In real life, Andrew Robinson is a pacifist who despises guns. In the early days of principal photography, Robinson would flinch violently every time he fired. Director Don Siegel was forced to shut down production for a time and sent Robinson to a school to learn to fire a gun convincingly. However, he still blinks noticeably when he shoots. Robinson was also squeamish about filming the scene where he verbally and physically abuses several schoolchildren, and the scene where he racially insults the man he pays to beat him up (Raymond Johnson).
As is well known, Clint Eastwood directed the scene with the suicide jumper (Bill Couch). However, it is often claimed he directed the scene only because Don Siegel was ill. This is inaccurate. Siegel was indeed ill, and wasn't on the set, but Eastwood had always been scheduled to direct that scene, due to the difficult logistics of getting the actors, director, camera-man and sound-man all together on the top of a small ledge. In the shooting schedule, 6 nights had been set aside for the shooting of the scene. Eastwood told the studio he could shoot it in two nights. In the end, he shot the entire scene in one night.
Scorpio wears a belt with a peace symbol buckle throughout the film. According to director Don Siegel, "It reminds us that no matter how vicious a person is, when he looks in the mirror he is still blind to what he truly is".
When Don Siegel was hired as director, he was considering Audie Murphy for the role of Scorpio. Siegel thought it would be a nice irony to have a genuine war hero and heroic screen icon known for playing clean-cut characters playing a psychopathic killer. Siegel offered Murphy the role, but Murphy died in a plane crash on 28 May 1971 prior to making his final decision.
The opening sniper scenes were shot from atop San Francisco's Bank of America Building located at 555 California Street. The sniper's target is a girl swimming in the pool on the roof of the then Holiday Inn Chinatown, located at 750 Kearny Street, and since about 1995, renamed Hilton San Francisco Financial District. 750 Kearny Street is located on a straight line five blocks north (about 1600-1700 feet) of BoA Tower. Since the BoA Tower is considerably taller than the hotel, the vantage point is looking down at the rooftop pool at the hotel, and would be a relatively easy shot for a trained marksman. Since the Hilton takeover of the hotel, the pool is no longer open/operable.
When Universal allowed its option on the film and characters to lapse, Warner Bros. purchased the rights with a view to cast Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was interested, however he had broken his wrist during the filming of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) eight years previously, and during contract negotiations, he found the large handgun too unwieldy. Additionally, his father had recently passed away, and Sinatra decided he wanted to do some lighter material. After Sinatra dropped out, Warner Bros. considered Marlon Brando for the role, but never officially approached him. Next, they offered it to Steve McQueen and then Paul Newman, both of whom turned it down. Newman however suggested Clint Eastwood as a possible star.
Dirty Harry's gun is supposedly a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver, chambered for a .44 Magnum cartridge. In the film, the gun is shown as being capable of sending assailants flying through the air, even when shot from a distance, however, in reality the gun does not produce such dramatic results. Additionally, the .44 Magnum round is not considered to be a practical caliber for urban police force use due to recoil (which makes target re-acquisition difficult) and over-penetration issues, which greatly increases the likelihood of the bullet going through its target and injuring bystanders. The actual gun used on set by Clint Eastwood was in fact a Smith & Wesson Model 29. It is a common misconception that a Model 29 could not be located and a Model 57, chambered in .41 Magnum, was used instead. Clint Eastwood contacted Bob Sauer, representative for Smith and Wesson, to acquire the pistol. The Model 29 had been out of production for several years at the time, but a number of pistols were assembled from parts at the factory and provided to the crew. Eastwood took one to a firing range to familiarize himself with the Model 29.
Serial killer Scorpio was loosely based on the Zodiac killer, who used to taunt police and media with notes about his crimes, in one of which he threatened to hijack a school bus full of children. The role of Harry Callahan was loosely based on real life detective David Toschi who was the chief investigator in the Zodiac case.
After Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel came on board the project, they hired writer Dean Riesner to work on the script. In his first rewrite, the bank robbery scene ends with Harry not pointing the gun at the robber, but placing it against his own temple. He pulls the trigger, laughs and then walks away. Eastwood and Siegel both felt this was too extreme, even for Harry Callahan.
All the outdoor scenes were actually filmed in San Francisco except for the bank robbery which Dirty Harry foils, when he first utters his immortal phrase, "'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" This scene was shot on a set.
When Harry finally meets Scorpio in Mount Davidson Park, Scorpio orders him to show his gun with his left hand. Harry pulls it from his holster and Scorpio ad-libs the line, "My, that's a big one!" This line caused the crew to crack up and the scene had to be re-shot, but the line stayed
A close-up shot was planned for Debralee Scott's appearance, in which she played the nude corpse of Ann Mary Deacon. She felt so cold in the dawn chill that she shivered uncontrollably. After several failed takes, her scene was filmed as a long shot.
Writer John Milius made a major contribution to the film (as well as Dirty Harry's mystique). He wrote the lines Harry quotes to punks about "Did he fire six shots or five?" and the immortal "Do you feel lucky, punk?"
According to the original script, the phrase that Dirty Harry quotes during both the bank robbery and his final confrontation with Scorpio was not the actual quote for the movie, the actual quote in the script was, "Well? Was it five or was it six? Regulations say five...hammer down on an empty...only not all of us go by the book. What you have to do is think about it. I mean, this is a .44 Magnum and it'll turn your head into hash. Now, do you think I fired five or six? And if five, do I keep a live one under the hammer? It's all up to you. Are you feeling lucky, punk?"
Scorpio's real name is never revealed through out the entire movie, and in the ending credits he is simply listed as "killer". However after the film's release, a novelization gave his real name as Charles Davis.
The movie's most famous line is often misquoted. A lot of people mistakenly quote the line as "Do you feel lucky, punk?", while the actual line is "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
The role of Harry Callahan was originally written for John Wayne. The writers, husband and wife team Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, had just finished working with Wayne on Big Jake (1971) and when they were trying to sell their script, they used him as an example of how they envisioned the character. Wayne however said he wasn't interested in the role as he felt the violence in the script was unjustified and glorified. Eventually, the Finks sold their script to Universal, who were thinking of using it as a Clint Eastwood vehicle, but they never followed up on initial plans, and they let the rights to the script run out.
Clint Eastwood agreed to star in the film only on the proviso that Don Siegel direct. Siegel was under contract to Universal at the time, and Eastwood personally went to the studio heads to ask them to 'loan' Siegel to Warner. Eastwood has always maintained in interviews that the reason he took the role was because he felt the issue of victims' rights was being ignored in the political arena at the time, and he thought the film could be a good way to bring it more to the fore (which it did).
In 1972, a copycat crime took place in the state of Victoria in Australia, in which two men kidnapped a teacher and six pupils at gunpoint and demanded a $1 million ransom. The state government agreed to pay but the children managed to escape and the kidnappers were subsequently jailed. One of them was called Eastwood.
Uncredited screenwriter John Milius wrote his draft of the film inspired by Akira Kurosawa's studies in lone-gun detectives, while director Don Siegel tackled the material from the viewpoint of bigotry.
The original draft of the script by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink was set in New York City. When Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel became involved in the project, they initially planned to relocate the film to Seattle, Washington before ultimately deciding on San Francisco.
When Clint Eastwood approached Don Siegel to offer him the directing job, Eastwood gave Siegel four drafts of the script, one of which was written by Terrence Malick. In Malick's script, he had altered Scorpio from being a mindless psychopath killing only because he likes it, to being a vigilante who killed wealthy criminals who had escaped justice. Siegel didn't like Malick's script, but Eastwood did, and Malick's ideas formed the basis for the sequel, Magnum Force (1973).
Andrew Robinson created a backstory for Scorpio which involved him being drafted into the Vietnam War, and seeing unspeakable horrors. When he returned home to the United States, he found himself a figure of hate, and his war experiences, combined with the people's treatment of soldiers, caused him to go insane.
