Clint Eastwood’s Most Essential And Controversial Movie Is On Streaming Right Now

Clint Eastwood's best film, Dirty Harry, is available to stream on Max.

By Sean Thiessen | Published

Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry

Clint Eastwood is ready to make your day. The 1971 film Dirty Harry is one of Eastwood’s best movies, and the classic, controversial cop thriller is streaming now on Max. Though the film is now regarded as one of the most influential crime films ever made, its depictions of police violence caused mixed reception upon its release.

Clint Eastwood stars as ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan, a San Francisco police detective who skates on the edge of morality to bring criminals to justice. Callahan is forced to team up with an inexperienced officer as the pair track down Scorpio, a serial killer terrorizing the city. What ensues is a violent, ethically ambiguous romp.

Clint Eastwood set the standard for the “loose cannon cop” archetype that has been mimicked since Dirty Harry came on the scene. Eastwood is so iconic in the role that it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part, but Eastwood was actually low on the studio’s list.

Before Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel were officially brought onto the project, actors like Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, John Wayne, and Marlon Brando were under consideration. Sinatra was attached to the project with The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner, but Kershner left when Sinatra did.

Paul Newman did not see the film as a fit for him but suggested Clint Eastwood, who was famous for Westerns. Eastwood was presented with several versions of the Dirty Harry script, which had been rewritten many times by writers like John Milius and Terrence Malick. 

Clint Eastwood and Andrew Robinson in Dirty Harry

Clint Eastwood felt the original version, written by Harry and Rita Fink, was the most character-focused draft, and elected to shoot it. The script was titled Dead Right and was eventually changed to Dirty Harry.

Next, the film had to cast its villain. The production approached several actors about playing the villainous Scorpio, with Scott Caan and Audie Murphy both up for the role. Murphy passed away before the film could be made, and Eastwood turned to a relatively unknown actor, Andy Robinson.

Clint Eastwood had seen Robinson in a play and suggested him for the villain role in Dirty Harry. Robinson’s scraggly appearance made him a perfect fit visually for the unstable Scorpio. Robinson, however, was a pacifist in real life and did not even know how to properly operate a firearm when filming began.

Andy Robinson eventually nailed his performance opposite Clint Eastwood. Taking inspiration from the Zodiac killer, who had terrorized San Francisco just a few years earlier, Scorpio was a relevant and convincing villain. He was so convincing that Robinson received death threats from viewers after the release of Dirty Harry.

The violence depicted in Dirty Harry made it the center of many debates. Critics were divided on the film; many praised Clint Eastwood for giving the most inspired and realized performance of his career, while others derided the film for its glorified depictions of police brutality.

Director Don Siegel argued that the morally ambiguous actions of law enforcement in the film were meant to illustrate the point that the police can be just as evil as criminals; they just carry a badge. That point did not land for all audiences, and the debate continued.

But the controversy did not stop with the film. The movie allegedly inspired a number of copycat crimes across the world.

Dirty Harry clint eastwood

The Faraday School kidnapping took place in Australia in 1972. Two armed men kidnapped a teacher and six students, demanding $1 million in ransom. The kids escaped, and the men were apprehended before the money could be paid.

A similar incident took place in California when a man kidnapped a school bus full of children. That case had a similar result, but in Germany, a young girl was buried in a box with ventilation and died when the air holes were clogged with foliage. Suspects were apprehended nearly 30 years later.

Today, the film is recognized as a high point for Clint Eastwood. Dirty Harry represents a shift in police films; it inspired not only its own sequels, but innumerable other stories about cops on the edge of the law. It is featured on a multitude of lists of influential films and was selected for preservation at the Library of Congress in 2012.

Beyond Clint Eastwood’s performance, Dirty Harry is known for its aerial photography of San Francisco and its fantastic one-liners. It was referenced in David Fincher’s Zodiac as an example of Hollywood already capitalizing on one of America’s most notorious serial killers. It contributed to the famous lines to pop-culture like, “Go ahead. Make my day,” and, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”

Now that Clint Eastwood is storming into streaming with Dirty Harry on Max, film lovers should feel lucky, indeed.