returned to the streets on a technicality by some spineless judge who is fearful of violating their civil rights.

    Of course, TMWNN was bound by no such restraints, and the baddies with whom he dealt weren’t around at the end of the last reel to continue victimizing others. But his domain was the old west, and Harry is a contemporary cop who, in spite of repeatedly finding his hands tied, still doggedly persists in his efforts to control the vermin roaming the streets of San Francisco. That’s why I favor him.

    Would love to have seen Clint do one more, FINAL entry in the Dirty Harry series. In it, Harry would bring in his last felon, and then celebrate his retirement from the force by venting on his superiors. Too late now, though, I suppose, and that’s a shame.

    • Randy

      Harry’s disdain for authority came out in the movie with Tyne Daley as the new rookie, when they were sitting before the review board. (sorry, it has been a long time since I saw this movie) – when they are asking the new recruit about various procedures and Harry says (nodding to the old woman on the board) “Suppose Mrs. —— propositions you… Tyne Daley tries to conceal her laugh and everyone else gets upset. funny

  • Jim Foster

    Make that “thoroughly” in the first sentence!

  • Jordash

    This is a great idea! It will be fun to see more of the same. It creates great dialogue between people who are all movie lovers and really isn’t this what it’s all about?

  • Rick

    Trying to pick between The man with no name Harry Callahan really is tough. They really are similar anti-heroes set in different back drops. I’ll give Harry the nod for one-liners but there have been many tough cops before and after Harry, but the man with no name is a one and only.

    • Boris

      Thank God it isn’t just me. So many of my non-designer fndires look at me blankly when I say this to them. You also inspired me to readdress this issue in one of my latest poster-a-day posters.I feel sane again.

  • Ernst Steinert

    I love TMWNN, but he got upstaged by Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Dirty Harry never let that happen in any of his movies. I would suggest the memorable quote from TMWNN:

    “There are two kinds of people in this world, those with guns, and those who dig…”

    • Randy

      Very good – I also liked (and often use myself) – “never trust a man that wears a belt with suspenders”. and these two (although from the Outlaw Josey Wales) “Well Mister Carpetbagger, we have something here called the Missouri boat ride” – then shoots the tow line to the ferry. And when he shoots the two hillbillies and the kid asks about burying them – “To hell with them – worms and buzzards have to eat too”. spit of chew on the fore head.

  • Ellen Urie

    After 3 days of really thinking this over I have to say I like the TMWNN movies better. I have always liked good westerns. I watched Clint Eastwood when he was on “Rawhide” and I still like “Two Mules For Sister Sara” which I saw at the drive-in theater. “Dirty Harry” films are definitely good – I like them also. They are sure well known for his “sayings” which everybody uses at some time! This will be a nice article to look forward to – very interesting.

  • John Quinlan

    TMWNN is the best. Dirty Harry, while good, is rather cartoonish with those one-liners. At work after a MWNN came out that’s all everyone was talking about. Not so for Dirty Harry.

  • huge movie fan

    this one seems hard but TMWNN wins. here’s why. dirty harry seems way to perfect to be the better charecter. than you got TMWNN, and he’s hard to figure out. he’s the kind of guy you want as an ally. he bleeds, faces death and still he keeps going. whilke it’s true he a man of little words but what can you expect from a man with no name? the dollars movies were clint’s best. TGTBATU is one of the greatest westerns ever made and yes, Ennio Morricone rocks. the score for TGTBATU is one of the greatest scores ever written.

  • Butch Knouse

    Gary Swanson said “Make my day” in Vice Squad the year before Harry said it.

    If they ever remake Dirty Harry, they should wait 40 years like they did with True Grit. And I mean 40 years after The Dead Pool.

  • Big Movie Fan

    I remember seeing Eastwood work his way up from his Rawhide days, through the Spaghetti Westerns, Dirty Harry movies, and on up to the present day of directing/acting and I’ve liked him through all of them. However, I would have to say TMWNN does it for me. While Dirty Harry is certainly an iconic character, TMWNN has it hands down as far as I’m concerned, one-liners notwithstanding. TMWNN might not be the most likeable character around, but he was certainly memorable, hardass, sexy (so I’m a woman), and as a teenager (showing my age) I looked forward with great anticipation to the next MWNN western. Just wish there had been more of them!

  • jccarnage

    dirty harry carrys a 357. not a 44.

    • Masana

      Harry Callahan: I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? 

  • jccarnage

    am i the only one who thinks dirty harry gets it? i love the dollar movies, and nothing beats the stand off at the end of the good the bad and the ugly, except dirty harry shooting scorpio and throwing his badge away like a complete badass, the man with no name, seems, less human, and less bound on doing what is right.

  • larry clemenson

    too close to call, really. on the one hand callahan is more malleable, able to transform from bigot to feminist, from vigilante to anti-vigilante as he progresses from film to film. but still it is very close, a coin toss really.

  • Talalynn

    Interesting, I just saw your post word for word on aonther entertainment site. Imagine that. Publicists out in force I see or obsessed fans, I can barely tell the difference sometimes.

  • jan

    Has to be Harry Callahan hands down. TMWNN would take your woman if he wanted and would just as soon shoot you as look at you. Harry, on the other hand, boyish in many ways but always standing on the correct moral thing to do. He does what he does because he cares.

  • WDPjr

    The Dirty Harry clip attached to the article is the perfect example of why “No Name” is the superior character: too much speechifying! The Man with No Name shows his self through his actions. Sure, the “Harry” movies have some good sound bites, but that just spells politics to me, not a recommendation for any movie in my mind. Actions speak louder than words, in the oldie-but-goodie cliche. I’ll take the action guy, myself.

  • rocky-o

    alot of actors could have hit dirty harry on the head, but there’s only clint who could have pulled off ‘the man with no name’…