History, Legacy & Showmanship
Wednesday, 09 February 2022 00:08

Feeling Lucky? Remembering “Dirty Harry” on its 50th Anniversary

  • Print
  • Email

“If you are the rare person who has never seen a Clint Eastwood film and wonder what all the fuss is about, Dirty Harry would be a good place to start.” – Patrick McGilligan, author of Clint: The Life and Legend

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of Dirty Harry, the popular action-thriller about San Francisco Police Department Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan and his quest to apprehend a psychopath. Starring Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) in the titular role, the film was inspired by the Zodiac Killer case and spawned a series of Dirty Harry films.

Directed by Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Escape from Alcatraz), the film also starred Andy Robinson (Hellraiser, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Harry Guardino (Pork Chop Hill, Rollercoaster), Reni Santoni (Bad Boys, Cobra), and John Vernon (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Animal House). [Read on here...]

In 2012 the Library of Congress selected Dirty Harry for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Its most recent home media release (on Blu-ray Disc) was in 2008 and 2010. (Hey, Warner Bros., how ‘bout a 4K UHD??!!)

Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood on the set of Dirty Harry

For the occasion of the film’s anniversary, The Bits features a multi-page article consisting of a Q&A with a trio of film historians who reflect on the film, box-office data and statistics that place the film’s performance in context, passages from film reviews, and a reference listing of its initial theatrical presentations.



  • 0 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 1 = Box-office rank among films directed by Don Siegel (adjusted for inflation)
  • 1 = Box-office rank among films in the Dirty Harry series (adjusted for inflation)
  • 2 = Box-office rank among films starring Clint Eastwood (adjusted for inflation)
  • 5 = Rank among top-earning films released in 1971 (lifetime/retroactive)
  • 5 = Rank among top-earning films during the 1972 calendar year
  • 5 = Rank among Warner Bros.’ all-time top-earning films at close of first run
  • 17 = Rank on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains
  • 18 = Number of weeks the longest-running engagement played
  • 41 = Rank on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills
  • 48 = Peak all-time box-office chart position
  • 321 = Number of cinemas playing the film during its opening week
  • $4.0 million = Production cost
  • $16.0 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1972)
  • $16.4 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1973)
  • $16.5 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1974)
  • $17.5 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1975)
  • $17.8 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1976)
  • $27.5 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $36.0 million = Box-office gross
  • $116.4 million = Box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
  • $240.0 million = Box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)



Dirty Harry is a film I wish I could have liked more, since it was made in San Francisco by Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood, who show the city at its ravishing best. They also provided employment for a great many local actors. Heaven knows, they need it. And it’s nice to see old friends in what will no doubt be a popular movie. But improbability plagues Dirty Harry. An intriguing but rocky police thriller, it tends to frustrate the viewer with gaps and loopholes that irrevocably undermine the tough, violent story about a San Francisco plainclothesman in pursuit of a psychopathic killer.” – Stanley Eichelbaum, San Francisco Examiner

Dirty Harry is a good deal more than dirty. The latest Clint Eastwood film is a despicable, degenerate and disgusting example of movie violence-pornography at its very worst, the kind of picture that frightens me because it seems to have an audience and because these people are running loose on the street, drooling over the kind of cruelty, sadism and viciousness that permeates the Dirty Harry style of film.” – John Huddy, The Miami Herald

“Eastwood gives his surly, impulsive cop a likable aura. His acting style remains understated and his lines remain terse. Sometimes he smiles so warmly at a line that he seems about ready to break into a chuckle. (One of the picture’s little jokes, by the way, is an almost subliminal plug for Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me.)” – Dennis Stack, The Kansas City Star

Dirty Harry is one of those tough-cop thrillers that stars its location, this time the city of San Francisco, rather than the actors. In these movies one always gets the feeling that the producers said, ‘We’ve got these great locations, now let’s build a movie around them.’” – George McKinnon, The Boston Globe

“Excellent action movie, but miserable polemic.” – John W. Wilson, Houston Chronicle

Dirty Harry is as engrossing as it is disturbing. It is a bluntly violent, very well-made suspense thriller that advantageously teams Clint Eastwood in the title role with director Don Siegel for the fourth time.” – Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

Dirty Harry is an almost-successful, gory, blood-and-guts-filled and more than gratuitously violent film. It should be a first-rate film, because it’s the kind of screen situation in which Clint Eastwood is the most competent, and the kind of subject matter that director Don Siegel is expert at putting together. Yet, Dirty Harry is not an effective movie. The script has more loose ends than Penelope’s tapestry. Siegel’s direction unexplainably counterpoints the hit-and-run action with a general pace for the film that one could only call somnambulistic.” – John Weisman, Detroit Free Press

Dirty Harry fails in simple credibility so often and on so many levels that it cannot even succeed (as I think it wants to succeed) as a study in perversely complimentary psychosis. What does succeed, and what makes Dirty Harry worth watching no matter how dumb the story, is Siegel’s superb sense of the city, not as a place of moods but as a theater for action. There is a certain difficult integrity to his San Francisco, which is not so beautiful to look at, but is fantastically intricate and intriguing—a challenging menace of towers and battlements and improbable walls.” – Roger Greenspun, The New York Times

Dirty Harry, an incompetently biased new crime melodrama pits a supposedly hard-as-nails San Francisco cop, played by Clint Eastwood with an occasional curl of the upper lip, which suggests a ‘snarling’ expression of sorts, against a mad sniper-kidnapper-extortionist, played by Andy Robinson in the crackling psycho tradition made de rigueur by Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death. ” – Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

