Here Are John Wayne’S Two Dirty Harry-Inspired Cop Thrillers Explained
After years of starring in b-movie Westerns, John Wayne broke through thanks to the success of 1939’s Stagecoach. While the star appeared in just about every genre – even horror, with 1932’s Haunted Gold – he’s a screen icon thanks to his many cowboy roles. From Rio Bravo to True Grit and his final film The Shootist, he came to be seen as the defining image of the big-screen cowboy. While Westerns were a huge genre during Wayne’s heyday, but the end of the ’60s, their popularity had started to wane and came to be seen as too old-fashioned for modern audiences.
Clint Eastwood also made a career out of appearing in Westerns like the Dollars movie trilogy that portrayed a darker, more cynical view of the West. Eastwood was able to evolve beyond the genre because of 1971’s Dirty Harry. Eastwood played the titular detective, who is more than willing to break the rules to catch a vicious killer stalking San Francisco. While many critics were appalled by the movie’s seeming endorsement of vigilantism, Dirty Harry was a major success that spawned four sequels in later years.
Eastwood wasn’t the first choice for Dirty Harry, with stars like Frank Sinatra turning it down. Wayne was also offered the movie, but later revealed he passed on it partly because he didn’t want a role Sinatra rejected. The star was also in his 60s and was seen as a little too old to pull the character off convincingly.
John Wayne Didn’t Suit The Dirty Harry Mould
Once Dirty Harry was a success, Wayne lamented his decision and after some of his recent Westerns like the terrible Rio Lobo flopped, he decided to try something more modern. This led him to two cop thrillers that sought to cash in on Dirty Harry and its 1973 sequel Magnum Force, but neither movie hit with viewers.
John Wayne’s first Dirty Harry rip-off cast him as a veteran Seattle detective who goes rogue to avenge his partner’s murder. This puts him up agains a drug dealer and corrupt elements within the force. Of Wayne’s two police thrillers, McQ feels the closest in spirit to Dirty Harry, including the title character’s rule-breaking and questionable (to put it lightly) treatment of suspects. The movie features some solidly staged action but while Wayne is a commanding presence, McQ proves that Dirty Harry made the right casting choice. Eastwood could play both the physicality and moral ambivalence of the role, but with McQ, Wayne seems a little uncomfortable with both aspects.
John Wayne’s second Dirty Harry movie rip-off is Brannigan, where his Chicago detective is sent to London to bring back a crime lord (played by Dirty Harry’s own John Vernon). Brannigan also has an early buddy cop movie hook, as Wayne is partnered with Richard Attenborough more strait-laced, by the book detective. Brannigan has several strong points, including a Western-inspired fight in a London pub and the winning chemistry between Wayne and Attenborough, but its needlessly complex plot and slow pacing drag it right down. The movie also feels more in line with a John Wayne Western than a modern (for its era at least) thriller, and it must have felt dated even back in 1975.