#52) Dirty Harry (1971)


#52) Dirty Harry (1971)

OR “The Creeps of San Francisco”

Directed by Don Siegel

Written by Harry Julian Fink & R.M. Fink and Dean Riesner. Story by Harry Julian Fink & R.M. Fink.

Class of 2012

The Plot: Clint Eastwood stars as “Dirty” Harry Callahan, Homicide Inspector for the SFPD who doesn’t play by the rules, and can never remember how many shots he fired. Earning his nickname by taking any dirty assignment that comes his way, Harry is chosen to track down a serial killer who calls himself “Scorpio” (Andy Robinson). Their cat-and-mouse game unfolds amongst the gritty San Francisco of the early ‘70s.

Why It Matters: In the wake of the Escobedo and Miranda rulings of the ‘60s that gave rights to the accused, “Dirty Harry” was a tip of the hat to the old school cops who didn’t play nice but always got results. The NFR also praises the work of Eastwood and Siegel, and includes an essay by “award-winning screenwriter” Matt Lohr (though I have yet to find the awards he’s won, or even the screenplays).

But Does It Really?: The “cop who doesn’t play but the rules” is cliché now, but “Dirty Harry” still feels fresh, which makes for an entertaining ride. Eastwood’s easy-going performance, plus some great San Francisco location shots, help add dimension to what could otherwise have been a pretty straightforward “cops and robbers” film. The era’s political and historical background (plus the film’s ongoing impact on the genre) help solidify a place on the Registry for “Dirty Harry”.

Everybody Gets One: Special mention to Andy Robinson in his film debut as “Scorpio”. He would go on to play Garak on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” before giving up acting in the mid-2000s. Also worth noting is Harry Guardino as Bressler, especially the scene where he sings.

Wow, That’s Dated: A long, unfiltered look at San Francisco in a simpler time, before the hipsters and tech-bros took over and turned one of the most unique cities in the world into their own personal playground, leading to the eviction of long-time citizens and effectively removing everything San Franciscan about San Francisco.

Also at one point Harry uses a pay phone.

Take a Shot: The name “Dirty Harry” first shows up 19 minutes in and is said a few times throughout (always preceded by, “I see why they call you…”).

Seriously, Oscars?: Probably because of how polarizing the film was for some on its initial release, and probably because 1971 Oscar voters preferred that other detective movie, “Dirty Harry” received zero Academy Award nominations.

Other notes

  • For you San Francisco serial killer buffs out there, “Scorpio” is based on the very real and then very current “Zodiac Killer”.
  • Thanks to the many panoramic skyline shots, I can confidently say “I can see my house from here.”
  • I always forget about the character of Chico, and that for a hot second “Dirty Harry” is a buddy cop film.
  • Only in the ‘70s could Clint Eastwood dress as essentially a used-car salesman and still be a sex symbol.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Hot Mary.
  • It sounds like half of this film is dubbed later in ADR. Was it because of all the location shooting? Or is this par-for-the-course on a Clint Eastwood film?
  • My favorite piece of background graffiti is the tag at Forrest Hill that simply reads “KYLE”.
  • “Scorpio” seems to me like a proto-Crispin Glover we tried out in the ‘70s.
  • For those of you who don’t want to make a drinking game out of “Dirty Harry”, there are plenty of rounds of Punch Buggy to be had here.
  • Note that three years after the release of “Bullitt”(also a detective drama set in San Francisco), “Dirty Harry” has no major car chase.


  • Four sequels, but you really only need five words from the third one.
  • As previously stated, every renegade cop film and TV series.
  • This scene in “The Naked Gun”.
  • The one Clint did with the monkey.
  • MacGarnicle
  • And of course, everyone, and I mean everyone, who asks the question, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

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