“It used to be said that nothing would ever take the place of sex. That was before dirty movies bored everyone insensible with the subject. Now a substitute has been found in sado-masochism, which is a fashionable enough taste to have become known simply as S-M. There isn’t one sex scene in Dirty Harry. It’s S-M all the way. Pain is inflicted and received with a depraved relish that makes almost any tired old skin flick look positively healthy.” – William B. Collins, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The problem with the movie is that director Don Siegel has chosen to load it down with some very simple-minded propagandizing about law and order and the rights of society as opposed to the rights of the accused. A Siegel has it, the tough cop is the answer to society’s ills. The mayor and district attorney of the film are portrayed as so obsessed with constitutional niceties that they cannot see the forest for the trees. In the script they get all the dumb lines and Harry gets all the clever ones. The result is an insultingly simplistic treatment of the very complex problem of crime and justice in America.” – Howell Raines, The Atlanta Constitution

“Eastwood in the past has had trouble with underplaying so deeply that he is in danger of dozing off. The exigencies of the story of Dirty Harry, in which he is almost constantly running, make him avoid this danger.” – Emerson Batdorff, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Dirty Harry begins as a straight, albeit compelling, police thriller. However, after one hour of perhaps a dozen gripping action scenes, Dirty Harry takes a right-wing turn after a false ending and becomes the most controversial motion picture of the year.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“I think films are more often a mirror of society than an agent of change, and that when we blame the movies for the evils around us we are getting things backward. Dirty Harry is very effective at the level of a thriller. At another level, it uses the most potent star presence in American movies—Clint Eastwood—to lay things on the line. If there aren’t mentalities like Dirty Harry’s at loose in the land, then the movie is irrelevant. If there are, we should not blame the bearer of bad news.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“[I]t’s a realistic picture of what one given man—a no-nonsense detective—might do when confronted with a homicidal maniac. And, Eastwood is just right for the part. He has the physicality, the bearing, the cool-eyed determination to make Harry both a believable empathic man. Even though you know he’s playing ‘way beyond the rules,’ you keep rooting for him to win.” – John Neville, The Dallas Morning News

Dirty Harry is a vigorously tough cop melodrama that comes across like Bullitt might have if it had been written by Mickey Spillane.” – Ted Mahar, The Oregonian (Portland)

“You can get into a lot of psychological things about Dirty Harry. The tangle between law interpretation and law enforcement that lies just under the surface of the plot; the elements of emerging violence that scar our society; that plight of an idealistic man caught in the thralls of a sluggish and even cowed bureaucracy. Or you can dig it as a thriller. It functions well on any of those levels.” – Tom McElfresh, The Cincinnati Enquirer

“You could drive a truck through the plotholes in Dirty Harry, which wouldn’t be so serious were the film not a specious, phony glorification of police and criminal brutality. Clint Eastwood, in the title role, is a superhero whose antics become almost satire. Strip away the philosophical garbage and all that’s left is a well-made but shallow running-and-jumping meller…. Bruce Surtees directed the excellent cinematography, and Lalo Schifrin’s modernistic score is very effective, underscoring the film’s suggestion that it is an updated, freaked-out Peter Gunn episode.” – A.D. Murphy, Variety

“As the psycho, Robinson is fairly hysterical. He is a stage actor who has not yet learned how persuasive underplaying is on the screen.” – Paine Kickerbocker, San Francisco Chronicle

“Movies can make Fascists of us all, and Dirty Harry does a particularly slick and thorough job of it. In retrospect, it’s difficult to fault the picture on anything but its point of view. Siegel makes his points more effectively than many directors of gentler films. He stacks the deck against the idea of civil liberties but he does it so well that his argument appears airtight.” – John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“Siegel has a flare for rough-tough metropolitan films. This is no exception, continuing the San Francisco chase tradition which reached its high point in Bullitt.” – James Meade, The San Diego Union

“It’s a brutal crime melodrama which tries to have it both ways. It’s a law-and-order movie which is also pro-violence. Amazingly, the film’s makers don’t seem to see any contradiction in that.” – George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dirty Harry is a slam-bang, highly exciting action film. It also offers some strong criticism of the niceties of legalisms that permit a killer to go free to kill other innocent victims.” – Myles Standish, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“If you go along with the movie—and it’s hard to resist, because the most skillful suspense techniques are used on very primitive emotional levels—you have but one desire: to see the maniac get it so it hurts. The movie lacks the zing and brute vitality of The French Connection, but it has such sustained drive toward this righteous conclusion that it is an almost perfect piece of propaganda for para-legal police power. The evil monster represents urban violence, and the audience gets to see him kicked and knifed and shot, and finally triumphantly drowned. Violence has rarely been presented with such righteous relish.” – Pauline Kael, The New Yorker


A scene from Dirty Harry (1971)

[On to Page 2]

Contact Michael Coate

Please type your full name.
Invalid email address.
Please send us a message.
Invalid Input

Bits Latest Tweets

The Digital Bits
Bits #4K Review – @stephenbjork takes a look at the MCU's latest offering, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER—now available on #4K #UltraHD and #Bluray from @MarvelStudios and @DisneyStudios. @BillHuntBits thedigitalbits.com/item/thor-love…
The Digital Bits
Bits #4K Review – @timsalmons revisits BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN in its nearly 3-hour Deluxe Edition form—now available on #4K #UltraHD and #Bluray from @AnimationWarner and @WBHomeEnt. @BillHuntBits thedigitalbits.com/item/batman-lo…
The Digital Bits
Today on The Bits – George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, plus Clerks III, Scream 2, Watership Down in #4K, Dawson’s Creek on #Bluray & more thedigitalbits.com/columns/my-two…