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Sudden Impact is a 1983 crime thriller and the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood (making it the only Dirty Harry movie to be directed by Eastwood himself). The movie is probably best remembered for Harry's catch phrase, "Go ahead, make my day," often incorrectly attributed to the original film in the franchise; in 2005, it was voted in a poll by the American Film Institute as the sixth most memorable line in cinema history. Sudden Impact is widely considered to be the darkest, "dirtiest" and most violent film of the series.


Seven years have passed since Dirty Harry foiled and defeated the terrifying Scorpio Killer, apprehended rogue officer Lt. Neil Briggs and his band of murderous patrol cops, and stopped the terrorist People's Revolutionary Strike Force. But now the aging Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), now in his 50's, is back on the trail of a new cold-blooded killer, who may be more dangerous than himself or any of the killers he ever faced.

Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke) and her sister were gang raped years before, when a female friend of the gang had persuaded them to come to a fair. The brutal rape left the sister permanently catatonic and almost vegetative. Jennifer is now out for revenge, killing her attackers one by one.

In the beginning of the film, Jennifer is seen with one of the rapists named George Wilburn (Michael Maurer). It is early morning and she is with him in a car when she kills him (it appears that he doesn't know that she is someone he took part in a gang rape of, years ago). After the murder, she leaves without a trace. Harry Callahan in the meantime is seen in a court room where he has brought a young blond-haired suspect named Hawkins (Kevyn Major Howard) to trial. The case is dismissed as a travesty because Harry did not have the right to seize the evidence used to prove Hawkins guilty.

After insulting Hawkins in the elevator ("To me you're nothing but dog shit, and all kinds of things can happen to dog shit"), Harry goes to his usual coffee diner and orders the usual black coffee. The waitress tries getting his attention by pouring massive amounts of sugar into his coffee and Harry, who is reading a newspaper, does not notice. As he walks out, he takes a sip of coffee and spits it out in disgust. As he returns to complain, he sees that the open signs were switched to closed. A robbery ensues but Harry goes in the back way and confronts the would-be robbers. He calmly tells them that "we" aren't going to let you walk out of here". Who is we? sucker"? "Me,....Smith,....and Wesson," says Harry, drawing his Model 29 and dispatching three robbers with four shots. One, only grazed, is left alive. He grabs the waitress as a hostage, but Harry points his .44 Magnum handgun at him from five feet away and utters the immortal line penned by Joseph C. Sinston: "Go ahead, make my day." The police arrive moments later and the robber meekly surrenders.

Later that night, Harry meets a drug lord named Threlkis (Michael V. Gazzo), whose granddaughter is holding a wedding party at a hotel ballroom. Harry antagonizes Threlkis in front of his own granddaughter, accusing him of killing a young hooker. Threlkis faints as Callahan pulls out papers where the hooker may have confessed everything and he dies of a heart attack. Jennifer, meanwhile, is shown at an art exhibit but claims that she must miss it because she needs to visit someone up north. She arrives at a hospital to visit her vegetative sister, Elizabeth (Lisa Britt). Jennifer tells of what she did to George Wilburn. Unseen by Jennifer as she leaves, Elizabeth sheds a single tear.

The following day, Callahan and the rest of the cops are investigating the car containing the deceased George Wilburn. Wilburn was shot first in the genitals and then once in the head. Shortly afterwards, Callahan is talking to his superiors, Captain Briggs (Bradford Dillman), Lieutenant Donnelly (Michael Currie) and the Police Chief. He is lectured about how he handled the Threlkis case, and Callahan is defensive on how that case was his to handle. His superiors demand that Callahan relax and take a vacation.

After Callahan leaves a restaurant at the Port of San Francisco that same night, he is attacked by four of Threlkis's hitmen in an armored Cadillac limousine. After surprising and killing three of them, one escapes. Lieutenant Donnelly then orders Callahan to not be so reckless and demands he take a break with "peace". Out in the forest, Callahan practices shooting with his new semi-automatic, stainless steel .44 Magnum AutoMag pistol. His friend Horace King (Albert Popwell) shows up shortly afterwards to talk with him, convincing him he has the best place for Callahan to go for a vacation.

