Dirty Harry’s cynical ending is perfect for the movie, but Clint Eastwood himself originally refused to film it, fearing it would hurt the story.
The ending of Dirty Harry is a perfect note to close on – but Clint Eastwood himself very nearly ruined it. Eastwood made his name with Westerns such as the Dollars trilogy or Hang ‘Em High, but by the end of the ’60s, it was clear the genre was dying. After stars like Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne passed on Dirty Harry, Eastwood signed on as the titular character. Not only was it a huge success upon release in 1971, it essentially underlined that cop movies had replaced the Western for audiences.
While Harry’s uncompromising approach to law enforcement spoke to many viewers, the film was labeled fascist in its views by several prominent critics like Pauline Kael. These critiques were so loud that the first sequel – 1973’s Magnum Force – set Eastwood’s character against a gang of vigilante police officers just to underline that the original wasn’t endorsing “Dirty” Harry’s actions. The ending of the original saw Harry gun down Andrew Robinson’s serial killer Scorpio after the latter kidnapped a school bus full of children. After shooting the killer, the final shot saw Harry toss his badge away in disgust.
Why Clint Objected To Dirty Harry’s Famous Ending
Eastwood wasn’t a fan of Dirty Harry’s (whose partners were often ill-fated) – ending, however, and lobbied to drop it. Throughout the story, Harry grows increasingly frustrated by the justice system, as despite the fact Scorpio is clearly guilty, he keeps being given a pass. Harry tossing his badge both underlines his disillusionment with the system – where he turned to vigilantism just to ensure Scorpio couldn’t escape again – and acts as an homage to the ending of 1952 Western High Noon. Eastwood felt Harry throwing away his badge sent the wrong message to the audience and from his perspective, he thought Dirty Harry’s ending told viewers the character was quitting.
Speaking with Rue Morgue, Robinson recalled that “There was a big fight between Don and Clint about what to do about the badge at the very end of the film.” Robinson and director Don Siegel felt Harry had to throw his badge away because “… because he’s an outlier, he’s a vigilante.” Eastwood argued against the shot and managed to convince Siegel not to film it. He also felt Dirty Harry had franchise potential, and thought the character quitting the force could jeopardize that. On the day, however, Eastwood changed his mind and decided the character should throw his badge after all.
Clint Still Got His Dirty Harry Sequel Wish
Dirty Harry’s final shot works perfectly, and it’s hard to imagine an ending where the character merely walks away instead. Eastwood didn’t have to worry about retconning this moment either, as the film was such a profound hit that Magnum Force followed only two years later. The sequel doesn’t even touch upon Harry tossing his badge, and it’s business as usual for the detective when the story begins. Eastwood returned to the role a further three times with The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and 1988 slasher The Dead Pool, giving the star his longest-running franchise.
Next: Clint Eastwood Cut Unforgiven’s Alternate Ending (& He Was Right To)