Dirty Harry

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Harry Callahan is about to shoot you.
"Go ahead, make my day."
Harry Callahan, Sudden Impact
"You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose."
—Tagline for the original film

This is a series of 5 films all starring Clint Eastwood as San Francisco Police Department detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan. He is one of the earliest examples of the Cowboy Cop. His main weapon is the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 magnum revolver.

Dirty Harry, the first film, is credited with inspiring the tone and themes of modern cop films. Clint Eastwood portrays the iconic blunt, cynical, "the buck stops here" kind of law enforcer constantly at odds with his incompetent, strictly-by-the-book bosses. The hero's relentless pursuit of justice kicks, stomps on, and blasts gaping holes through constitutionally protected rights, causing many to accuse the film of carrying a fascist, or at least authoritarian, undertone. As a result of the controversy surrounding the first film, the sequels tried to balance out the ideology, having Harry's bad guys span the length of the political morality spectrum.


  • Dirty Harry (1971): Callahan tracks down a Serial Killer who goes by the name Scorpio.
  • Magnum Force (1973): Callahan goes up against some renegade cops who have formed a death squad.
  • The Enforcer (1976): Callahan and his new female partner go after a terrorist group that has kidnapped the mayor.
  • Sudden Impact (1983): Callahan investigates a series of killings done by a rape victim on her quest for revenge.
  • The Dead Pool (1988): Callahan investigates a series of celebrity deaths who had been predicted to die in a dead pool racket -- and finds that his own name is on the list.

The first movie in the franchise was named to the National Film Registry in 2012.

Tropes used in Dirty Harry include:
  • Accidental Pervert: "Now I know why they call you Dirty Harry."
  • Arc Words: Repeated several times over in Magnum Force, which explores the lengths Harry is willing to go to in his war on crime, as well as setting up a supposedly Not So Different group of rookie cops who go to worse lengths than Harry.

Harry Callahan: Man's got to know his limitations.

  • Asshole Victim: Everybody in Sudden Impact.
  • Badass
  • Badass Boast: After Scorpio pays a man to beat him severely as part of a frame up, Harry defends himself from Scorpio's claim that Harry beat him, saying that "(Scorpio) looks too damn good" to have been beaten by Harry.
  • Ballistic Discount: Variant.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow
  • BFG: The giant harpoon from The Dead Pool. Needless to say, it leads to a CMOA.
    • The LAW rockets from The Enforcer.
  • Bond One-Liner
  • Bottomless Magazines: Subverted. If you count how many rounds Harry expends in a scene, you'll notice he almost never shoots over his 6 bullet limit and you almost always see him reload.
  • Breast Attack: In Sudden Impact Jennifer Spencer is on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on a group of people who had raped her and her sister years before. Before she kills them she shoots them in the groin. One woman was involved - she shoots her in the breast.
  • Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: Kate does this drunkenly during a deleted scene in The Enforcer
  • Captain Ersatz: Captain Briggs in Sudden Impact is essentially Captain McKay from The Enforcer especially given that they're played by the same actor.
  • Chekhov's Gun: It's safe to assume any ridiculously powerful weapon introduced at the beginning of a Dirty Harry movie will be used later. The best example would definitely have to be the enormous Harpoon Gun used to impale Rook at the end of The Dead Pool.
    • Lt Briggs mentions that he has never once taken his weapon out of its holster. When he does, it's to give The Reveal that he's the Big Bad.
  • Clint Squint
  • Cool Shades: Harry's.
  • Cowboy Cop: Harry Callahan.
  • Criminal Mind Games: Scorpio.
  • Da Chief: Every one of Harry's superiors to varying extents. Lt Briggs from Magnum Force is a subversion in that he's the Big Bad.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harry Callahan himself

The Mayor: I don't want any more trouble like you had last year in the Filmore district. Understand? That's my policy.
Harry Callahan: Yeah, well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy.
The Mayor: Intent? How did you establish that?
Harry Callahan: 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.

Harry Callahan: "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Now, to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Bobby: Did Wanda deliver the [Ransom Note] tape to the cops?
Lalo: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I wasn't with her.

  • Double Standard: In the fifth movie a female journalist blackmails Harry into going to dinner with her. Imagine what would happen if a male journalist did that to a female cop.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock
  • Exalted Torturer: Possibly the trope maker.
  • Finger in the Mail: Scorpio in Dirty Harry kidnaps a 14-year-old girl, sending the police her bra, a lock of hair, and a bloody tooth "pulled out with a pair of pliers".
  • Good Is Not Nice: A major theme of this series, since the title character is portrayed as frequently doing cruel but necessary things. Summed up with a remark he made after punching in the face someone who was trying to commit suicide: "Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry. Every dirty job that comes along..."
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In Dirty Harry, the 10-year-old's injuries are not shown, though Harry is noticeably Squicked about it.
  • Hand Cannon (.44 Magnum, "the most powerful handgun in the world", In Sudden Impact he uses a .44 AutoMag) because Caliber Size Marches On.
  • Honor Before Reason: From the first film in reply to Harry's "feelin' lucky" speech:

Bank Robber: "I gots to know."

