Have you ever watched the classic film Dirty Harry? The character, Harry Callahan, is one of the great characters in American cinema history, and no doubt one of Clint Eastwood’s best performances.
When you compare Dirty Harry and its sequels to police films today, you’ll see how it still holds up – and is frankly better than most modern crime films!
But how did this great film come to be? While you can’t imagine anyone else but Clint Eastwood in the role, there were several legendary actors who were considered to play Harry Callahan.
But maybe you’re curious about other aspects of this great film. Was Don Siegel always set to direct the movie? And what’s the story behind Harry Callahan’s outspoken and refreshing lack of political correctness?
Join us as we take a look at the behind-the-scenes details that change everything we thought we knew about Dirty Harry…
MEET HARRY CALLAHAN
Before Clint Eastwood was cast as Harry Callahan, there was a slew of different actors who were also considered for the role.
For a while, Frank Sinatra was considered to play Harry. However, after filming The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s, he had severely injured his wrist. Though it healed over the years, it would be challenging for him to hold onto a heavy gun. Now, can anyone imagine Harry without his .44 Magnum? It was clear that Sinatra wasn’t meant to play Callahan.
So, what about an actor who was skilled with a quick gun draw? The Duke himself, John Wayne, was strongly considered to play Harry.
But he turned down the role because he originally disapproved of the title character. Plus, he wasn’t exactly flattered to receive a role that had been rejected by Frank Sinatra.
Actor George C. Scott was used to playing tough-guy roles. He liked Harry, but it seems that he was opposed to the film due to it’s excessive violence. There were a few other actors who were interested in the script but objected to Harry’s political leanings.
These included Burt Lancaster and Paul Newman. The latter, however, knew exactly who could play Harry.
Paul Newman suggested to the film’s producers that they should consider Clint Eastwood for the role. Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood were great friends, and Eastwood often commented about how he missed Paul Newman following the actor’s death.
So, thanks to Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood was able to give us one of American cinema’s most memorable characters!
Before we tell you more behind the scenes details about Dirty Harry, please like this video and subscribe to FactsVerse for more current news and interesting stories. Now, back to the video…
THE VISION BEHIND DIRTY HARRY
Film is a director’s medium, and it’s always the director who is responsible for crafting a compelling story and bringing it’s characters to life. But the screenwriter is also responsible for creating the blueprint for a great film.
The reason for Dirty Harry’s success isn’t just its gripping storyline. It’s also considered a classic because of it’s fascinating lead character.
So how did Harry Callahan come to be?
The screenplay was written by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, and Dean Riesner. But there was also input from writer-directors John Milius and Terrence Malick. While John Milius didn’t receive any formal credit for the film, it’s generally accepted that he’s responsible for molding Harry Callahan into the character we now know and love.
He made sure the story had a lot of gun usage. He also wanted Harry to be a ruthless cop who wasn’t afraid to be crass and blunt. Harry’s political leanings also came directly from John Milius.
The story of Dirty Harry was partially inspired by the Zodiac killer murders in San Francisco. The character of Harry Callahan was partially inspired by Dave Toschi – who was the policeman who led the investigation to find the Zodiac killer.
Credit must also be given to Don Siegel’s brilliant direction. When Clint Eastwood was cast as Harry, he insisted that Don Siegel had to be the director. The two had previously worked together in the films Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sarah, and The Beguiled.
There was one famous scene that wasn’t directed by Don Siegel but instead saw Clint Eastwood behind the camera. This was the famous jumper scene. The scene was filmed in one day – though the schedule had allotted six days for shooting!
This scene must have been great practice for Clint Eastwood, who had previously directed one feature film Play Misty for Me – which he also starred in. Following this one scene in Dirty Harry, he began focusing on directing more frequently in addition to his acting career.
Apart from Clint Eastwood’s iconic performance, the supporting cast also gave memorable performances. The Scorpio Killer, played by Andrew Robinson, is arguably one of the greatest villains in cinema history.
Don Siegel originally wanted to cast Audie Murphy for the role. Audie Murphy was a decorated soldier from the Second World War. Upon completing his service in the war, he began his acting career. He mostly appeared in Westerns. Don Siegel figured if Audie would get cast as a villain, he’d be able to shock audiences as he’d be playing a very unusual type of character compared to his previous roles.
