Sudden Impact is a 1983 American neo-noir action thriller and the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series, directed by Clint Eastwood (making it the only Dirty Harry film to be directed by Eastwood himself), and starring Eastwood and Sondra Locke. The film tells the story of a gang rape victim (Locke) who decides to seek revenge on the rapists ten years after the attack by killing them one by one. Inspector Callahan (Eastwood), famous for his unconventional and often brutal crime-fighting tactics is tasked with tracking down the serial killer. As Callahan investigates the killings, he becomes romantically entangled with the woman, not knowing that she is responsible for the murders.
Theatrical poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood|
|Screenplay by||Joseph Stinson|
|Based on||Characters created by Harry Julian Fink |
|Music by||Lalo Schifrin|
|Edited by||Joel Cox|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$67.6 million (US)|
The film is notable for the catchphrase, "Go ahead, make my day", which is uttered by Clint Eastwood's gun-wielding character in the beginning of the film as he stares down an armed robber who is holding a hostage.
A college-age artist, Jennifer Spencer, and her sister, Beth, are raped by a group of young men, after being lured into a trap and betrayed by female friend Ray Parkins. The brutal rape leaves Jennifer's sister in a catatonic state from the physical and emotional trauma. Ten years later, an enraged Spencer seeks revenge on the attackers. She kills one of the rapists (George Wilburn) with two shots—one to the genitals and one to the head—from a .38 Colt Detective Special revolver. Spencer leaves San Francisco because of the subsequent police investigation. Relocating to the town of San Paulo (a fictional place portrayed by the seaside town of Santa Cruz, California), Spencer begins restoring its boardwalk's historic carousel near the beach where the rapes occurred.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Police Department Homicide Inspector Harry Callahan is frustrated when a judge yet again dismisses a case of his due to what she sees as unreasonable search and seizure. Later, at his favorite diner, the inspector interrupts a robbery and kills three of the criminals. When the surviving robber takes a hostage, Callahan targets the man with his .44 Magnum and challenges him to "Go ahead, make my day". The criminal surrenders. Callahan later causes powerful crime lord Threlkis to suffer a fatal heart attack at his granddaughter's wedding reception when Callahan threatens him with prosecution in a murder case.
Lieutenant Donnelly, Harry's supervisor and other angry senior officers call Callahan in. They cannot fire or suspend the notorious inspector because, as the police commissioner admits, his "unconventional methods ... get results," albeit with many deaths and bad publicity for the department. They instead order him to take a vacation, which Callahan spends target shooting with his .44 AutoMag and shotgun-armed partner Horace. Callahan's relaxation is short-lived, as four of Threlkis's hitmen attack him. The inspector dispatches three, and the fourth escapes in an armored limousine. The suspect from the dismissed case and his friends also attack Callahan, throwing two Molotov cocktails into Callahan's car. He retrieves an unbroken firebomb and throws it at the attackers' car, causing them to swerve and drive into the bay, killing them. Lieutenant Donnelly immediately sends the inspector to San Paulo to investigate the murder of the man Spencer killed. While the victim is from there, the assignment is also to protect both Callahan and civilians. As Donnelly notes, "People have a nasty habit of getting dead around you."
Upon arriving in sleepy San Paulo, Callahan chases down a would-be robber. The reckless hot pursuit, with the bank robber riding a hijacked Honda CX-500 motorcycle modified with a police parking meter service box and Callahan driving a commandeered GMC minibus with an AmTran passenger body carrying a group of senior citizens, draws the anger of the local police. While jogging with his bulldog Meathead, Callahan accidentally runs into Jennifer Spencer. She is less than thrilled, but feels no extreme anger toward him. Upon returning to his room at the La Bahia motel, Callahan is targeted by the surviving Threlkis hitman. The inspector kills him after being warned of his presence by Meathead. Meanwhile, Spencer kills a second rapist, Kruger, at the beach. Callahan recognizes the modus operandi, but local police chief Lester Jannings refuses to work with the famous "big city hotshot."
Callahan learns that the victims and local figure Ray Parkins are friends of Jannings' son, Alby. Parkins figures out that the rapists are being targeted and warns two of them (Tyrone and Mick). After fighting Kruger's uncooperative brothers-in-law, Eddie and Carl, Callahan meets Spencer again, at an outdoor cafe. Over drinks, he learns that she shares his emphasis on results over methods when seeking justice. But, the inspector adds the caveat " 'til it breaks the law." He reveals that he is investigating the San Francisco murder of George Willburn, which rattles Spencer.
