He’s been known by many names — including, ironically, a man who didn’t have a name — but none fits him better than Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood may have long ago traded his signature .44 Magnum (you might have heard that it’s the most powerful handgun in the world) for a director’s chair and worldwide acclaim as one of our finest auteurs, but he’s more than happy to ruminate on the role that perhaps best-defined his career in front of the camera.
On Monday (June 23), the film “Dirty Harry” turns 37 and has never looked better, thanks to a just-released special-edition DVD set. Collected together with its four sequels (check out “Sudden Impact” for the famous “Go ahead: Make my day” line and “The Dead Pool” for an early Jim Carrey turn) or available on its own, the original stands as a unique document from the era in which it was born.
Eastwood reminisced with MTV News about the legacy of “Dirty Harry,” how the famed cop was almost played by a beloved crooner and whether Harry Callahan will protect our streets again. Never say never.
MTV: You recently attended a screening of “Dirty Harry” in Los Angeles. How long had it been since you’d seen it?
Clint Eastwood: I hadn’t seen it on the big screen in 37 years. I once ran it about 10 years ago on laser disc for my wife, who had never seen it before.
MTV: What did she say to you after she saw it?
Eastwood: She said, “Now I get it.”
MTV: You were not the only big name attached to “Dirty Harry.” Frank Sinatra very nearly played the part.
Eastwood: I guess they tried to get a lot of people for it. They tried Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum and Steve McQueen. Then they finally ended up with Frank Sinatra. I was in postproduction [on “Play Misty for Me”], and they called up and asked, “Are you still interested in ’Dirty Harry’?” I said, “What happened to Frank Sinatra?” And they said, “Frank Sinatra’s got some problem with his hand and he can’t hold a gun.” That sounded like a pretty lame excuse, but it didn’t matter to me. I said, “I’ll do it.” But since they had initially talked to me, there had been all these rewrites. I said, “I’m only interested in the original script.”
MTV: What had changed since the script you had been offered?
Eastwood: Everything. They had marine snipers coming on in the end, and I said, “No. This is losing the point of the whole story, of the guy chasing the killer down. It’s becoming an extravaganza that’s losing its character.”
MTV: The whole point was that it’s one man rebelling against the system.
Eastwood: Absolutely. So they said, “OK, do what you want.” So we went and made it.
MTV: Harry’s walk and talk is so unique. On one of the DVDs, the point is made that Harry always seems to walk in a straight line. He doesn’t waste energy. He knows what he has to do.
Eastwood: He knows where he’s headed. Yeah. I felt the character was a man of purpose. Once he decided on something, there were no side-movements away from it, no extraneous movements. He was a very determined soul.
MTV: Did it always strike you as something that could be controversial?
Eastwood: I was told when I first got the script that other actors had liked it but had reservations about the political elements of it. But even at that age, I was not afraid of it. To me, it was an exciting detective story. It was a fantasy. Here’s a guy who is so dogmatic that nothing is going to stop him when his mind is made up.
MTV: But it was more than a little controversy. The pre-eminent film critic of the time, Pauline Kael, called it “a Gestapo movie.”
Eastwood: I didn’t care less. Somebody else called it a fascist masterpiece. People are always calling people names, the great right-wing conspiracy or the great left-wing conspiracy. You make a movie, and if somebody reads something into it, then great, more power to him. [Director] Don Siegel and I were both very moderate politically. We didn’t think much of it. We just had a good time with it.
MTV: Can you say categorically you will never play Harry Callahan again?
Eastwood: I’m 78 years old, and you’re pretty well drummed out of the police force by that age.
MTV: But there are always scenarios in films, as you well know.
Eastwood: There could be a scenario. I suppose if some mythical writer came out of nowhere and it was the greatest thing on the planet, I’d certainly have to think about it, but it’s not like I’ve ever courted it. I feel like that was an era of my life, and I’ve gone on to other things. I’m not sure about being Dirty Harry again, but who knows?
MTV: Was there ever a sixth film planned?
Eastwood: No, there was never a story.
MTV: How often do you get asked to quote your famous Dirty Harry lines?
Eastwood: People always ask me to do them. I was talking to a cinema class about “Dirty Harry,” and pretty soon I had rattled off the whole [“Do you feel lucky”] speech like it was yesterday. Everybody loved it. I’ve never said anything to an audience that’s pleased them more. [Laughs.] Everybody was going, “Yeah! Yeah!” I could have taken that audience to war.
MTV: How would you react if they remade “Dirty Harry”? Can another actor possibly play Harry Callahan?
Eastwood: Who knows? God bless them.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Dirty Harry.”
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