"I know what you're thinking . . . "
(1971) Director: Don Siegel
The movie opens with a scrolling of the names of fallen
police officers on a memorial . . .
. . . But it's all about Clint!
(In case you don't get that from the poster, which makes it look
like the name of the movie is "Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry".) Eastwood
appears as his name comes on screen in an above-the-line credit.
Clint Eastwood is "Inspector 'Dirty Harry' Callahan", a
renegade cop with an overdeveloped sense of justice. In this
the-ends-justifies-the-means opus, he is let loose on San
Francisco to bring down an alarmingly sick individual [as creepy
a movie villain
(for his time) as Hannibal Lechter], who is killing the innocent.
Callahan is a big weapon carrying a bigger one. The credits
should have read: Introducing the
most powerful handgun in the world." Big man, big gun, big
attitude. It's really all an Action Movie needs, provided he's
allowed to use them. And it's not like they can stop him—you gotta
Callahan is investigating the murder of a young
woman who was shot while swimming in a high-rise rooftop pool.
He finds the shooter's perch, and a note left to the City of San
Francisco demanding $100,000 or the killer will kill one person
every day until the money is paid (the note says he'll kill a
priest or an 'n-word'). . . and just six minutes into the
Syd Field) we have the set up: Callahan has to stop the
killer before he kills again. [If more scriptwriters followed
Field's simple construct, we'd have a more rewarding movie
experience (instead of being confused for forty-five minutes to
an hour before you figure out what the movie's about and begin
The killer signs the note "Scorpio". (Probably inspired by
the Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in the
late 1960s.) The actor playing the part is Andy Robinson.
He is so creepy and so good in the role, it followed him.
an interview with Robinson: "In the
business, once you get associated with a character as defining
and as strong as the Scorpio killer, people don't want to hire
you for the good guy . . .. I was so identified with that one
particular 'heavy' because . . . it was the first of its kind."
Robinson is modest, crediting the role and not his performance
of it. Robinson should have gotten an award for this part, but Action
Movies never get the recognition they deserve.
Scorpio's note is
then read by the Mayor who is meeting with Callahan's boss and
the Chief of Police. The Mayor has decided they will not pay,
but will put an ad in the paper, as instructed, to stall. Callahan
is left outside in the reception area. When he's finally called
in and the Mayor asks what
he's been doing, Callahan answers (with attitude) that
"for the past
three-quarters of an hour I've been sitting on my ass in your
outer office, waiting on you".
Clearly, Callahan doesn't have much respect for authority
(an Action Movie standard), and feels he was wasting precious time over
protocol. Plus, he has a shaky relationship with his boss—His boss interrupts Callahan's answers several times to give
his own answers to questions the Mayor asked. Callahan wants to
handle things his way but the Mayor tells
Callahan he doesn't want to have a repeat of the way Callahan
handled the last incident he was involved in (he blew the
suspect away). When you hear Callahan explain it, he was clearly
in the right, and you begin to be on his side. You also see that
it's going to be Callahan's methods versus the police department's and the
ENTER THE MAGNUM
In the next scene, on his way to a greasy spoon ("Burger Den")
for lunch, Callahan spots a car parked in front of a bank,
engine running. (A tell-tale sign it's been there a while is the
chain-smoking driver's cigarette butts on the street, something the observant detective notices in passing.) Callahan parks his car, enters Burger Den
(MOVIE TRIVIA: the movie on the marquee in the theater nearby is
another Eastwood movie Play Misty
For Me), is
greeted by name, and orders "the usual".
The cook asks "The
usual lunch or the usual dinner?" Callahan answers "Well, what difference does it make?" Apparently Callahan eats the same thing for both: a jumbo hot dog. (A man with regular habits and a down-to-earth
palate. This kind of man can be relied on.) While the cook gets
it for him, Callahan asks the cook if the car is still there. He
tells the cook to call the police department and say there is a
"two-eleven in progress". Telling himself to wait for backup to
arrive, Callahan takes his first enormous bite of his jumbo hot
dog, but then the bank alarm sounds, and he has to go out alone. He walks
into the street to
investigate, gun drawn, still chewing the hot dog. (I LOVE THAT!
What a bad ass.) A cowboy walking calmly into chaos with a
robbers come out and shots are fired (they fire first).
