Northern California is known for many things… Hippies, Zinfandel wines, as the birthplace of both the Beats and the Black Panthers, tremendous scenic beauty, devastating earthquakes and the Symbionese Liberation Army. For me however, it’s Clint Eastwood’s domain, and synonymous with both the man and his fictional characters.
The character that is traditionally most associated with Eastwood is of course, Dirty Harry. Starting life as a script entitled Dead Right. It was initially to feature Frank Sinatra and be directed by Sidney Pollack, however the script was eventually acquired by Warner Brothers, filtered to Eastwood and his Malpaso production group, who in turn hired Don Siegel to direct it. The film came in on a relatively low budget and under schedule and benefitted from Eastwood’s desire to do most of his own stunts, most notably the jump from a railway trestle bridge onto a speeding school bus.
Eastwood Doing His Own Stunts – Photo Stolen From Web
Detailing the desperate attempt to bring to justice a maniacal sniper (played Andy Robinson), who is black mailing city authorities by killing successive victims unless a huge ransom is paid, in a similar manner to Death Wish (1974) (see https://theeasternterraces.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/culture-snappin-usa-part-3-death-wish-1974-filming-locations), the film shows that a responsible lone individual is a more effective instrument of law and order than the apparatus of the state, and the toll that maintaining such a thin blue line rests upon those weary and foolish enough to maintain its imprint.
City Hall – Lower Photo & Diptych By Author
By modern standards, Dirty Harry may seem somewhat tame, however at the time of its release it garnered significant notoriety due to the fact that the cop played by Eastwood, fought violence with violence and played by his own rules. In the eyes of a wider public who were fed up with increasing crime, this made him a hero. In the eyes of certain critics – notably New York Times’ Pauline Kael – this made him a fascist, and at the 1971 Academy Awards there were protests outside the auditorium by left wing elements holding signs proclaiming ’Dirty Harry Is A Rotten Pig’.
Eastwood, not one to hold back on his opinions, responded to Kael’s criticism in a contemporary interview by commenting, “I’d say she’s crazy.”
Don Siegel when asked about the level of violence in the film said, “I dimly remember that at the end of Hamlet there are five bodies lying around, so that’s balderdash. This constantly plainted ditty against violence – if people didn’t want it, they wouldn’t go to the movies.”
Dirty Harry was a major success. It quickly out grossed all of Eastwood’s previous films and ushered in an era of Vigilante flicks such as Walking Tall (1972) and Death Wish (1974). If critics were divided, audiences weren’t. They stood in line in huge numbers to see Eastwood kick some ass.
Washington Square Park – Lower Photo & Diptych By Author
It was the fourth collaboration between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood. In their first project Coogan’s Bluff (1968), the two skilfully relocated Eastwood’s man with no name to an urban setting. Dirty Harry is an elaboration of that idea and character. He now has a back story of a dead wife who was lost in an accident and years of police work have hardened him and made him reckless to both himself and his partners. Callahan is not the superhero that he became in the subsequent sequels, and the ambivalence of the character often comes to the fore. Therefore early on, he approaches a robbery with his gun drawn and not taking cover, whilst later he climbs aboard a cherry picker without thinking to grab a jumper from a roof.
Harry Callahan With a Chip On His Shoulder – Screenshot Stolen From Web
Andy Robinson is perfect as the antagonist. Originally rejected by Siegel due to the fact he looked angelic and attractive, it was later realised that the killer would be far more frightening if indeed he was the antithesis of a screen villain and he was cast accordingly. The choice was a wise one and Robinson essayed one of the most memorable screen villains of all time. From doing a huge flip on the football field, ad-libbing the line “my that’s a big one” in response to Callahan’s 44., showing a neon Jesus sign who’s boss or letting out a scream that would put Fay Wray to shame, he is the incontestably the best screen crazy ever committed to celluloid. So much so, he apparently put himself out of work for about a decade or so, as people could not imagine him as anything else or were too frightened to work with him. He didn’t re-appear on the silver screen much again (1973’s Charley Varrick not withstanding) until the 1980s when he was cast as a police chief in Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra (1986) – coincidentally featuring Dirty Harry’s Rene Santoni – or against type as the most normal person in Clive Barker’s Hell Raiser (1987).
Scorpio Screaming For America – Photo stolen from web
Huge props must also be given to the composer Lalo Schifrin who was on a streak in the late 1960s to early 1970s. A classically trained conductor from South America with a passion for jazz, Schifrin provided a number of seminal scores for Hollywood golden era movies such as Enter The Dragon (1973), Bullit (1968) and Cool Hand Luke (1967), whilst also finding time to provide the distinctive theme music for the Mission Impossible television series (1966). In Dirty Harry, Lalo showed the world the power of a hi-hat breakdown and conducted some of the best kick drum sounds ever recorded to wax.
