Dirty Harry: Ten Things To Know About The Movie

Here are 10 trivia facts about Dirty Harry from 1971, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. In this fictional film, its lead characters are based on real people.

The role of Scorpio, originally listed in the credits as “The Killer,” was based on California’s Zodiac serial killer, who teased the police force and newspapers by giving information about his crimes — one of his notes said he would hijack a school bus, which was re-enacted in the film. Harry Callahan’s character is loosely based on David Toschi, the real-life detective who headed up the Zodiac case investigation.

2. The rules of law form the basis of the movie.

Clint Eastwood has said he wanted to do this role mainly because it was his feeling that the rights of victims were being ignored by lawmakers and politicians, and he hoped the movie would cast a spotlight on the situation, which it surely did. In one scene, Callahan tracks Scorpio to his home in an abandoned stadium and steps on the killer’s wounded leg to learn where he’s buried a kidnapped girl, but the District Attorney admonishes Harry for not having a warrant and treats Scorpio like he was the victim, letting him go free.

The film continues to point out the sometimes futility of victim’s rights and makes references to two actual court cases: Miranda v. Arizona and Escobedo v. Illinois. The Escobedo case of 1964 ruled that any suspect’s statements made without the presence of a lawyer were considered as inadmissible in a trial. 1966′s Miranda case ruled that suspects have to be informed of their rights prior to being questioned and if not correctly informed, that interrogation would not be allowed as evidence, hence the now famous term “Mirandaized.”

3. The director’s first feature film was more than 60 years ago.

Don Siegel’s first feature film was in 1946 at Warner Brothers, when he directed The Verdict starring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Through the years, he had great successes and worked with Eastwood on three other films before Dirty Harry: Coogan’s Bluff (1968); Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970); and The Beguiled (1971).

4. One of the pivotal scenes was directed by the film’s star.

Clint did direct the sequence with the suicide jumper on a building’s ledge, supposedly stepping in for an ailing Siegel. While it’s true that Siegel wasn’t there and probably was out sick, Eastwood was already scheduled to direct the scene because of the difficulties of arranging space for cameraman, sound man, actors and a director on a small ledge. It was thought it would require six nights to do the filming, but Clint is great at bringing his films in early — he did it all in one night.

As the actual scene begins, the rescue squad and the police force are not having any success in dealing with the jumper, Eastwood volunteers to “talk him down” and explains to his new partner (Reni Santoni), “Now you know why they call me ‘Dirty Harry.’ Every dirty job that comes along.”

5. The villain of the movie is a pacifist in real life.

It was Eastwood’s idea to cast Andrew Robinson after seeing him perform on Broadway. Seigel needed some convincing about Robinson’s being able to carry the role, but Clint was sure Scorpio would be done effectively. One of the reasons Siegel agreed was that he liked Robinson’s “choir boy” look. Oddly enough, considering how violent Scorpio’s character was, Robinson is a pacifist — and he hates guns. During production, Siegel stopped filming to send him to learn shooting techniques.

Funny, but it was tough for Robinson to play those scenes where he abuses the school kids, both physically and verbally, and especially his racial insults spewed at actor Raymond Johnson, whom he pays to beat him. As a father himself, Robinson knew how these actions would be viewed. In fact, he had to change his phone number to an unlisted one due to numerous death threats at the time of Dirty Harry’s release.

6. This film was banned in a foreign country when it was released.

Dirty Harry was banned in Finland for a whole year after its release, supposedly due to the way it glamorizes police work.

7. The leading role was cast only after many Hollywood A-listers refused it.

Scriptwriters Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink had only one actor in mind for Harry Callahan: John Wayne. They worked with him before on Big Jake (1971) and Wayne is how they saw their character. But, as these things sometimes go, Wayne wasn’t interested due to his feeling the violence was gratuitous. The Finks eventually sold the story to Universal, and while the studio actually thought Eastwood would be perfect for the role it was never acted upon, and eventually Universal’s options for the script ran out. From here the story is really confusing so hold on… and no, it doesn’t point back to Kevin Bacon.

Once Universal was out, Warners jumped on it, thinking it was a good vehicle for Frank Sinatra, and that the movie would be directed by either Irvin Kershner or Sydney Pollack. Both were good choices, but Kershner got the job and Sinatra was considering the script, which at that time was called “Dead Right.” Frank soon realized, however, that handling a .44 magnum was going to be a problem for him; eight years earlier, he suffered a broken wrist while shooting The Manchurian Candidate. With Sinatra out of the picture, so was Kershner. The studio considered Marlon Brando, but according to scuttlebut he was never actually approached. Warners did offer it to Steve McQueen, who turned it down, and to Paul Newman, who also was not interested but did suggest Eastwood for the role. Burt Lancaster also said he was asked, but disagreed with the excessive violence and what he considered as ‘right wing” morals of the script.

