Happy Birthday, Eastwood: Now Please Revisit Your Toughest Role
As the actor and director turns 87 today, here's an interesting proposal for him
No one in Hollywood has come close to matching the career of Clint Eastwood. At 87 years old, the artist simply refuses to give up. He is, even now, one of the industry’s most in-demand actors and directors.
His last two features, “American Sniper” and “Sully,” were major box-office hits that received awards attention. He’s already working on his next feature, which is likely to be released next year.
Beyond movies, Eastwood has done everything from a stint in the Army to time as the mayor of Carmel, California — the place he calls home.
He’s produced, acted in, directed, and composed music for film — a field he has gifted with more influential material than most. From his early westerns, to his tough-guy cop roles, to his more dramatic features as a director, he’s a man and artist who never stops challenging himself. But, above all, Clint Eastwood is and will always be Detective Harry Callahan.
“Dirty Harry” was released all the way back in 1971, but it’s as relevant today as it was then. It was a reaction to films that sympathized more and more with criminals — and ignored the plight of the victim and of the cop.
Callahan was an extreme character, from his choice of firearms to his no-bull attitude toward his superiors and the bad guys he chased. No one had captured a character on-screen quite like Callahan until Eastwood gripped a .44 Magnum and grimaced for our entertainment.
It was the leap John Wayne could never make from horseback riding in the western plains to running through city streets in a suit. Eastwood did it seamlessly. He was Harry Callahan more than he was The Man with No Name, his most famous character before 1971.
Unlike most franchises, "Dirty Harry" kept up its popularity through sequels. To know their influence, one needs to just look at 1983's "Sudden Impact," the fourth entry in the series. It introduced a new line into everyone's lexicon that almost matched the popularity of Eastwood's "Do I feel lucky?" speech from the first movie. So influential was the line that even then President Ronald Reagan used it in a speech when directing his words to politicians who were challenging him on taxes.
"Go ahead. Make my day," said the president, referring to Eastwood's movie.
Other "Dirty Harry" films, such as 1973's "Magnum Force," introduced more great lines perfectly delivered by Eastwood, who seemed to revel in the opportunity to play such a politically incorrect and pure creation as Callahan.
"A man's got to know his limitations," he uttered at one point in the film. Another line that has carried through the decades is: "Nothing wrong with a little shooting as long as the right people get shot."
"I felt the character was a man of purpose. Once he decided on something, there were no side movements away from it, no extraneous movements. He was a very determined soul," Eastwood told MTV in 2008 of his famous role — one he didn't get, by the way, until Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum passed up the opportunity.
When Eastwood retired the character after his fifth outing in 1988's "The Dead Pool," it was a sad day. The movies have repeatedly aired on television and replayed in cinemas due to their enduring popularity with moviegoers. The more the world was taken over by political correctness and bureaucracy, the more viewers turned to creations like Callahan, a character whose stories are a comment on today's society as much as they are on their own time.
All through the years, Eastwood has been asked about revisiting Harry. He was asked as recently as 2008 by the press. He's mostly laughed off the possibility, saying he's too old — but it's no laughing matter. No matter his age, Eastwood should give one final adventure to his toughest role.
Eastwood should give one final adventure to his toughest role.
There's no reason to think he couldn't pull it off today. He's more physically spry and mentally together than most people his age. And compare his role in 2008's "Gran Torino" to any superhero role handicapped by special effects and green screens — and ask yourself who seems the more believable tough guy. Eastwood can still throw a punch on camera, and it looks 10 times better than anything you'll see Marvel put up on a screen.
Eastwood is still a prolific director, and he could employ those skills on a new "Harry" story. It's a valuable franchise for Warner Bros., and who would know how to properly tell a new "Dirty Harry" story better than Eastwood?
Imagine Harry Callahan in the age of the cell phone, the surveillance state, and social media outrage. He'd be more of a cultural hero than he is right now if he were afforded the opportunity to play in the sandbox of modern day.
Eastwood's Callahan was also a beacon of hope in his dark stories. He'd suffered and was surrounded by suffering — but his sense of justice and right and wrong was always clear as day. He was a man with a determination to do everything he could to set the wrongs in front of him right. He wanted to shape his world according to the basic moral rule of free people being able to pursue their lives and happiness without the interference of those who only mean harm. He's the hero we need today.
And who knows? It could happen. Said Eastwood to MTV in 2008 about the possibility of gracing the screen as Harry one more time, "There could be a scenario. I suppose if some mythical writer came out of nowhere and it was the greatest thing on the planet, I'd certainly have to think about it."