  • Internal Affairs
  • Interrupted Suicide: Harry Callahan disgusts a jumper by saying how much blood and guts are going to be on the floor and how he doesn't want to go down with him, eventually Harry tricks him onto a fire truck.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique (on Scorpio on the football field)
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Andy Robinson plays the gleefully bigoted, psychopathic Scorpio in Dirty Harry. Whereas the vegetarian, liberal pacifist Robinson is a gentle and, by all accounts, sweet-natured guy who'd never even held a gun before this role (for which he had to be coached out of his habit of screwing his eyes shut and flinching whenever he fired it).
    • What makes this disturbing is that Robinson actually received death threats after the movie was released.
    • Presumably goes for Eastwood himself, too, given the actor has a reputation for being a fairly nice guy, whereas Harry is.. Well, Harry.
  • Meaningful Name: Might not be intentional since it is a common surname, but one possible origin of the name Callahan is an old Irish word for "strife and trouble", ceallach, which fits Harry very well.
  • Nausea Dissonance: In Magnum Force, Harry is called to the scene of a murder with his partner. One of the cops there comments on how the inside the victim's car is just filled with all kinds of brain parts (the audience doesn't see this) and generally goes into the most gross bodies he's seen. Harry is unaffected but his partner looks at the body and then turns to go puke.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge (in his initial meeting with Gonzales in the first movie, and with his female partner in "The Enforcer")
    • Harry did have some valid and very legitimate concerns about their choice of a female partner for him. They were promoting an officer who had never made an arrest to be a detective, and he wasn't sure that someone with zero street experience could cut it as a detective - regardless of gender.
      • And since she gets shot in the end, he might have even been right.
    • Which doubles as the Idiot Ball for her superiors who assign inexperienced policeman to a Maverick Cop whose partners wind up wounded or killed in action and who tends to take the most dangerous cases.
      • It was implied that her superiors weren't enthused with the 'female detective' idea either, that it was being forced on them by higher echelons, and that they assigned her to Harry with deliberate intent to make sure the experiment failed as hard as possible.
    • The conversation with Gonzales was more hazing the new guy than real bigotry:

Di Georgio: Ah 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.
Gonzales: How does he feel about Mexicans?
Di Georgio: Ask him.
Harry Callahan: Especially Spics.*winks at Di Georgio*

  • Off on a Technicality None of the evidence Harry gets from Scorpio in the first movie can be used, since he used torture getting it. Still, he should have been able to charge him with assault, attempted murder and kidnapping-on himself.
    • And his partner could also have laid charges; he was close by and saw the whole thing, and Scorpio shot at him, too.
      • You're forgetting that Scorpio did all that while wearing a balaclava.
        • The fact that Scorpio has a fresh knife wound exactly like the one Harry gave the guy in the balaclava and the same voice would be enough to take to a jury, and would be rather hard for the defense attorney to explain away.
        • Presumably they also have a recording of Scorpio's voice from the ransom call. Police department forensics started using voiceprint identification in 1967.
        • And while its a bit early for DNA matching, a simple blood type matching between Scorpio and what the masked assailant left all over Harry's knife would add more circumstantial evidence to the pile.
    • The movie makes one legal error when it invalidates the evidence Harry finds in Scorpio's audience due to lack of a search warrant. Since Scorpio is not a legal tenant of the groundskeeper's shack (while the groundskeeper was letting him use it, since the groundskeeper does not have the authority to rent stadium space to tenants its still not legal without the groundskeeper getting permission from someone more senior to him, which he did not. (Analogy: the landlord can legally let someone stay in an apartment building for free, but the janitor can't.) Under the relevant case law at the time Scorpio has no reasonable expectation of privacy and nobody needs any warrant to search his stuff for anything. Today this would not be true, but court precedents were different in the 1970s.
    • The same thing happens at the beginning of Sudden Impact, although we only see the trial.
  • Oh Crap: In Sudden Impact, when the man that raped Jennifer Spencer and his friends are about to repeat the "experience" when one of them says "Crap". Cue Harry Callahan with a BFG, ready for the men to make his day.
    • In Magnum Force, watch the pimp's reaction when he sees the traffic cop's revolver pointed at his face and realizes he's about to get shot.
  • Once an Episode: Harry will run into someone committing a robbery and stop them.
  • Police Brutality: The corrupt vigilante cops from Magnum Force enjoy pulling this. As Harry says, "A man's got to know his limitations."
  • Police Brutality Gambit: Pulled by Scorpio in the first movie. Harry can tell immediately that it isn't him. How? "'Cause he looks too damn good, that's how!"
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: Scorpio says he would consider it a pleasure to "kill a Catholic priest or a nigger."
    • Also, he follows through on the latter. Needless to say, the black guy Scorpio pays to beat him up so he can frame Callahan for it sure seems to enjoy the job. He kicks Scorpio again after throwing him out the door, saying "this one's on the house!"
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Part 1 and 3.
    • Arguably, also Part 2. Just imagine the fallout of Briggs' conspiracy, ff it remained contained.
  • Rape and Revenge: Forms the plot of Sudden Impact.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Harry responds to the mayor's policies on police brutality with the fact that he "shoots the bastard" when it comes to intent to rape. Also, he lets Jennifer off the hook with her revenge killings of her rapists when Mick is found with the murder weapon on his person.
    • In the example of the rapist in the alleyway, the part where he was chasing a woman while brandishing a deadly weapon with obvious intent to use it (the butcher knife) made shooting him 100% legal.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Harry starts Magnum Force in the Stakeout Squad, and in The Enforcer gets reassigned to Personnel after ram-raiding a hostage situation.

