In the ’70s, moviegoers liked watching tough police take matters into their own hands and nab the bad guys, whatever the cost. 1971’s Dirty Harry (whose popularity spurred the sequels Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool) stands as a prime example of the hard cop genre. In one of the sequels’ trailers, the narrator says that only San Francisco can have a cop like Harry Callahan. Maybe in the ’70s, but his antics wouldn’t fly in a city that’s eager to scream “police brutality.”

Reportedly based off inspector Dave Toschi, Harry hunts down a villian who’s easy to detest: a homicidal maniac called “Scorpio.” In the wake of the Zodiac killings, a cop like Harry would be a comfort, not a concern. But today? Does the name Oscar Grant ring a bell?

In the movie, Harry gets upset when he learns his killer will walk. Well, yeah, when you break and enter without a search warrant and rough up your suspect, the justice system can’t help you. As an officer meant to enforce the rules, Harry can’t rely on the rules whenever he pleases. Still, Harry is a thriller hero even though in real life the public would view him as a dirty pig. In this case, San Francisco is the backdrop to a macho fantasy of power and good versus evil.

In 2002, police officer Alex Fagan, Jr. was in hot water. In September, Fagan was accused of beating up a suspect on the street and in the hospital. November began Fajitagate, in which he and two other off-duty police officers were accused of roughing up a duo of guys when they refused to hand over their fajitas. Don’t count on seeing that in a Dirty Harry movie.

One supervisor, Sgt. Vickie Stansberry, reported that Fagan had once said that “if this were the ’70s, I could have kicked that guy’s a — today and sent him on his way like he deserved.” Clint Eastwood, meet your admirer.

Thankfully, police like Harry are few and far between. Sure, he’s a badass with an awesome speech before he pulls the trigger one last time, but do you want to be on the other end of his Magnum? Then again, are you a psycho who hijacks a schoolbus and threatens to kill off the children?

Dirty Harry is available on iTunes and Netflix. Amazon has a full DVD collection of the series, with a Blu-Ray version as well.

Starring San Francisco is Appeal events editor, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!