Callahan's gun is such a cannon that one bullet takes out anyone
he hits. He gets the first robber, but misses the second who
then dives into the getaway car. The car speeds straight for him but Callahan stays rooted to the spot—cool as a cucumber—and shoots the driver
but misses the second robber, and
the car wrecks. The second robber gets out of the car and tries
to run for it. One shot: Callahan takes him down. At this point, Callahan notices
he's been shot in the leg (buckshot by the look of the blood
pattern and the fact that Callahan didn't even flinch: nice
contrast to the stopping power of the .44 bullet). He just keeps walking, no limp, and goes to
stand over the first wounded robber in front of the bank door,
gun still drawn and the (VERY BIG) barrel aimed at the camera.
This is the iconic shot from this movie, and often imitated
The robber seems as if he's going to try to grab for his gun,
which has fallen within reach on the sidewalk. I like to think
he didn't think of it before (grabbing his gun and shooting at
Callahan as he approached) because until he saw Callahan's face,
he felt it was over. The robber probably took one look at Dirty
Harry and thought he was about to be shot, so then he thought about
grabbing his weapon. What we hear next is
ACTION MOVIE HISTORY:
know what you're thinking . . .
did he fire 6 shots or only 5? Well, to tell you the truth in
all this excitement, I've 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 gotta ask yourself one
question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
backs down but tells Callahan he has to know (whether or not he
had a bullet left), and how Callahan
shows him is by firing. That's cold! But it lets you know that Callahan knew exactly how
many shots he fired. He's just playing with the perp. He stone
faced pulls the trigger, then laughs and walks away. You have to
marvel at the stones it took to walk over there knowing his gun
It takes a 'dirty' cop to clean up a dirty mess, and the
Mayor's refusal to pay the ransom creates one. They give
us lots of reasons why Callahan is called "Dirty" Harry.
•The first is a joke—"Harry hates everybody".
This scene was not meant to imply Harry is racist,
rather that he's a loner (self-reliant), and as a little hazing for his new (Mexican) partner. (Later
when he's being treated for the wound in his leg, they show
Callahan's doctor is African American and that they are friends—the doctor mentions the neighborhood
they both grew up in, and we learn Harry was
second is that Harry might be a pervert.
"I just had
another thought . . . about why they call you 'Dirty' Harry". This is a funny
scene as Callahan is thought to be a peeping Tom. He isn't though, as
the garbage can he is standing on gets knocked out from under
him before he sees anything, so we don't know for sure if he
would have looked anyway. The topless 'lady' in question, "Hot
Mary" is rather heavy, and runs to the window to look out without
covering herself, then pulls the shade on not one but two windows! (You can't
on an exhibitionist.) Just before they ended up outside Hot
Mary's window, Callahan and his new partner "Chico Gonzalez" were on patrol
in what is surely the seedy part of town. He remarks,
and his partner agrees, that he'd like to put a net over the
whole thing to round up all the crazies. Gives you an idea what the cops are up against.
•The third, Harry delivers himself:
"Now you know why
they call me 'Dirty' Harry: Every dirty job that comes along".
Callahan is called to talk down a jumper, and rides up to the
rooftop ledge on a cherry picker. He's hardly sympathetic.
In fact, he doesn't try to be nice at all. He's such a "rotten
bastard" to the guy that he pisses him off to the point that
he tries to punch Callahan. So Callahan knocks him out and
brings him down, further demonstrating Callahan's got his own
way of doing things. [This scene was copied but kicked up
a notch later in Lethal Weapon for Mel Gibson.
•The fourth, his partner comes up with:
"He always gets the
shit end of the stick."
The City does not intend to pay Scorpio and they try to stall. Of course,
their stalling tactic doesn't work, and their method cost more
lives. When he sees their reply in the paper, Scorpio tries to
kill an African-American man on the street. Thwarted from this by a daytime
helicopter patrol, Scorpio's second victim is a young boy
(also 'African-American' as promised in his note). Callahan thinks Scorpio's going to
kill a priest as well anyway but under cover of night this time, so
he and Gonzalez wait for him on another
rooftop near the church where he was spotted earlier. [This
scene makes you realize how useful night vision goggles will
be.] Harry (and the movie audience) now gets to peep a little as
there is some more gratuitous female nudity that
distracts Callahan long enough to let the killer get onto the
roof. This scene shows us he's a man and can't help but
look, but also what he says makes us realize it's probably been
a long time since he's seen a woman
naked, and that means he's probably still grieving and/or works
too much (both of which make him more likeable). After a
gun battle between Clint and Scorpio (Scorpio has an automatic
weapon but Callahan uses a
(Winchester) Magnum rifle which can "stop an
elephant" and has one hell of a recoil), Scorpio gets away and a police officer on the ground is killed in the process.