This film makes references to the then recent criminal court trials of Escobedo v. Illinois and Miranda v. Arizona. Escobedo v Illinois was a 1964 case which ruled that any statements made by a suspect without the presence of legal counsel were inadmissible as evidence. Miranda v Arizona was a 1966 case which ruled that a suspect had to be informed of his rights prior to interrogation. If he was not informed of his rights, the subsequent interrogation was deemed null and void.
The gun Scorpio steals from the liquor store owner is a 9mm Walther P38. During his rooftop shootout, he uses a German MP40 sub-machine gun. The sniper rifle he uses is a 7.7mm Japanese Arisaka Type 02 Paratrooper Takedown rifle (rechambered in .30-06 Springfield) fitted with a suppressor. This particular rifle was sporterized; all of the Scorpio Killer's weapons were WWII-era infantry weapons.
Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Urich (now deceased) cited the character of Harry Callahan as being one of the biggest influences on their careers. Schwarzenegger said watching Dirty Harry inspired him to seek out action roles with wisecracking heroes who were a law unto themselves. Urich based his portrayal of Dan Tanna in the TV show Vega$ (1978) on Clint Eastwood's performance in Dirty Harry, especially his tendency never to get angry or raise his voice. According to Urich, when shooting the pilot, he was very consciously doing an impression of Eastwood.
In a 2009 poll for MTV News, the character of Harry Callahan was voted the "Greatest Movie Badass of All-Time." Dirty Harry beat other movie icons like Rambo, Ellen Ripley and John McClane to the top spot.
When composer Lalo Schifrin was scoring the film, he told director Don Siegel that he wanted to use female vocals for the scenes with the Scorpio killer in them. When Siegel asked him why, Schifrin replied that he believed Scorpio was conflicted about what he was doing as he wore a peace symbol belt buckle yet he was a murderer. Schifrin believed that Scorpio heard voices in his head and the female vocals would represent that. (This particular score was later sampled by rap group N.W.A in 1991 for the rap song 'Approach to Danger'.)
First feature film portraying the San Francisco Police Department's Bureau of Inspectors' Homicide Detail; the success of the film led to the development of the TV drama The Streets of San Francisco (1972).
The 44 Magnum used in the film is now owned by Prop Master and weapons specialist Bill Davis who bought it off the production company years before the film became popular. The revolver is still in use as part of his catalog.
In the bank robbery scene, the movie theater across the street lists Play Misty for Me (1971), a movie Eastwood also starred in, and the first feature film directed by him, released earlier in 1971, on it's marquee.
Unlike most other municipal police organizations, the San Francisco Police Department calls their detectives "Inspectors." Hence the title character's official rank and name is 'Police Inspector Harry Callahan,' and not 'Detective Harry Callahan.
The sniper calls himself "Scorpio" which is the Zodiac sign for people born between October 24th and November 22nd. November 22nd 1963 is the date that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper in Dallas, Texas, a killing that the Clint Eastwood character in In the Line of Fire (1993) would be directly involved in.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
For the iconic final shot when Dirty Harry tosses away his badge, Don Siegel was dismayed to discover that they had only brought one badge to the location shoot, so Eastwood had to throw it perfectly in just one take.
Clint Eastwood objected to the end of the film when Harry throws his badge away after killing the Scorpio Killer, arguing with director Don Siegel that Harry knew that being a policeman was the only work for which he was suited (and indeed the sequel Magnum Force (1973) begins with Harry still on the force, with no indication that he ever quit). Siegel eventually convinced Eastwood that Harry threw his badge away as a symbol that he had lost faith in the justice system.
Before each of Harry's 3 combative encounters with Scorpio, there is a cross and or a reference to Christ: 1.) At the rooftop stakeout, the "Jesus Saves" neon sign. 2.) At the park ransom location, the giant, cement cross. 3.) And at 1:35:14, at the pivotal moment when Harry is spotted by his nemesis from the school bus, a cross extending up from the streetlight. Scorpio even exclaims, "Jeeeesssus!"