Whether it be in wandering the wild west or patrolling 1970s San Francisco, no other actor has singularly defined masculinity in cinema in such a way as Clint Eastwood. Like John Wayne before him and Arnold Schwarzenegger afterwards, Eastwood has come to represent the archetypal cinematic hero in this era of film, with his characters often promoting American patriotism, a rigidly conservative idealism and a gung-ho attitude towards extreme acts of violence; a direct contrast to the counter-culture hippie movement of the 1960s. These characterizations are largely argued to have popularised the ‘anti-hero’ protagonist in cinema; a hero that isn’t inherently good, with dubious intent. Probably the best example of this can be seen in the action thriller Dirty Harry (1971), in the now iconic moment when the nihilistic Inspector Harry Callahan stops a bank robbery near the beginning of the film.
The scene starts with Eastwood’s Callahan alone, munching down on a sandwich in a diner, clad in a sports jacket and a sweater. He’s shown to be very much the lone wolf; on his own without a partner, out of the confines of any uniform and playing by his own rules. The equilibrium is disturbed with the sudden sound of an alarm and screaming, as Callahan steps out of the diner still chewing his food and calmly unholsters his .44 Magnum. He fires several rounds, effortlessly killing most of the gang and the getaway driver, causing the car to be upturned and a damaged fire hydrant to shoot water out over the street. He calmly walks through the chaos and destruction to the last surviving gang member, propped against a wall bleeding out with a shotgun within reaching distance. Eastwood aims the gun at the man’s head and utters the famous speech;
“Did he fire six shots or only five? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
As other police arrive on the scene, we are shown that this was all part of his bluff; he was in fact out of bullets but managed to apprehend the man with just his threat alone. This scene has all the key features of an Eastwood flick; an escalating violent confrontation, shotguns firing, civilians screaming, the bad guys making their escape and the cool, macho hero in the right place at the wrong time ready to quickly dispatch swift justice with an effortless cool and a world weary squint. This scene also manages to perfectly establish Dirty Harry’s ideals and character; he is an unabashed force of semi-fascism there to uphold the law no matter what the cost, and more importantly this is just another ordinary day for the constantly cool Dirty Harry.
On 5th September 2016 Warner Bros UK. launches the Iconic Moments Collection, a beautifully matching packaged set of 22 standout titles celebrating the breadth of their catalogue.