Cast: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Vernon, Andy Robinson, John Larch, John Mitchum, Mae Mercer, Lyn Edgington, Ruth Kobart, Woodrow Parfrey, Josef Sommer, William Paterson, James Nolan, Maurice Argent, Jo De Winter, Craig Kelly, Ann Bowen, Debralee Scott, Albert Popwell, Diana Davidson, Lois Foraker, Ernest Robinson, Angela Paton, Kristoffer Tabori
A sniper scans a nearby building through a telescopic sight. A distance away, a girl (Davidson) swims in the pool on the roof of the Holiday Inn. Her image fills the sight’s field of view as the sniper takes aim and fires. A moment later a bullet strikes her and her blood spills on the water. Inspector Harry Callahan (Eastwood) reaches the top of the building from where the sniper fired and surveys the scene. There’s evidence of the killer having been there. The killer, Scorpio (Robinson), demands a large payment from the City of San Francisco to stop further killings. Harry is asked by SFPD Lt. Al Bressler (Guardino) and San Francisco’s Mayor (Vernon) to catch the assassin before he makes good on his threat. Harry’s ruthless and disdainful approach to law enforcement is typified by his taunting words to an armed robber he faces, gun in hand, “I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five?... Being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” Harry is assigned a new partner, a young college graduate, Inspector Chico Gonzalez (Santoni), whom Harry would rather do without. Inspector Gonzalez is aware of Harry’s notoriety and wonders out loud why others call him “Dirty Harry.” Gonzalez learns that Harry recently lost his wife, and he’s told that Harry doesn’t like anyone very much. With Gonzalez along, Harry begins his investigation. Gonzalez finds that Harry is tenacious and that he does things his own way, that his conduct in the streets is based more on his sense of right and wrong than on Police Department rules. Scorpio, a psychopath with the laugh of a hyena, continues his killing, but is almost caught. In another threatening statement, Scorpio raises his ransom demand. He kidnaps a teenage girl and buries her alive, offering to reveal her location only if the ransom is paid. The Mayor and the Police hurry to put together the money before the girl is killed, and they direct Harry to make the payoff. Harry follows the killer’s instructions for the delivery of the money. There’s a confrontation with Scorpio in which Gonzalez is wounded. Harry is able to track down Scorpio to Kezar Stadium. Seeing the killer running away half-way across the deserted football field, Harry takes a carefully aimed shot that brings him down. Knowing the kidnapped girl will suffocate unless found right away, Harry applies some pain to Scorpio to extract the girl’s location. When the burial site is reached, the nude corpse of Ann Mary Deacon (Scott) is dug up. Scorpio is arrested, but San Francisco’s liberal justice system releases him, since his scoped rifle was obtained without a warrant and his self-incriminating testimony was obtained under duress. Harry is very displeased at this turn of events, but he is warned that he could lose his badge and be indicted for his abusive treatment of Scorpio. Feeling a sense of invulnerability, Scorpio devises a new plan to extort money from San Francisco, one that endangers the lives of many innocent victims. Weak-minded politicians order Harry to stay off the case, but that is not his way. The cinematography of Bruce Surtees vividly captures the 1971 San Francisco setting. Music by Lalo Schifrin. The murderer, Scorpio, bears a similarity to the real-life Zodiac Killer who was slaying people in Northern California from 1968 to 1971.