Clint Eastwood gladly came on board, planning on producing the film through his Malpaso Company. Those plans hit a snag beacuse he wanted Don Siegel, under contract with Universal at that time, to direct. Eastwood personally went to the Universal studio brass to discuss “loaning” Siegel to Warners, and they apparently agreed. With things falling into place, Siegel had an idea. He thought it would be a coup to cast a well-known combat hero-turned-actor, one who had a “clean cut” screen persona and was very well-liked,  as the despicable antagonist, and offered the part to Audie Murphy. Sadly, before he could agree to the role, Murphy was killed in a plane crash in May of 1971.

8. The star of the movie objected to the film’s ending.

From the beginning, Eastwood was not happy with the film’s ending, where he is supposed to toss away his badge after doing in “The Killer,” pointing out to Siegel that Harry Callahan’s mindset is that he is only qualified for doing police work. As a matter of fact, Magnum Force, the first sequel, starts out with Callahan as a cop, giving the viewers no indication he actually quit. Siegel had to be very persuasive and finally did convince him that throwing the badge away represents his loss of faith in the judicial system. The film was so successful that a sequel was inevitable and in the next film, Callahan says, “I hate the goddamn system, but until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it,” which makes Siegel’s argument a good one.

9. It contains dialogue that is among the most quoted in film history.

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” was voted among AFI’s top 100 most quoted movie lines. Callahan’s full challenge to a wounded perp goes as follows; “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?”

Because of this dialogue and the “cool” manner of delivery by Eastwood’s character, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed that Dirty Harry was a major influence on his career. He was inspired to emulate this type of ‘wisecracking’ hero who takes the law into his own hands.

10. This film’s popularity spawned multiple sequels.

After the popularity of the original film, Eastwood brought Harry Callahan back in four successful sequels: 1973′s Magnum Force; The Enforcer in 1976; 1983′s Sudden Impact, which featured its own iconic line (“Go ahead, make my day”);  and The Dead Pool in 1988.

Now, enjoy Clint Eastwood’s fine performance in this trailer for Dirty Harry from 1971:

  • Big Eastwood Fan 59

    Clint Eastwood is the iconic “Actor/Director” of our lifetime. His movies are entertaining, thought provoking and well done every single time. From the “The Man with no Name” to “Dirty Harry” to “Play Misty for Me”, there just is no other body of work out there that compares to Mr. Eastwood’s !

    His films are true “Classics” and will endure the test of time.

  • Trainman

    I have to agree with you whole hardheartedly, Clint was the best choice for the part of Dirty Harry. While the other actors mentioned were all good in there own right, Clint pulled it off with style.
    It saddens my heart now that, the truly great actors are all gone or, for the most part retired, I have the complete Dirty Harry series series in my Library, along with many, many others.
    The studios have changed. The style of the movies today aren’t what the classics were in there day. Yet we didn’t know then what was going to be a classic, so who’s to say if the movies of today, will one day become classics only time will tell. Until then I still have Clint and his 44 Magnum making my day.

  • JH West

    It’s fun to try to envision the role of Harry with the other actors mentioned. Marlon Brando? No. Frank Sinatra? No. Burt Landcaster? No, and obviously too liberal. Steve McQueen? Maybe, but perhaps too close to Bullitt. Anyway, Clint was and is the best. He made it his and put a lot of himself in the character. It is the kind of film I can’t help but watch if it is on television.

  • SteveinSedona

    “Make my day” was actually first used in 1982′s Vice Squad, a year before Sudden Impact. Since nobody but me ever saw that picture, I guess that’s why Clint got the credit.

  • Ken Strawn

    Nice article with some interesting information–but not one mention of the guy who actually wrote the script and came up with that classic dialogue. I am talking of John Milius, who fresh out of USC film school, did not understand the union rules and neglected to turn in the paperwork in time. He doesn’t get mentioned in the film credits but any look at Milius body of work should make it clear who wrote it.