Harry: Personnel? But that's for assholes!
Da Chief: (Death Glare) I was in Personnel for ten years!
Harry: Yeah...

Harry: Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry. Every dirty job that comes along...

  • Two Shots From Behind the Bar: It was a liquor store and this was how the villain, an ex-con, was able to get a gun to battle with Dirty Harry.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Harry's methods aren't actually shown all that positively. His interrogation of the Scorpio killer is downright horrific, and ends up doing no good anyway. And in the end, he throws away his badge after disregarding his orders and endangering innocents.
  • Vigilante Man: Magnum Force. Hard to believe that it isn't Harry. Even harder to believe he opposes them. But then again, they killed a cop.
    • Not only one. Until the end of movie they murder two cops on-screen, lead to the death of another and try to kill another one. Add two bombings (one prevented) in densely populated areas and murder of roughly dozen innocent bystanders.
    • Actually, it's not hard to believe that at all. The whole point of the second film was to counter the accusations the first film received, and show that Harry actually had standards. Plus, the worst Harry did in the first film was torture Scorpio. He never killed anyone in cold blood like the vigilante cops did.
    • But it just doesn't add up. Harry spends most of his time complaining about how the system doesn't work, he rarely manages to convict any of his suspects, so he often ends up shooting them, he never follows the rules and yet, according to the logic of this film, he's somehow FOR the system? How does that work?
      • "Briggs, I hate the goddamned system. But until somebody comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick with it!"
      • It works because Harry's dissatisfaction with the system and his opposition to the vigilante cops are ultimately rooted in the same impulse: Harry believes in justice. Its unjust when some shithead like Scorpio sleazes away on a technicality. It's also unjust when some yahoo cops are running around shooting whoever they feel like, especially if that results in the deaths of innocent cops and bystanders.
    • He shoots them if they are in the process of committing a crime; he doesn't hunt them down and kill in their home or when they are driving around, never mind that the bad guys didn't stop at the criminals, but killed witnesses, innocent bystanders, Harry's partner, their own partner, and anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. With explosives and machine guns too, so they clearly aren't worried about collateral damage. And unlike Harry, they were enjoying it; The Reveal even comes when you see one of them cheerfully smiling for the camera after murdering another cop. They are in it for the glory and the thrill as much as any pretensions of justice.
    • Callahan also resorts to lethal force only in self-defense and when facing extremely dangerous criminals (like the psychopathic Scorpio). He is perfectly happy if the criminals end up behind bars instead of six feet under. The first scene when do I feel lucky speech appears shows this well. Callahan actually taunts the robber to grab the gun, so he might could him in self-defense, but leaves calmly when the robber yields, even though seconds earlier the latter tried to kill and even managed to wound Harry.
      • Harry isn't trying to taunt the robber into grabbing the gun so he can shoot him; he's bluffing him into giving it up because Harry's gun is empty.
    • In fact, Harry never once, throughout the entire series, ever kills a person illegally. Every time he puts a bullet in someone it is a perfectly justified police shooting, by the normal law enforcement rules of engagement. The only reason he gets hassled by the system over it so much is because his boss is an asshole.
      • Also because Harry has many non-lethal uses of force that are not justified and often qualify as outright police brutality, thus casting a suspicious context over any other actions Harry takes -- even the legal ones. Harry might be scrupulously clean about killing people but he's far less clean about when and how he roughs them up a little, and that creates no end of problems for him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Scorpio seems to suffer it every time his plans are thwarted, like when he is caught and shot in the leg by Callahan in the stadium.
  • Wag the Director: Eastwood apparently took over a lot of the directorial duties on Magnum Force after the director that they originally hired turned out not to be up to the job.
    • According to Wikipedia, the director (Ted Post) would often want to do retakes when Clint was happy with a shot.
  • What the Hell, Hero?
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Scorpio pays some black guy to beat him up, just so he could frame Callahan for it. Understandably, said black guy evidently enjoys the job.
  • You Look Familiar: Albert Popwell played mooks in most of the films. This sets up a nice subversion of his typecasting as a mook in Sudden Impact when he creeps up on Harry with a shotgun only to be revealed as a colleague from the department.
  • You Need a Breath Mint: Harry tells Captain McKay, after McKay gives Harry a too close dressing down, "Your mouthwash ain't cutting it".