They originally wanted John Wayne, or Steve McQueen, or Robert Mitchum, or Frank Sinatra, fer cryin’ out loud. Can you imagine any of them delivering Harry’s famous line: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?” I can’t. Of course, no one knew how popular it was going to be. In retrospect any of those action heroes must have looked like a good idea at the time, like casting George Raft as Rick in Casablanca seemed like a good idea. If they had, I believe no one would remember Casablanca today, and John Wayne as Harry Callahan would be seen as one of his minor parts. Like William Goldman says, Nobody Knows Anything.
This, of course, was the basis for one of the early franchises, before sequels became so depressingly ubiquitous. Four more films followed, all of them pretty good thrillers. And they would probably still be making them today if Clint Eastwood would say yes. He wisely realized that he was too old to be convincing in the part. As usual with a film series, Dirty Harry is the best of the five. I really like it.
One of the many attractions of this movie for me is the San Francisco settings. I lived in the City By the Bay for several years, including the year this was shot. My various abodes were in the Haight-Ashbury, including one that was about a block away from Kezar Stadium, where Harry tortures the homicidal maniac to reveal the location of the girl he buried alive. There are several other locations that are very familiar to me, though I’m sure that some of them are no longer there. And some of the stuff is laughable, to anyone who knows the City. For instance, I don’t think Harry could have run from the Marina to the Forest Hills MUNI station beneath Twin Peaks in any reasonable time. It’s at least four miles. From there to Mount Davidson Cross is doable, but quite a slog through hilly country. Harry would be pooped when he got there.
It was controversial. And it cheated a bit, I thought. After Harry tortures the information out of Scorpio, the D.A. reams him a new asshole because of how he violated the victim’s “rights,” including the right to a lawyer, the Miranda warning, etc. Which makes no sense at all. There was only Harry and Scorpio there in the stadium. Do you really think Harry would write in his report that he shot the asshole while he was surrendering? Or that he stood on the asshole’s wound until he spilled the beans? No freakin’ way. It would be Harry’s word against a triple murderer, and even in San Francisco the D.A. would not question it. Likewise the recovery of the murder weapon when Harry kicked down the door to his hidey-hole. The doctrine of “hot pursuit” would cover him, as was once explained to me by one of SF’s Finest after they had searched my apartment looking for an armed robber.
Anyway, I know why they did all that. People were fed up with the “rights” of criminals, and the lack of rights for victims (and still are). I support those rights … except sometimes it can get ridiculous. There is a tremendous appeal to a cop who breaks the rules to get good things done. Of course, once you start breaking them, it can be hard to stop …
Then there is the matter of torture. I am totally opposed to it … about 99.999% of the time. But there are very rare circumstances where I would approve of it, and even engage in it. The famous “ticking time bomb” is one. The person buried alive is another. I would do absolutely anything to a motherfucker who had buried someone alive. Ditto someone who had information about where a big bomb was hidden, ready to go off. Fuck his rights. All he has left is the right to suffer, and the right to die.