Dirty Harry: an old Story of Manhood

By | February 12, 2021

[February 12, 2021]  The movie Dirty Harry (1971) came out in theaters 50 years ago to great fanfare.  When a madman calling himself “the Scorpio Killer” menaces the city, tough-as-nails San Francisco Police Inspector Dirty Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath.  This movie was popular because it tells an old story of manhood.

We’ve all heard the story before.  In fact, this movie follows a familiar pattern; a significant threat emerges, and an imperfect hero steps forward.  The soon-to-be hero (a man) understands the threat and voluntarily, sometimes reluctantly, takes personal responsibility to end it.  We see it in the classic stories of the past when the shining knight slays the dragon.

Clint Eastwood plays Inspector Callahan in Dirty Harry.  He gives us some genuinely gritty, hard-hitting acting that shows us the dark side of his role.  But before he can eliminate the Scorpio Killer, Callahan is harassed by his superiors for his brutal tactics, tough talk, and shoot-first, ask questions later attitude.

In one of the best-known scenes in half a century, Inspector Callahan catches up to the killer. Shots are fired during a foot chase.  The drama is about to come to an end.  You can see it here (a YouTube video, 0:51 minutes).

“Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. “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?” – Inspector Harry Callahan

Evil is not always as easily recognizable as the Scorpio Killer.  We do know that Adolf Hitler’s fascism was evil.  We know that Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields were evil.  And, we know that China’s Great Leap Forward killed up to 55 million people was evil (although that history is not spoken about today).

Dr. Jordan Peterson often speaks about these meta-stories.1  From a psychological point of view, he explains why these stories are so powerful and why we associate with them.  He believes that each of us “inhabits a story,” describing where we are, where we are going, and the actions we must undertake to get from the former to the latter.

Stories of heroes of yesteryear are part of our mental makeup and our culture.  Without them, we would not be who we are in any sense.  Stories are powerful and we can learn leadership through stories.  The story of Dirty Harry is one of them.


  1. https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/podcast/s3-e21-maps-of-meaning-6-story-and-metastory-2/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

26 thoughts on “Dirty Harry: an old Story of Manhood

  1. Frank Graham

    Gen. Satterfield, this is a subject that I think most of us would like to see you develop further. I know that the idea of old stories that keep being re-told are powerful in some way and that the linkage to the concept of hero is somehow tied. But your thinking on this is important to untangle it. Thanks for your consideration.

    1. Mr. T.J. Asper

      Old stories – aka metastories – are many. They tell the tale of humans, their struggles, their victories, and their foibles. More on this subject would be nice but more importantly, how do these metastories tie into our lives directly? That is the real question.

  2. Tracey Brockman

    If you saw the movie Dirty Harry and didn’t like it, something is wrong with you. I liked the movie, one of the best of that era. I also like this website, so please let others know about it, post in the comment section, and read read read. Thanks all.

    1. Deplorable John

      Yep, the manly man of all time ….. well maybe except for John Wayne.

  3. Big Al

    I just enjoy watching movies like Dirty Harry, period, end of story. I’m not into analyzing them.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      I just want to watch a movie that is not all glitzed up in special animation that makes me feel like a spaceman from the year 2050. I want to see something down to earth and that is what Dirty Harry is about. Plus, you get the added bonus of seeing the bad guy get his due.

  4. Max Foster

    Anyone who watches this movie or any of Clint Eastwood’s movies, can be stricken by the action, acting, and easy plots. But, and here is the key, these stories are all common human hero-based stories. They follow the same pattern just like all great movies of their time.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Magnum Force, 1973
      The Enforcer, 1976
      Sudden Impact, 1983
      The Dead Pool, 1988
      Maybe I missed one but I enjoyed each of these. You can watch them usually for free.

  5. Tony B. Custer

    I just loved this movie. Of course, I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood anyway. He is manly man. 😊

  6. Rev. Michael Cain

    Let’s not overlook the point of this article by getting hung up on the movie itself (which is pretty damn good, if yous ask me and satisfying by getting the killer killed at the end). Gen. Satterfield’s point that this is a story that is common among humans and helps explain the ‘hero’ and how imperfect the hero typically is. How to be a hero is not easy task. And why we have heroes is a question that is easy to answer.

  7. Lady Hawk

    Wow, takes me back half a century, — who would have known that the movie came out that long ago.

    1. Anthony "Tony" Benson

      At the time of its introduction the Model 29 was the most powerful production handgun, although it was later overtaken by handguns chambered for the even larger .454 Casull and .50 Action Express cartridges. It was made famous worldwide by association with the fictional character “Dirty Harry” Callahan.

    2. Don Snow

      I never wanted to posses such a handgun but it was popular during the 1970s especially because of the Dirty Harry movie. I personally prefer a Berretta 9mm.

  8. Yusaf from Texas

    Great article for a Friday morning, and for me waiting to get off from work and enjoy the weekend. Have a great day all.

  9. Emma Archambeau

    A psychopathic sniper, later referred to as “Scorpio”, shoots a woman while she swims in a rooftop pool. He leaves behind a blackmail letter demanding he be paid $100,000 or he will kill more people. The note is found by SFPD Inspector Harry Callahan. The mayor teams up with the police to track down the killer, although to stall for time, he agrees to Scorpio’s demand over Callahan’s objections.

    1. JT Patterson

      At the end of the movie, as noted by Gen. Satterfield, the killer Scorpio reaches for his gun, but Callahan shoots and kills him. Callahan then removes his police badge, throws it in the nearby water, and walks away. Great ending. I recommend you watch it on YouTube or on any platform. Watch the entire movie, if you’ve not seen it yet. You’ll be happy you did.

      1. Janna Faulkner

        The question is, why did Inspector Callahan throw his badge away?

        1. Eric Coda

          Because his superiors were giving him a lot of crap for using “unapproved” methods of police work (the old ways which involved brute force). Callahan was interested only in justice and the “new” police methods were not effective and tended to get MORE innocents killed or injured. He was disgusted by what he witnessed.

        2. Jeff Blackwater

          Just like elected politicians today, they imposed “rules” upon those doing the job that actually makes it harder and less productive to get the job done.

          1. apache2

            … and that is why politicians are disliked so much. Just take a look at our current president Biden who cannot even string two complete sentences together intelligently and reading from a script. He cannot read, folks! And the news media fawns all over him. They don’t see that the emperor has no clothes.

  10. Randy Goodman

    One of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and it never gets old.


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