  • uncle gibby

    Was Albert Popwell, the perp in the famous scene above, cast in all or just some of the “Dirty Harry” sequels. He was a pimp who was killed in “Magnum Force”, “Big Ed Mustafa” in “the Enforcer”,
    and a Frisco cop in “Sudden Impact”. It’s the “Dead Pool” that stymies me. Was he NOT in it or did I just miss him?
    Andy Robinson as the “Scorpio” killer was inspired casting. He STILL remains one of the most sinister villians ever…

  • van

    I went and saw this several times when it came out – I was a teenager at the time. Eastwood and Walter Hill were two directors who knew how to make cop movies – Hollywood has completely lost their edge on these over the last thirty years, with a handful of exceptions.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Ken Strawn is right for pointing out John Milius’ contribution to the film. I read about how Milius wrote a lot of the script and that famous line of dialogue — and actually helped shape Harry Callahan’s demeanor but since his name is not in the credits, I left out that info. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Albert Popwell’s roles didn’t make it into the article somehow — probably was left out trying to avoid being too long-winded. Popwell is not in The Dead Pool, although it would have been a real coup if he was. Thank you Uncle Gibby for adding this nice piece of Dirty Harry trivia.

  • TOM DUMONT

    IN THE SCENE WHERE HARRY TELL THE BANK

    ROBBER HE FORGOT IF HE FIRED 5 OR 6 SHOTS

    WATCH THE SCENE HE ONLY FIRED 4 SHOTS.

  • BadGnx2

    This movie was prophetic before ANYONE involved would know it. The public loves good, tough cop movies (and to a degree still does) but in reality, that’s a thing of the past. Today’s police officer is handcuffed by so many video cameras, state laws, county laws, city laws and general orders (police rules) that it is pretty much impossible for the officer to perform the way Dirty Harry does. And society now wants to put the officer in prison for excessive brutality for even acting an iota like Dirty Harry.

    And now crime is through the roofs, prisons are overcrowded, police officers are being attacked in locales across the country physically and in civil suits and victims are treated JUST AS BADLY. With all that’s going on, I don’t see why anyone today would truly WANT TO BE STUPID ENOUGH TO BE THE POLICE.

    NOTES*** The .44 Magnum Eastwood used in the Dirty Harry movies had a 6 and a half inch barrel and today are referred to as “the originals”. They are no longer available from Smith and Wesson. And were discontinued by the early eighties.

    They had to use several .44 Magnum Auto Mags for the film “Sudden Impact” since the guns were prone to jam up and did.

    Only a handful of American police departments allowed officers to carry guns as powerful as .44 Magnums. Today, NO departments allow such a weapon.

    When Eastwood tells the criminal that the .44 Magnum “would blow his head clean off” and “is the most powerful handgun in the world”, he’s actually not making that up. The guns were extremely powerful and were originally developed for hunting big game animals such as elephants and rhinos. Thus they truly had the ability to do some serious damage to a human.

    • Winchester73

      In the second film “Magnum Force”, during the shooting range scene, Harry
      mentions that he prefers to use a .44 Special load. .44 Specials deliver about the
      same energy as a .45 ACP cartridge. Full power .44 Magnums have the potential
      to over- penetrate – pass through the target and endanger bystanders – hence the
      police dept. fears of wrong death and injury law suits.

  • BadGnx2

    Eastwood IS A GREAT AND ICONIC ACTOR AND DIRECTOR but like EVERY OTHER great star, he’s had his CLUNKERS TOO: “Pink Cadillac”, “Every Which Way But Loose”, “City Lights”, “The Dead Pool”, “Breezy”, “Any Which Way You Can” and “Pale Rider”.

    And to “SteveInSedona”: I have seen “Vice Squad” -MANY TIMES. I saw it when it originally came out and numerous times on TV. Its a very well made, tight, exciting police thriller in the B movie mold. For anyone that likes cop thriller movies, I would tell them to put that one on their list.

    Another STANDOUT B movie I would recommend is “Mystery Street”. It was made in the early fifties in fabulous black and white and stars Ricardo Montalban as a police Detective. The movie is a mixture of film noir, “CSI”, and “Dragnet”, all with racial and class undertones. It was directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape”) and is a superior, fantastic film. It regularly comes on TCM, so watch out for it. You will truly thank me.

  • Xavier

    Interesting that “Squint” Eastwood was actually the seventh choice for this role, after it was turned down by Wayne, Brando, Newman, Sinatra, McQueen and Lancaster – all quality actors with many awards. He has never been a good actor, altho he has directed and produced some good films. Won the GGlobe and oscar, but never for acting. His knee-jerk redneck portrayals have been melodramatic grandstanding at best, and history will no doubt prove him the superficial dilettante of B movies.

  • Butch Knouse

    Albert Popwell wasn’t in The Dead Pool. His health was probably going bad. He died a year or 2 after Dead Pool.