However, Audie Murphy sadly died in a plane crash in 1971. Andrew Robinson was cast for some of the same reasons that Don Siegel considered Audie Murphy for. Andrew Robinson had an “angelic” face and was mostly known for his theatre work. Dirty Harry was his first film role.
He took the role very seriously. He decided to create a backstory for the character – imagining Scorpio as a traumatized Vietnam War veteran. He also improvised many of his lines, including the famous “hubba, hubba, hubba, pig bastard!” line.
While he gave a great performance, Andrew Robinson felt that he couldn’t relate to his character and often found it challenging to play him. He felt uncomfortable with shooting guns, so Don Siegel insisted that he attend gun training classes. Andrew Robinson also felt uneasy during a scene where he hurls racial slurs at another character.
It’s hard to imagine how uncomfortable Andrew Robinson was with the character as he did an excellent job with the character. In fact, after the film was released Andrew Robinson received death threats over the phone! These threatening calls became so frequent that he had to get a new, unlisted phone number!
THE FAMOUS LINE
There’s certainly more than 1 famous line in Dirty Harry. But when we say, “the famous line,” everyone knows which line we’re referring to! [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38mE6ba3qj8]
In the original screenplay, Harry was supposed to point the famous .44 Magnum gun at his own head! Later, it was decided that he should point it at the bank robber and emphasize that his handgun was the most powerful in the world.
This proclamation was followed by Harry telling the bank robber that he should ask himself if he feels lucky. And then, Harry utters the famous line “Well, do ya punk?”
Clint Eastwood delivered the line seamlessly and it became one of the most well-known and repeated lines in American cinematic history.
DIRTY HARRY’s LEGACY
So, how was Dirty Harry received when it was originally released in 1971?
The film was one of the year’s biggest hits and was loved by audiences and critics alike. But it’s impact went way beyond the high-ticket sales and positive reviews in film magazines!
Both Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel were invited to give speeches at police gatherings. A police department in the Philippines even used the film as a training film for its officers!
The character of Harry Callahan also became an influence on other actors. Both Arnold Schwarznegger and Robert Urich have stated that the character has influenced their careers.
Arnold said that Harry Callahan inspired him to seek out similar characters. He wanted to play characters who enforced the law, made jokes, had a commanding presence, and could engage in action sequences.
Robert Urich based his performance as Dan Tanna in the TV series Vega$ on Clint Eastwood’s performance in Dirty Harry. Robert Urich later played Grimes in Magnum Force – one of the sequels of Dirty Harry.
What about the most powerful handgun in the world? Dirty Hairy has been credited with increasing sales of the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum!
Dirty Harry was also the first feature film that depicted the San Francisco Police Department’s Bureau of Inspectors’ Homicide Detail. Following the film’s release, there was clearly a desire to see more police-related stories set in San Francisco. The film subsequently inspired the development of the TV series The Streets of San Francisco.
Dirty Harry and the character of Harry Callahan was so popular that in 2009, MTV News declared in a poll that Harry was the “Greatest Movie Badass of All-Time” beating out Rambo, John McClane, and Ellen Ripley.
The film was even banned in Finland for a year! Now, if a film is banned it must be so great that it strikes a nerve. While the Finns didn’t get to see Dirty Harry for a year, it remains a respected film for anyone who loves cinema that depicts “Americana.” In 2012, the film was selected by the US Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry Archives.
There were, of course, detractors toward Dirty Harry. A feminist group protested outside the 1972 Academy Awards holding up banners that proclaimed: “Dirty Harry is a rotten pig!”
By today’s politically-correct standards, it’s likely many more people will get upset by watching Dirty Harry.
But this doesn’t detract from the film. At 50 years old, it means that this is a film that still stands the test of time. It’s got a great storyline, superb acting, and it strikes a nerve. If you’ve seen it, you should ask yourself if you feel lucky to have done so?
Well, do ya punk?
Now, we’d like to hear from you:
Do you think that Dirty Harry is appreciated by today’s audiences? Or is there a need to introduce Harry Callahan to newer audiences who might not be familiar with him?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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