A new era began for Eastwood in the 1970s when, after playing a slew of cowboys and soldiers, he took on a whole new kind of character for a new decade in which audiences wanted more complicated stories that weren’t as cut and dry as the white-hat vs. black-hat stories from decades passed. It was also the first time he used current firearms on screen instead of period-appropriate guns for the Old West or World War II.
In 1971, Eastwood took a role that would launch an entire new stage of his career, and a new film franchise that would span three decades and countless imitators. The role of Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department was tailor-made for Eastwood’s steely-eyed demeanor and viper-quick surliness.
Callahan is an old-breed cop in a city that is moving on in a time that just doesn’t make sense to him anymore. Set before the drug epidemics and gang wars of the 1980s, Callahan’s concerns as a cop center mostly around violent robbers, psycho killers, and extremists.
in DIrty Harry, Callahan is introduced along with what he calls “the most powerful handgun in the world”, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 magnum. At the time the movie was made, it was indeed the most powerful commercially available revolver, though it was eclipsed a year later by a gun chambered for the powerful .454 Casull.
S&W introduced the Model 29 in 1955 and saw a big uptick after the release of Dirty Harry with its prominent featuring of the gun. It’s still made to this day.
However, it almost wasn’t so. The part of Harry Callahan was, somewhat bizarrely, originally meant for Frank Sinatra.
At the time, Sinatra was 55 and the script called for a cop in his mid-50s, so it lined up just right. They even got as far as printing a poster for the film with Sinatra in an overcoat carrying a case of some kind. That, combined with the fact that an early version of the script features Harry explaining why he prefers a 12 gauge, and then demonstrates by shooting a cantaloupe wth a .38 ad then with buckshot, indicate that a Sinatra Dirty Harry would have been toting some kind of short shotgun instead of a .44 magnum. Sinatra broke his wrist while filming The Manchurian Candidate and didn’t feel up to shooting a whole action film firing a gun.
The part was then offered to John Wayne, who turned it down. The producers then went to Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster, and then, when they both rejected the role, they went to Eastwood, who had never been seen in a part like this before.
In the film, Eastwood carries a Model 29 with a 6-1/2″ barrel, but in some shots, you can see it has been swapped for an 8-3/8”-barrel model.
Harry also uses a rifle in the film, and characteristically, it’s an overpowered monster for its intended purpose.
For the nighttime rooftop stakeout intended to nab the Scorpio sniper, Harry hauls out a Winchester Model 70 chambered in .458 Winchester Magnum, which is a dangerous game cartridge that was designed to compete against the .450 Nitro Express and .470 Nitro Express, which were found in big-bore British double rifles.
For rooftop sniping, the rifle would have some immense recoil and wouldn’t have been a good choice for a long-range human target. Also, in 1970, issues with the cartridge began to crop up because Winchester had been using compressed ball powder as a propellent to get enough power to propel the heavy bullet. Over time, the compressed powder could clump and create erratic burn characteristics, affecting performance and reliability.
Even though Winchester quickly addressed the issue and the .458 is still the standard for dangerous game, the stigma remained for a some time. But who knows? Maybe Harry loaded his own rifle cartridges.
In a bit of a goof, when the Scorpio killer shows up, Harry attempts to shoot him while taking cover from suppressive fire from the killer’s MP40 submachine gun, which he keeps in his custom case along with his sniper rifle. Harry fires six shots, missing with all of them, and without reloading. The rifle’s capacity in this chambering is only 3+1.
For his next gun movie, Eastwood went back to the western genre in 1971’s Joe Kidd, which was written by Elmore Leonard and co-starred Robert Duvall. It follows an ex-bounty hunter in the early 1900s hired by a wealthy landowner named Frank Harlan (Duvall) to track down Mexican revolutionary leader Luis Chama, who has organized a peasant revolt against the local landowners because they are throwing the poor off land that is rightfully theirs.
Kidd ultimately remains neutral and eventually ends up on Harlan’s bad side and as his captive. He eventually escapes, saving the other hostages, and captures Chama, delivering him to Sheriff Mitchell and the law instead of letting Harlan’s posse get him.
Of course, Harlan is waiting for them, and a gun battle ensues.
Set a little later than most of Eastwood’s westerns, he gets the chance to go beyond the SAA and lever-action rifle pairing in this one. When it comes to handguns, Kidd uses one of his captor’s C96 Broomhandle Mauser pistols with an affixed shoulder stock. During his escape, he fires about 30 rounds from the 10-shot pistol without reloading.
For long-range applications, Kidd swipes a rifle case during his escape that contains a custom built Ross Model 1910 straight pull bolt action rifle in .280 Ross that has been sporterized and modified as a break-down rifle. It has also been fitted with a Wollensak 4x scope and micrometer mount.
Kidd uses the rifle, which also has a fixed five-round magazine instead of the extended 10-round version, in a sniper standoff with Olin Mingo (James Wainwright).
As you can see in the photo, Eastwood aims and fires the rifle left handed.
If you try to figure out if Eastwood is left- or right-handed from his movies, you might have a little trouble.
In most of his roles, Eastwood appears right-handed. As The Man With No Name (Manco), he carried his revolver on his right hip, and shoots with his right hand, but performs almost every other action, like dealing cards, with his left. And you’ll notice in some films like High Plains Drifter and Unforgiven he fires a rifle left-handed. As Harry Callahan, he shoots his Model 29 right-handed in every film and carries it in a shoulder holster under his left arm.
In truth, Eastwood is left-handed, according to a biography by Richard Schickel, but he grew up in an era when children were often “trained” to be right-handed if they weren’t born that way, so he is effectively ambidextrous when it comes to some tasks.