Lalo Schifrin – Photo stolen from web
Dirty Harry was filmed on location in San Francisco, with the only studio based scene being the opening bank robbery sequence which was shot on the Universal back lot. Siegel reportedly complained that the location shooting put enormous strain on him. One problem being that night sequence filming was usually limited to a few hours due to resident complaints that all the filming activity was keeping them awake.
Don Siegel & Clint Eastwood On Set – Photo Stolen From Web
I visited these locations in early 2015, and as much possible, attempted to view them at a similar time of day to when they were filmed. Due to time constraints and my own fears however I visited Mt Davidson around 4pm in the afternoon rather than at night-time, as I had no wish to be solicited by Alice or his modern day contemporaries.
The Cross – Photo By Author
Surprisingly, in our current CNN terrorist contrived environment, no one seemed to give a shit about what I was doing. I stood at the Marina around 12.30am filming the boats near a construction crew and no one asked me what I was up to.
The Marina – Photo By Author
Similarly, I filmed the entrance to the Fort Mason Tunnel (which is now blocked off) in front of a Safeway – itself briefly featured in 1968’s Bullit – around 1am and no one seemed to care.
The Tunnel – Photo By Author
At the other side of said tunnel, near the now defunct hamburger stand, my only competition for the space was a drop bear squirrel (which frankly scared the shit out of me when it fell from the top of the tunnel exit to my feet) and what I can now only assume was a drug dealer who sat in black Lexus with all his lights off, but engine quietly running at about 1:30am.
Tunnel Exit & Hamburger Stand – Photos by Author
Interestingly, the marina and the tunnel are super close. It is demonstrative of Scorpio’s meanness that he asked Harry to go from the Marina, to Forest Hills Station and then back to Aquatic Park. The Marina, tunnel and hamburger stand are within extremely close proximity, and whilst Forest Hills Station and Mt Davidson are very close, they are nowhere near these locations
Speaking of which, special thanks must be given to the kind ticket master at Forest Hills Station. I walked in and said I was there only for Dirty Harry nostalgia and not a BART ticket, and he was awesome enough to let me though the gates, film what I needed and then let me out again. He even looked slightly perturbed when a homeless guy started accosting people (including me) near the turnstiles.
Forest Hill Station – Photos By Author
The Alley that was the location for Hot Mary and her boyfriend, was only occupied by a Chinese Chef at 11pm when I filmed it.
Hot Mary Alley – Photos by Author
Conversely the location at the corner of Turk and Polk Street where Harry convinces a jumper to come down, was absolutely loaded with crazy homeless people around 2am. I literally had to wait for the all clear before leaping out of my rented Mustang and taking the footage as quickly as possible while a basehead looking guy (reminiscent of Flava Flav’s lean years) repeatedly circled the block screaming ‘What time is it’ at the top of his lungs.
Jumper Building – Photo By Author
Columbus Avenue is cool whatever time of day and North Beach in general was my favourite part of San Francisco. City Hall was no problem and the China Town / Downtown area where you can locate both the Hilton Hotel (where the opening death was filmed) and the building on 555 California Street (the vantage point from where Scorpio shoots this first victim) are easy enough to find.
Scorpio’s View From 555 Building – Screenshot Stolen From Web
Building Where Scorpio First Shoots From – Photo By Author
The thing is though, unlike the other locations, if it weren’t for the film, you wouldn’t want to go there. 555 and The Hilton are either downtown business city until 5pm, or absolute fucking freak show central after 8pm. Either way, I had to give them a pass. I did visit the Hall of Justice featured briefly in the film, however as this was at approximately 4:45pm, I found myself unable to stop and was soon bundled onto a freeway that lead me out to Oakland. If you choose to visit, I suggest you do it between 11am and 3pm.
The results of my explorations my be seen in another shakily filmed clip below:
San Francisco, is a beautiful city for the most part, and two of my best times within its boundaries were sitting at the apex of the hill at Kearny Street (one street over from Romolo Place where Scorpio limps up after being busted by Harry at Roaring 20s). The view from here is fantastic, no one ever bothers you even late at night, and you have a great view of San Francisco, the Trans America Pyramid and its surrounds.
My Favourite Place in San Francisco – Photo By Author
I’ll close this post in the same way I closed my Death Wish one… With some selected panels from the Mad Magazine satire of this movie published around 1971 or 1972. Again, I have to note that the writers and publishers of Mad Magazine were on totally on point in the 1960s, 1970s and up to the mid 1980s. One of the greatest streaks of modern publishing in this author’s opinion. To think that they were churning out stuff like this before video, DVD and digital downloads and just using studio stills or their memory to turn out hilarious parodies like this month after month. My proverbial hat is forever tipped in their direction.
Dirty Larry – Copyright E.C. Publications 1971
Dirty Larry – Copyright E.C. Publications 1971
Dirty Larry – Copyright E.C. Publications 1971
Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.
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