The Clint Eastwood Classic That Was Banned For Violence
Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry was so violent it was banned from theaters in Finland upon release.
Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is now considered a classic, but the film was quite controversial when it was first released in 1971. In fact, it was so controversial that, as Banned Library reports, one European nation was so troubled by the movie that it allowed censorship to rear its ugly head. In 1972, Finland hit Dirty Harry with a ban for violence and mental health reasons.
The distributor for the film would challenge the ban and bring the case to the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court. The ban was overturned after some minor changes, but it ended up being banned once more. Finally, in 1973, the distributor would win again and the film was allowed to be distributed in Finland for good — albeit with three minutes of scenes cut.
Dirty Harry followed Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, a San Francisco cop that plays by his own rules. Harry is called up to hunt down the “Scorpio Killer,” a maniac terrorizing the city by sniping victims and leaving ransom notes at the crime scenes. Andrew Robinson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) played the Scorpio Killer and Reni Santoni (Cobra) played Callahan’s new partner, Inspector Chico Gonzales. The cast also included Harry Guardino, John Vernon, John Larch, John Mitchum, Mae Mercer, Lyn Edgington, and more. Don Siegel directed with a screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, and Dean Riesner.
Although Finland was one of the only countries to outright ban Dirty Harry from distribution, the film wasn’t without its controversies in other countries. Many people took umbrage with the depiction of a police officer who took the law into his own hands, using brutality and violence without much consequence. Police violence and brutality was an issue in the 1970s and still is today, so the film remains controversial. While Dirty Harry was undoubtedly a hit for Clint Eastwood, both critically and commercially, it has its fair share of detractors.
Since the release of Dirty Harry, the prestige of the film has only grown. The film was added to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2012. Sources such as the New York Times, Empire, and Total Film have placed it on ‘Greatest Films of All Time’ lists. It currently holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and 90% from audiences.
At the box office, Dirty Harry exceeded expectations by pulling in $35.9 million at the domestic box office against a budget of $4 million. This made it the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1971. In short, it’s safe to say that Dirty Harry was a success all around.
Since Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood has had an incredible career full of iconic roles along with directing quite a few films of his own. Interestingly, Dirty Harry was one of Eastwood’s very first directing gigs: though the vast majority of the film was directed by Don Siegel, Eastwood actually directed the suicide-jumper scenes. Perhaps we could credit Dirty Harry as the start of Eastwood catching the directing bug.
Another interesting tidbit about Dirty Harry is how it drew inspiration from the real-life Zodiac Killer. Various films have drawn inspiration from the case, especially David Fincher’s Zodiac which told the story of the hunt for the real Zodiac Killer. Of course, Fincher paid respects to Dirty Harry, with a character from Zodiac watching the film in theaters.
Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry may have a long-reaching influence on pop culture–controversy and all–but the long-time leading man has made many projects since then. His most recent project was the film Cry Macho, which follows a washed-up horse breeder and rodeo star taking a young boy away from his alcoholic mother and bringing him to his father. Clint Eastwood pulled double-duty in the film, directing and starring in the lead role.
Cry Macho certainly didn’t enjoy the same level of success as Dirty Harry. The pandemic made for a difficult release, and the film only pulled in $16.4 million worldwide. It also didn’t fare well from a critical standpoint. Fortunately, Clint Eastwood has plenty of other great movies under his belt. And even though Clint Eastwood is 92 now, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. He’s sure to have some more great performances to give.