Callahan visits Tyrone's home and finds him dead, another victim of Spencer's vigilantism. Mick stays at Parkins' home, where both await a probable attack. When the inspector visits them for questioning, Mick attacks him. After Callahan subdues Mick and takes him to the police station, Spencer arrives and guns down Parkins, who had set up Spencer and her sister for the gang-rape. Callahan and Spencer meet again and have sex together. On his way out he notices Spencer's car, which he had seen earlier at Parkins' house. He goes back there and finds Parkins' body. Eddie and Carl bail Mick out of jail. Meanwhile, Horace arrives at Callahan's motel to celebrate the easing of tensions in San Francisco. He meets Mick and his henchmen instead, who have been waiting in Harry's motel room. Horace is killed, Meathead is neutered by switchblade, and Mick and his henchmen locate and brutally beat Callahan before throwing him into the ocean.
Spencer arrives at the Jannings home with the intention of killing Alby, who was one of the rapists. To her surprise, she finds Alby, like her sister, is also catatonic; a guilty conscience caused him to attempt suicide via a car crash that left him with permanent brain damage. Chief Jannings admits that to protect his reputation and his only child, he "fixed" the crimes and failed to jail the guilty parties. He convinces Spencer to spare Alby's life and promises that Mick, whom he does not know is free, will now be punished. Mick and the others, however, arrive and capture Spencer, killing the chief with her .38.
Callahan survives Mick's assault and retrieves his AutoMag from the motel, having lost his long-barreled Model 29 in the ocean. Enraged at what Mick's gang have done to Horace and Meathead, Callahan sets out after them. Mick's gang brings Spencer to the beach boardwalk for another sadistic rape, but she escapes to the carousel. They recapture her, but are startled by the inspector's apparent return from the dead. After killing Eddie and Carl, Callahan chases Mick, who absconds with Spencer atop the Giant Dipper rollercoaster ride. The inspector reiterates his famous challenge "make my day"—this time to Mick. When Mick laughs maniacally at Callahan, Spencer uses the diversion to break free. Callahan shoots Mick, who plunges through the carousel's glass roof to a grisly death, impaled on a carousel unicorn.
The police arrive and find Spencer's .38 on Mick; ballistics, Callahan states, will prove that "his gun … was used in all the killings." A compassionate Callahan and a vindicated Spencer leave the crime scene together.
- Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan
- Sondra Locke as Jennifer Spencer
- Pat Hingle as Chief Lester Jannings
- Bradford Dillman as Captain Briggs
- Paul Drake as Mick
- Albert Popwell as Horace King
- Audrie J. Neenan as Ray Parkins
- Jack Thibeau as Kruger
- Michael Currie as Lt. Donnelly
- Michael V. Gazzo as Threlkis
- Mark Keyloun as Officer Bennett
- Kevyn Major Howard as Hawkins
- Bette Ford as Leah
- Nancy Parsons as Mrs. Kruger
The screenplay was initially written by Charles B. Pierce and Earl E. Smith for a separate film for Sondra Locke, but was later adapted into a Dirty Harry film by Joseph Stinson. Filming occurred in spring 1983. Many of the film's scenes were filmed in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California. The scene where Harry chases a bank robber in the downtown business district offers a rare glimpse of the area before it was devastated by the Loma Prieta earthquake of October 17, 1989. Footage for the robbery in "Acorn Cafe" was shot at Burger Island, later a McDonald's and now the site of a hotel, at the corner of 3rd and Townsend in San Francisco. At this point in his career, Eastwood was receiving a salary that included 60% of all film profits, leaving the other 40% for the studio. Estimates had Eastwood earning $30 million for Sudden Impact. Future The Practice star Camryn Manheim appears as an extra in an elevator.
In its opening weekend the film took $9,688,561 in 1,530 theaters in the US. 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.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a score of 57% based on 35 reviews. The consensus reads: "Sudden Impact delivers all the firepower – and the most enduring catchphrase – fans associate with the Dirty Harry franchise, but it's far from the best film in the series."
Vincent Canby criticized the film, stating "The screenplay is ridiculous, and Mr. Eastwood's direction of it primitive, which is surprising because he has shown himself capable in such films as The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Gauntlet. Among other things, the movie never gets a firm hold on its own continuity. Sometimes scenes of simultaneous action appear to take place weeks or maybe months apart." Roger Ebert was more positive; while noting that the film was "implausible" with "a cardboard villain", he also praised it as "a Dirty Harry movie with only the good parts left in" and "a great audience picture".
Sudden Impact is best remembered for Harry's catchphrase, "Go ahead, make my day". United States President Ronald Reagan used the "make my day" line in a March 1985 speech threatening to veto legislation raising taxes. When campaigning for office as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, in 1986, Eastwood used bumper stickers entitled "Go Ahead — Make Me Mayor".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
"Make My Day" is a novelty song recorded by American country music artist T. G. Sheppard featuring Clint Eastwood. It was released in February 1984 as the second single from the album Slow Burn. The song reached #12 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. The song was written by Dewayne Blackwell.
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