“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’ve kinda 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?”
Clint Eastwood starred as Inspector Harry Callahan, a San Francisco Homicide detective and all-round supercop who stops at nothing to bring in ‘Scorpio’ – a psychopathic sharpshooter (Andrew Robinson) who strikes at random, killing innocent civilians with a high-powered telescopic rifle and demanding a huge ransom to prevent him from killing again, one person a day.
The story was loosely based on the still-unsolved real-life case of the “Zodiac Killer” who had terrorised the city since the 1960s and continued to do so as filming on Dirty Harry started.
Harry’s worst enemies are a city administration eager to play footsie with minority groups and a District Attorney who is constantly reminding him that the first 10 amendments to the American Constitution place certain restrictions on law officers in the pursuit of their duty.
Callahan corners the killer but – after torturing him during the arrest – sees him set free because of legal niceties.
The killer then goes on another rampage, seizing a school bus, and the gripping climax sees Callahan execute him without the benefit of judge or jury.
His SFPD badge then follows the corpse of the deceased child-slayer into the murky waters of the quarry lake, thrown in disgust at the job and the conditions under which he is supposed to perform it (in a deliberate nod towards High Noon).
Eastwood is at his steely-eyed best, and whether or not you agree with the notions of vigilante justice put forth here, you have to admire the force with which they’re presented.
Dirty Harry was originally set to star Frank Sinatra (the part was also offered to both John Wayne and Paul Newman) and yet it’s a role that laconic Spaghetti Western star Clint Eastwood was born to play.
Director Don Siegel’s lightning-fast pace makes this first Harry Callahan film superior to sequels Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), and Sudden Impact (1983). The film did big business at the box office, earning nearly $36 million off a $4 million budget.