Driving home in San Francisco late at night, Callahan is attacked by Hawkins and his buddies. Callahan's car is chased and firebombed with homemade Molotov cocktails. The chase ends with Hawkins and his friends dead, having driven off a pier into the water in their car after Harry returned their favor. Lieutenant Donnelly sees this as the last straw and orders Callahan to investigate the Wilburn killing out of San Francisco.

Callahan reluctantly agrees and is sent down to the fictional town of San Paulo (filmed in Santa Cruz, Californiamarker). Jennifer Spencer has also gone to San Paulo to exact revenge on her rapists, who still live there. Her cover story for being in San Paulo is the restoration of the merry-go-round at the San Paulo Fairgrounds (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalkmarker). While walking on the beach at the fairgrounds, there is a flashback sequence of Jennifer's and her sister's rapes.

Arriving in San Paulo, Callahan stops a bank robbery in progress and saves the life of young Officer Bennett (Mark Keyloun). He is gifted with a bulldog named Meathead from Horace, which he trips over in his hotel room. While taking Meathead for a walk he runs into Jennifer, who falls off her bicycle when Meathead barks at her. The two exchange words and then go their separate ways. That night, Callahan walks into a bar for a beer and meets the malicious Ray Parkins. After insulting Ray, Callahan demands to know if anyone knows George Wilburn. When he tells how Wilburn died, Ray breaks into raucous laughter which triggers a laugh riot.

Kruger (Jack Thibeau), one of the rapists, goes fishing at the beach the following morning. He is followed by Jennifer and murdered in the same fashion as Wilburn. When his body is reported to the cops, Callahan shows up only to be yelled at by Chief Jannings (Pat Hingle) for continually interfering with the San Paulo's police business. Back in the San Paulo police station, Callahan asks Bennett to find out anything he knows about the case. Harry finds a picture of Jannings' son's friends on the wall. He has Bennett investigate that too. At dusk, Callahan stops by Mrs. Kruger's fish market only to be kicked out at gunpoint after brawling with her brothers Eddie (Russ McCubbin) and Carl (Robert Sutton). Callahan leaves, and meets Jennifer again at an outdoor restaurant. The two talk this time in a more civilized manner. Upon hearing Callahan is a cop, Jennifer becomes worried that he is on to her.

Callahan is attacked by the missing hit man who was hired by Threlkis later that night at the motel. Alerted to the hitter's presence by Meathead, he kills him. Ray Parkins (Audrie J. Neenan) talks to Tyrone (Wendall Wellman), another of the gang-rapists, about what is happening. Tyrone tells her to leave his store. Tracked to his home by Jennifer after she leaves Callahan, Tyrone is murdered.

With Wilburn, Kruger and now Tyrone dead, Ray Parkins calls Mick (Paul Drake), the leader of the rapists, to come back from Las Vegas, Nevadamarker. When Callahan finds Tyrone dead, he heads over to Ray's house at night and sees Jennifer's car parked out front. Jennifer hides, and Callahan goes inside to find Ray. Mick attacks Callahan, and after a fight Callahan arrests Mick and takes him to the police station. After they drive off, Jennifer enters and confronts Ray, who encouraged the rape because she felt that college student Jennifer and her college-bound sister believed themselves to be above Parkins and her not-so-well-educated friends. Ray Parkins is shot first in the chest and then in the head. Seeing her reflection in a mirror, Jennifer fires a round into the mirror in an act of self-loathing.

Meanwhile, Mick is bailed out by Eddie and Carl while Callahan returns to Parkins' house to find her dead. Horace drives up to Callahan's motel that same night to visit him, carrying his powerful shotgun and some alcohol to celebrate the heat generated by Threlkis being off. Upon arriving at Callahan's room, Horace is greeted by Mick, Eddie and Carl, who slit his throat and take his gun. After buying a few beers, Callahan meets up with Jennifer late at night by the pier. The two talk. This time, Jennifer invites Callahan up for a drink at her place, where he sleeps with her.

After a brief nap, Harry gets out of bed when it is still dark and goes to Mrs. Kruger's fish market after Officer Bennett informs him that Eddie and Carl bailed Mick out. As Callahan leaves the fish market after receiving no cooperation from Mrs. Kruger (Nancy Parsons), he is ambushed by Mick, Eddie and Carl. A mêlée ensues, with Callahan being dumped into the water with his famous .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver is lost in the ocean.

