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'Go Ahead, Make My Day:' Dirty Harry's Famous Dare

Entertainment | January 13, 2019

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan, delivering his most famous line: 'Go ahead, make my day.' Source: IMDB

It's been one of the all-time most repeatable movie lines ever since Clint Eastwood uttered it on screen in Sudden Impact: "Go ahead, make my day." "Dirty" Harry Callahan, Eastwood's character in the 1983 film, is a San Francisco cop and a man of few words -- but when he opens his mouth, he makes it count. Eastwood played Callahan in five films, beginning with Dirty Harry in 1971 and finishing with The Dead Pool in 1988.

The quote was actually written by Charles B. Pierce, an independent filmmaker who got the phrase from his father. It was a favorite threat that the elder Pierce would make to his son:  "Just let me come home one more day without you mowing the lawn, son, just go ahead -- make my day."

Pierce's father could hardly have known just how famous that line would become; it's consistently ranked among the most memorable lines ever said on screen, and was even used by President Ronald Reagan in a public statement about taxes.

Though his most famous line might be "Go ahead, make my day," Dirty Harry has uttered a few others film fans are fond of regurgitating. From Dirty Harry, there's the line often misquoted as "do you feel lucky, punk?" -- it's actually: "You have to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?" In Magnum Force (1973), Harry Callahan's catchphrase is "A man's got to know his limitations."

Here's The Scene From 'Sudden Impact'

Eastwood in 'Sudden Impact.' Source: IMDB

As Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie, Harry Callahan, walks into the coffee shop where he frequently goes to get his coffee, he unknowingly walks in on a robbery in progress. Continuing to read his morning paper, he waits for the waitress to pour his coffee, not even looking up. He lays his money on the counter and walks out with his coffee. Then, taking a swallow, he quickly spits it out as it is full of sugar and the waitress knows that he always drinks his coffee black. Callahan goes back inside from the back of the place, realizing that something is up. He confronts the thieves, nonchalantly telling them that “we” are just not going to let them walk out of there. One of the bad guys asks “who is we?” In typical Eastwood fashion, he says, while reaching for his gun “Smith and Wesson – and me.” Then he shoots all but one of them. The last thief grabs the waitress and holds a gun to her head. Here, Eastwood dares the nervous hood to do something stupid with the famous line: "Go ahead, make my day." To the would-be thief, the intent is clear: Harry has already shot his accomplices, and if this guy tries anything but surrender, it will be the excuse Harry needs to shoot him as well. And after a long pause, the bad guy backs down.

But Was The Line Original?

Scene from Vice Squad. Source: (Wikipedia.com)

In 1982, a year before the movie Sudden Impact came out, a minor film called Vice Squad played in theaters, and contained a similar quote. The movie was based on actual events on the streets of Hollywood. In one scene, Detective Tom Walsh (played by Gary Swanson) and his associates are arresting a pimp named Ramrod, who is very abusive to women. Walsh puts his gun near Ramrod’s mouth and says “Come on scumbag, make your move and make my day!”  

Dirty Ronnie

Reagan-Tax-Bill-July-1981-resize. Source: (pastdaily.com)

The quote went on to become a popular catchphrase among celebrities and fans alike. Even Ronald Reagan, who was also an actor before he became president, used it for dramatic effect. At an American Business Conference in 1985, the famously anti-tax president said:

"I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase that Congress might even think of sending up. And I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers: Go ahead – make my day."

Clint Eastwood has even quoted himself besides in the movies. At a Republican National Convention in 2012, he ended his speech with the quote.

Dirty Marty

Back to the Future III. Source: (Pinterest.com)

In the movie Back to the Future Part III (1990), Michael J. Fox again played Marty McFly, who is a big fan of Clint Eastwood. The series deals with time travel and alternate realities; in this one, Marty travels in time back to the old west. Dressed in cowboy garb, Marty adopts the name "Clint Eastwood" when threatened by Buford Tannen. Of course, no one in that time period has ever heard of Clint Eastwood so they think nothing of it. When Marty is challenged to a gunfight, he practices being tough while looking in the mirror -- and of course, this tough-guy practice involves saying the famous quote, "Go ahead, make my day." It's not quite as effective coming from Michael J. Fox's lips, but film fans loved the reference.

Many others have borrowed the saying for different reasons and not just in the movies. Some refer to it as a way of standing up for one’s rights rather than giving in to a situation, while for other's it's simply a taunt -- the early-'80s version of "Come at me, bro!"

Tags: Clint Eastwood | Dirty Harry | Famous Movie Scenes | Famous Quotes From The 1970s

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Penny Chavers

Writer

Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.