Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry'
|Portrayed by||Clint Eastwood|
The Dead Pool
Harold Francis "Dirty Harry" Callahan is a fictional San Francisco police detective in the Dirty Harry film series, encompassing Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988). Callahan is portrayed by Clint Eastwood in each movie.
From his debut in Dirty Harry, Callahan became the template for a new kind of movie cop — someone who does not hesitate to cross professional and ethical boundaries in pursuit of his own vision of justice, especially when the law is poorly served by an inept bureaucracy.
The "Dirty Harry" archetype does not shy away from killing; all of the Dirty Harry films feature Callahan killing criminals. His rationale for such conduct is it done with the greater good in mind: protecting the innocent and victims of crime. Callahan's methods are rarely endorsed by his superiors, who on various occasions have demoted, suspended or transferred him to other departments.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Callahan is an Inspector with the San Francisco Police Department, usually with the homicide department, although for disciplinary reasons he is occasionally transferred to other less prominent units, such as personnel or stakeout. Callahan's primary concern is protecting and avenging the victims of violent crime. Though proficient at apprehending criminals, his methods are often unconventional; he is prepared to ignore the law and professional and ethical boundaries, regarding them as needless red tape hampering justice. When a group of men holding hostages in a liquor store in The Enforcer demanded a getaway car, Callahan delivered one: he drove the car through the store's plate glass window and proceeded to shoot the robbers. Conversely, in Sudden Impact when he found that the person responsible for a series of murders was a rape victim killing her unpunished rapists he let her go free, indicating that he felt her retribution was justified.
He went a step further in Dirty Harry: determined to know the location of a 14-year-old girl the serial killer Scorpio had kidnapped and buried alive, he ignored Scorpio's pleas for a doctor and a lawyer and pressed his foot on Scorpio's wounded leg until he gave up the location. Callahan was later informed by the District Attorney that due to numerous civil rights violations much of the evidence against Scorpio was inadmissible and he would be released without charge. Callahan explained his outlook to the Mayor, who asked how Callahan ascertained that a man he had shot was intending to commit rape:
"When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross."
Callahan is regarded as a rogue element within the police force and often at odds with his superiors, who baulk at his methods. A police commissioner tells him that his successes are "more costly to this department in terms of publicity and physical destruction than most other men's failures." He is variously reprimanded, suspended and demoted to minor departments. At the start of Magnum Force he has been moved to stakeout by Lt. Briggs and in The Enforcer, Captain McKay transfers him to personnel. In Sudden Impact Callahan is threatened with a transfer to the traffic division, if not ejection from the force altogether. By the end of The Enforcer, he had started a 180 day suspension imposed by McKay. According to film critic Roger Ebert, "it would take an hour in each of these movies to explain why he's not in jail."
Over the course of the five movies, Callahan is shown killing 45 criminals, mostly with his trademark revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, which he describes as "the most powerful handgun in the world." The films routinely depict Callahan as being a skilled marksman; in Magnum Force he is revealed as a multiple winner of the SFPD's pistol championship. In his fight against criminals, including fellow cops, such as the self-appointed police death squad in Magnum Force, Callahan is merciless and shows no hesitation or remorse at killing them. Despite this, he refused to join the vigilante police officers in Magnum Force, reasoning that although the present system is flawed, it is preferable to their alternative.
In Dirty Harry, several explanations are suggested for his nickname. When his partner Chico Gonzalez asks of its origins, Frank DiGiorgio says: "that's one thing about our Harry, doesn't play any favorites. Harry hates everybody: Limeys, Micks, Hebes, Fat Dagos, Niggers, Honkies, Chinks, you name it." After being called to talk down a jumper, Callahan states he is known as Dirty Harry because he is assigned "every dirty job that comes along." When Harry is ordered to deliver ransom money to Scorpio, Gonzalez opines: "no wonder they call him Dirty Harry; always gets the shit end of the stick."