Now Scorpio is really mad. He kidnaps a 14-year-old girl and threatens to
kill her by 3:00 AM if he doesn't get the money. With two more
dead and a clock started, the City finally comes up with the
money, which Scorpio has doubled ($200,000). Callahan's
sure that even if they find the girl in time, she will already
be dead, but he agrees to be the bag man. Stupidly, the
Inspector's orders are for Callahan to go alone and he refuses
to let Gonzalez tail Callahan.
The kidnapping was no doubt based on the
Barbara Jane Mackle kidnapping
dubbed "the girl in the box", the most shocking crime of its
time (December 1968), predating the Manson murders by 8 months
(August 1969). The idea of being buried alive while the
kidnappers waited for the ransom, and the thought that she wouldn't be found in time and
would die was horrific for the time (and now, but now we've been
desensitized by worse). This photo looks tame, but at the time it
created feelings as deep as only the most graphic photos can
today). Luckily, the real-life girl was rescued alive after 3 days.¹
Scorpio sends Callahan on a wild goose chase just to make sure he is
alone. He isn't. His partner (off duty) is following, and hears
what's going on on a wire. Since they wouldn't let Gonzalez come
along on the delivery, Callahan's method was to get the boss
to give Gonzalez the night off, and then the two work together anyway. You gotta love
Callahan's do-it-my-way/get-it-done methods!
On his run from phone booth to phone booth (just try to find
one of those these days), Callahan almost gets mugged/robbed, and
he is propositioned.
San Francisco sure seems 'alive' at night: what with peeping toms
in alleys, muggers in tunnels, and necking kids and desperate
(?) gay men in parks .
Arriving in the nick of time to save Callahan's life, Gonzalez shoots at Scorpio. Scorpio
fires back and gets stabbed in the leg
by Callahan. This is an
as Scorpio squeals like a stuck pig. [Do you need further proof that you can find
ANYthing on YouTube?] Gonzalez is wounded and ends
up in the hospital. Scorpio escapes but leaves behind the money. Harry ends up paired with "Frank 'Fatso' DiGiorgio".
Callahan catches a lucky break when the doctor in the emergency
room, who treated Scorpio for his knife wound, remembers that
in a nearby stadium. Callahan hunts Scorpio down . . . like a dog!
Finally tracking him onto the football field, just as "Fatso" turns the
stadium lights on, Callahan takes aim and "BAM", shoots that
cannon and down goes Scorpio. Next, Callahan steps on Scorpio's
wound (he barely knicked his bad leg) to try to get him to tell him where the girl is. You
can bet he tells, all the while screaming about his rights.
(Escobedo v. Illinois was 1964 and
By this time there was some backlash over criminals getting over
on technicalities.² A theme further explored in the 2nd movie in
the Dirty Harry series, Magnum Force.)
The movie takes another turn as the City cannot try Scorpio
because Callahan illegally entered and searched his domicile,
and then tortured him while questioning him. Callahan takes
himself off the case but 'stalks' Scorpio. This was before
stalking was defined and it would have been considered
surveillance (however when it's Callahan, it's stalking).
The most epic stalking moment that drives Scorpio over the edge
is when, after taking a bus full of school children hostage, he
heads to a place where he thinks he's getting away, only to spot
Callahan waiting on and overpass.
He's jumps on top of the bus as it passes
under, and there is an exciting, dangerous, and protracted
chase, but in the end, Callahan prevails and we are once again
in the "Do I feel lucky" stage for the 'punk' killer. This
time, however, the killer goes for the gun. He just seems so
crazy or full of hate, there's no being arrested for him. He
takes the choice away from Callahan, and dies. Callahan holsters
his weapon after firing and takes out his police credentials.
He takes his badge out of the holder and after staring at it for
a while, tosses it really far.
The moral of the story is:
never drop the gun—drop the suspect! The movie began with the
symbolic badge, then "I know what you're thinking . . .", and
ends with "I know what you're thinking . . .", then Callahan
flinging his badge (hard) into the river³
It's as if he's thinking the
job's not worth dieing for.
Dirty Harry locations site:
http://www.filminamerica.com/Movies/DirtyHarry/ San Francisco is a star in the movie.
The cinematography gives a sense of scale.
¹ I remember this particularly because she was from my hometown, but
also because I can
never forget that photograph.
"By the early 1970s,
there was a backlash to the liberal jurisprudence of the 1960s.
The Supreme Court lost Earl Warren, who was replaced by Warren
Burger. The country was split over the war (Vietnam 1959-1974).
And so there came increasing calls for a crack down on crime and
subsequently the development of a national model of crime
³ I always wondered why Inspector Callahan is number 71 but his badge number is 2211.