Jennifer goes to Alby's home. Alby (Matthew Child) is Chief Jannings's son. She prepares to kill him, only to discover Alby is in a vegetative state just like her sister and had been waiting to die for his acts. Jennifer is stopped cold by Jannings, who orders her to drop her gun. After doing so, Jannings explained he covered up the rape because he was a public figure and doesn't want his son's reputation tarnished. The guilt mentally traumatized Alby, which caused him to attempt suicide by driving straight into a bridge abutment. The accident damaged his brain and left Alby a vegetable. Jannings promises her that the one remaining rapist will be dealt with and arrested by him. Suddenly Mick arrives with Eddie and Carl. They take Jennifer hostage and Mick shoots and kills Jannings with Jennifer's pistol when the Chief reaches for his gun, framing Jennifer. As this is happening, Callahan returns to his motel to find Horace's body with his neck slit, and Meathead limping. Enraged, Callahan opens his drawer, and prepares his replacement concealed weapon — the AutoMag pistol.

At the film's climax, Eddie and Carl, led by Mick, are set to gang-rape her again at the same amusement park as a decade earlier. Jennifer puts up a fight and seeks shelter in the carousel, which she turns on and uses as a diversion to attempt escape. After desperately fleeing from the merry-go-round, Jennifer runs out onto the boardwalk, followed by Mick and his two friends. Callahan's silhouette appears on the boardwalk. He is now using his new .44 caliber AutoMag. Eddie and Carl are shot and killed. Mick alone remains, using Jennifer as a hostage. With nowhere left to go, Mick forces her up the roller coaster (Giant Dippermarker), where they stop at the turnaround point. Mick taunts Callahan, who is watching below. Jennifer is able to punch Mick after he gets too cocky and gets clear, giving Harry a clear shot at Mick. Callahan fires four times into Mick's chest. The rapist topples off the roller coaster, down through the glass roof of the carousel house onto the moving merry-go-round, where he is impaled on the horn of a unicorn.

At the end of the movie, Jennifer finally gets the justice she deserves. When asked about the revolver on Mick's body, the one belonging to Jennifer, Callahan lets Mick be misidentified as the killer. He tells Bennett the gun ought to be run through Ballistics; he thinks it's the gun that killed the Chief. He knows that once Ballistics compares the bullets from Jannings, Tyrone and Kruger, Mick will be blamed for all the murders and the police will close the books on them, thus safeguarding Jennifer. As the camera pulls back, Harry and Jennifer walk slowly away down the boardwalk.


Reagan tribute

  • Ronald Reagan used the "make my day" line in a speech threatening to veto legislation raising taxes.

Box office performance

In its opening weekend the film took $9,688,561 in 1530 theatres in the US, at an average of $6332. In total in the US, the film made $67,642,693, making it the highest grossing of the five films in the Dirty Harry franchise.

Production notes

  • Harry is seen wearing Gargoyles sunglasses - the sunglasses were later made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).
  • Bradford Dillman is seen in the film as Captain Briggs; in the previous film, The Enforcer, he portrayed Captain Jerome McKay. It is unknown if McKay and Briggs are distant relatives. Hal Holbrook played a Lieutenant Briggs in Magnum Force.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the .44 Automag used by Callahan was not an AMT firearm, but one built specifically for this film.
  • Harry drives a tan 1974 Plymouth Satellite sedan, similar to the one he had in the last film, The Enforcer. In the previous film, he drove through the front of a liquor store.
  • Roberta Flack sings "This Side of Forever" for the end credits of this movie; this is an extended version of the usual Dirty Harry end credit theme.
  • The film marks the second time that Harry loses his .44 Magnum; this time he loses it as he was being beaten up in the boardwalk by Mick and his henchmen who have managed to kick the gun right out of his hand and into the water.
  • Many of the film's scenes were filmed in Santa Cruz, Californiamarker. The memorable chase scene in the downtown business district offers a rare glimpse of the area before it was devastated by the Loma Prieta earthquakemarker of October 17, 1989.

See also


  1. Bernard Brandon Scott, Hollywood Dreams and Biblical Stories (Fortress Press, 1994), 113.
  2. Laurent Bouzereau, Ultraviolent Movies: From Sam Peckinpah to Quentin Tarantino (Citadel Press, 2000), 170.
  3. Helen Birch, Moving Targets: Women, Murder, and Representation (University of California Press, 1994), 129.
  4. Automag

External links

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