The movies reveal little about Callahan's personal background. In the first film, Callahan tells his partner's wife that his wife was killed by a drunk driver. She appears in Magnum Force in an old photograph which Harry turns around. The doctor tending to him after the first film's bank robbery intimates that "us Potrero Hill boys gotta stick together." The first film's novelization explains that Callahan grew up in this neighborhood and describes a hostile relationship between the police and the residents. Callahan recalls once throwing a brick at a cop, who picked it up and threw it back at him. The following sequels maintain that Harry lives within the city limits in a small studio apartment, near Chinatown or Nob Hill. In Magnum Force Harry's friend Charlie McCoy says "We should have done our 20 in the Marines", indicating that they served together in the armed forces. In The Dead Pool, a coffee mug on Harry's desk at the police station bears the United States Marine Corps seal.
Weapons[edit | edit source]
Callahan's signature weapon is a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver, which he uses in all of the films. The gun's prominence in the films instantly popularized it. The character states the use of a "Light Special", .44 Special loads, that he loads himself because it gives him "better accuracy and control in a gun this size". He also states that it's like using Wadcutters in a .357 Magnum. He loses hold of it three times during the course of the series; first in Magnum Force, second in Sudden Impact, then in The Dead Pool. In The Enforcer, Callahan doesn't lose it, however he doesn't employ it to kill the final villain (in favor of a portable rocket launcher). Additionally, in Sudden Impact, Callahan temporarily upgraded to a .44 Automag. Contrary to popular belief, it was not an AMT firearm, but an original AMP Auto Mag built specifically for that film.
In Dirty Harry, he used a Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle in .458 Winchester Magnum for the night gunfight with the Scorpio Killer and used a switchblade during his second encounter with Scorpio. Harry also uses a Colt Python revolver to obtain ballistics evidence in Magnum Force. Other weapons Callahan uses initially in the final climax of other films include a bomb, an M72 LAW rocket launcher and a harpoon. In one film, Harry's partner Frank DiGiorgio, refers to Harry's gun as a "pocket-cannon".
Partners[edit | edit source]
It is a recurring theme in the Dirty Harry movies that Callahan has a high turnover of partners; most are killed or wounded while working with him. In Dirty Harry he mentions that of two unseen partners (Fanducci and Dietrich), one is dead and the other in hospital having been shot. His partner in Dirty Harry, Chico Gonzalez, is shot by Scorpio and though he survives, he decides to quit the police. His partner in Magnum Force, "Early" Smith is killed by a bomb planted in his mailbox. Kate Moore in The Enforcer is shot dead by terrorists (and in the process saves Harry's life). In Sudden Impact Horace King is murdered by criminals who were waiting for Harry in his hotel room. Occasional Callahan partner Frank DiGiorgio was also killed, albeit whilst working with another officer. Of all Callahan's partners seen on screen, Quan and Gonzalez are the only two to survive.
Another theme explored in several movies is Callahan being assigned a partner he would instinctively resent being paired with, Chico Gonzalez because he is a rookie college graduate, and Kate Moore because she is a woman. However, they eventually earn his respect and both go on to save Harry's life.
- Tom Fanducci (unseen)
- Fred Dietrich (unseen)
- Frank DiGiorgio (Dirty Harry, Magnum Force and The Enforcer)
- Chico Gonzalez (Dirty Harry)
- Earlington "Early" Smith (Magnum Force)
- Kate Moore (The Enforcer)
- Horace King (Sudden Impact)
- Al Quan (The Dead Pool)
Cultural recognition[edit | edit source]
Callahan is considered a film icon, so much so that his nickname, "Dirty Harry," has entered the lexicon as slang for ruthless police officers. Harry Callahan was voted number 23 by Empire Magazine on their list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters. Callahan was voted the 17th greatest movie hero on 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. He was also named one of The 20 All Time Coolest Heroes in Pop Culture by Entertainment Weekly. He was also ranked 42nd by Premiere magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. The character also received recognition from the American Film Institute. Callahan's trademark weapon, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver, was named the second greatest movie weapon of all time, behind the lightsaber from Star Wars.
The former phrase was borrowed by US President Ronald Reagan in a March 1985 speech to the American Business Conference. Promising to veto any proposed tax rises, he challenged those who wanted them to: "Go ahead, make my day." It has also given its name to a law in several US states, the Make My Day Law, which protects homeowners who use lethal force against intruders.
Additional notes[edit | edit source]
- Callahan's SFPD badge number as briefly seen near the end of the first film is 2211 while his callsign is "Inspector 71".