However, people who are naturally left-handed are most often left-eye dominant, which may explain why Eastwood often shouldered rifles left-handed when he had to aim, but usually fired shotguns from his right shoulder with both eyes open. However, in White Hunter Black Hear he shoots and aims rifles right-handed, so perhaps he did whatever looked best on camera, like the great actor he is.
Toward the end of the film, Kidd used Harry the Bartender’s 10-gauge double-barrel shotgun. He shoots the giant gun one-handed at one of Chama’s men, while drinking a beer with the other.
The second installment in the Dirty Harry series, 1973’s Magnum Force sees Harry investigating a series of murders, the victims all being notorious criminals. He discovers that the perpetrators are actually a tight-knit group of Army-training motorcycle cops who are on a vigilante mission and commanded by a corrupt police captain.
Harry Callahan returns with his S&W Model 29 as his sidearm. The gun is featured prominently, and lengthily, during the opening credits against a red background.
During the shooting range scene, Harry mentions that his .44 loads are actually .44 Special, not .44 Magnums. The .44 Magnum can run .44 Special rounds much in the same way a .357 Magnum can run .38 Special shells.
He says, “It’s a light Special. This size gun it gives you better control and less recoil than a .357 with wadcutters.”
It’s possible he meant, in this context, that he uses a “light” .44 Magnum cartridge, maybe rounds he loads himself. According to imfdb.org, the movie’s screenwriter, John Milius says in the film’s audio commentary that the “light Special” line was misinterpreted by the cast and crew and actually meant he used a specially prepared lighter Magnum load.
Harry also uses a Colt Python in .357 Magnum during the police shooting competition, which is the preferred sidearm of the outlaw motorcycle cop squad. Harry intentionally misses with the Python so he can recover the slug and analyze it.
During the intro action scenario, Harry uses a S&W Model 10 he takes from a terrorist, having left his Model 29 behind so he could be searched and board a hijacked plane.
In 1976, it was back to the range for Eastwood, who played one of his most famous western roles as the titular character of The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Wales is a vicious character with an emotional backstory. Once a Missouri farmer, Wales’ family is murdered by Union militants during the Civil War. Driven by revenge, Wales joins a Confederate guerrilla band for the remainder of the war.
Afterward, when the film catches up to the present time, the war has just ended and all the fighters in Wales’ band have surrendered to Union officers. When the surrendering guerrillas are massacred, Wales becomes an outlaw pursued by bounty hunters and Unions soldiers. The movie was a massive box office success, earning $31.8 million against a $3.7 million budget.
Wales carries two big Colt Walker 1847 revolvers in twin holsters as his main sidearms, though he carries four pistols at all times.
Though they make many efforts to hide it, the guns have all been converted to fire metallic cartridges, making it much easier and safer to shoot blanks on screen.
Because of the time period, in many scenes where the guns aren’t fired, they are replaced by period correct cap-and-ball pistols. When they’re being fired, you can see the ejector rods and loading gates on the converted guns.
Wales also carries a standard model Colt 1860 Army revolver, which he keeps tucked into his pistol belt cross-draw fashion.
The fourth gun Wales carries is a Colt 1849 Pocket revolver that he keeps in a breast-pocket holster that allows him to draw it with either hand in an emergency.
Wales also uses a loading gate conversion 1860 Army at the beginning of the movie, which he retrieves from the ashes of his burned home and practices with shooting at targets.
In the river crossing scene, Wales uses a Sharps 1865 Sniper Rifle fitted with a full-length J. Stevens brass tube target scope to shoot the ferry rope in two, leaving the pursuing Redlegs stranded in the water with their horses. Later, he uses the rifle as a flag pole when approaching the Comancheros, before using it to shoot one of them off their horses.
Though it is anachronistic for the time period, Union troops use two Colt 1872 Gatling Guns to kill Wales’ comrades after they surrender.
Afterward, Wales shoots the gunner and loader on one of the carts and uses it to kill a number of Union troops and destroy the other gun. According to imfdb.org, one of the guns used in the film was sold at auction for $30,000 and it was listed as a Colt 1872 in .45-70 caliber.
For the third installement in the Dirty Harry franchise, Eastwood is back playing Callahan with his trusty Model 29 revolver.
In the beginning of the film, the closest thing Harry has to a friend and sometimes partner Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) is killed by a group of militants stealing guns and rocket launchers. Harry is again saddled with a new partner a female officer on her first assignment as Inspector played by Tyne Daly, who carries the 2-inch barrel version of the Colt Diamondback revolver. You can tell it isn’t a Python from the trigger guard.
You know the old rule of Chekhov’s Rocket Launcher: if you show an M72A1 LAW in the first act…
While the militants use the stolen anti-tank weapon to destroy a truck, Harry gets his chance behind the M72’s trigger at the end of the movie, when he uses it to end the big showdown on Alcatraz to blow up the tower where Maxwell has taken cover. It represents the first time the rocket launcher was featured on screen. Since then it’s been featured in dozens of titles.
Eastwood did five movies before returning for another Dirty Harry flick. One of those movies was 1982’s Firefox, in which he plays retired Air Force Major Mitchell Grant, who is a Vietnam veteran and former POW.
Because of his ability to speak Russian and his skills as a test pilot, Grant is tapped for a mission to steal a highly advanced Soviet fighter plane, codenamed “Firefox” which is capable of going Mach 6, is invisible to radar, and carries a weapons payload controlled by the pilot’s thoughts. Yeah, it was one of those 1980s “Oh my God, computers! They can do anything!” movies.
Though most of the movie consists of Grant getting to the plane itself, about $20 million of the film’s $21 million budget was spent on special effects.
During his mission into the Soviet Union, Grant uses a Walther PP series pistol as his covert sidearm.
Earlier in the film, Grant grabs a Remington 870 Police Folder pump-action shotgun to defend himself when a military helicopter lands at his cabin unannounced.