- In a December 2006 interview Clint Eastwood describes Callahan as living a "retired" life, and often jokes that if he were to reprise the character, Dirty Harry would be flyfishing with the .44 Magnum by now. On Late Show with David Letterman, he also joked that his character would have to chase the crooks with a walker.
- In Magnum Force, Harry's last name Callahan is misspelled as "Calahan" in the end credits.
- In all five films combined, Harry has killed 45 criminals total.
- Eastwood good-naturedly reprises Harry's "do you feel lucky" line in a 2007 television ad promoting tourism in San Francisco, as he is seen golfing and suggests visiting tourists should feel lucky by challenging the city's golf courses.
In popular culture[edit | edit source]
- Easily the most famous parody of "Dirty Harry" Callahan is Alan Spencer's cult TV series "Sledge Hammer!" where the character is exaggerated into a gun-worshipping buffoon. Nevertheless, as cited in a New York Times review, "Sledge Hammer!" was respectful and even "affectionate" towards the target of its satire. Indeed some of the early episodes have either a subtle nod to the Dirty Harry Series (such as John Vernon reprising his role as the Mayor of San Francisco), to full remakes (The episode "Magnum Farce" not only parodies Magnum Force by name but also in the plot). Spencer is an avowed Clint Eastwood fan. It's been indicated that Eastwood himself enjoyed "Sledge Hammer!" and cast the actor who played the title role, David Rasche, as a Senator in his acclaimed directorial effort, Flags of Our Fathers.
- The entire "most powerful handgun in the world" speech is parodied in Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, when Captain Samuel Vimes threatens a rioting mob with a swamp dragon. In addition, the motto of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is dog Latin for "Make my day, punk." In The Art of Discworld, Pratchett notes that Paul Kidby draws Vimes to resemble Clint Eastwood.
- TV series Hunter presents the main character Rick Hunter (Fred Dryer), a cop from Los Angeles whose inspiration is "Dirty Harry".
- Callahan is acknowledged by comics writer John Wagner as the inspiration for the character of Judge Dredd.
- Kim Newman's novels set in the Warhammer role-playing universe feature a former Altdorf watchman named "Filthy" Harald Kleindeinst, who was fired for killing the "wrong" man (a murderer who was also a nobleman) and whose trademark weapon is a "Magnin" throwing knife.
- The lecture Callahan received from the mayor about a questionable shooting incident in the first film is spoofed in The Naked Gun.
- Elements of Harry Callahan along with Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle from the The French Connection and Jack Carter from Get Carter were a major influence upon Euston Films Ltd in the creation of the popular British television police drama series The Sweeney and in particular its lead character Jack Regan played by John Thaw.
- There are many parallels between Dirty Harry and Jack Bauer, the lead character on the television series 24. Like Harry, Bauer is a law enforcement officer with a strong desire to protect innocent civilians, although his actions to that end border on vigilantism as he deals with criminals (or Bauer's case, terrorists) with a "whatever it takes" attitude and often without regard for rules or legality. As with Callahan, Bauer's actions often bring him into conflict with his superiors and he is variously demoted and sidelined. Both characters emerged at a time when there was growing concern about crime (in the 1970s) and terrorism (in the 2000s). As one critic commented, "It is not hard to imagine Jack Bauer delivering Dirty Harry Callahan’s famous line ["Go ahead, make my day"] from the 1983 film Sudden Impact".
- The novel Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop by Lee Goldberg, itself based off the television series Monk (coincidentally also set in San Francisco), alludes to "Dirty" Harry Callahan and the film series: throughout the story, Lieutenant Randy Disher frequently speaks with a Clint Eastwood-style accent. It is also mentioned that he has the nickname of "Dirty" Randy, a spoof of Harry's nickname (although he also uses the nickname "Bullitt"). Later on, Captain Stottlemeyer jokingly refers to Natalie Teeger as "Dirty" Natalie, another spoof of the name (though this being because of the remarks that Natalie says while holding a suspect up at gunpoint).
- In the Back to the Future: The Game one of the names that Marty McFly uses is Harry Callahan.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Dirty Harry (film series)
- Dirty Harry (NES Game)
- David Toschi (Former SFPD Homicide inspector known for the Zodiac Killer case)
References[edit | edit source]