John Wayne Would Have Been A Terrible Dirty Harry (These 2 Cop Movies Prove It)

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John Wayne famously turned down Dirty Harry before Clint Eastwood took the role, which is ultimately for the best, as Wayne’s two 1970s cop thrillers show he was a bad fit for the part. The waning popularity of Westerns throughout the ’60s and ’70s in Hollywood did little to slow down Wayne’s output in the genre. He was fronting Westerns into the final years of his career and won praise for his work in 1972’s The Cowboys. His final film was The Shootist, another Western where he worked with Dirty Harry helmer Don Siegel.

Wayne found himself somewhat at odds with the changing landscape of movies during this era. He disliked the increase in bad language and bloody violence, seen in films like The Wild Bunch. He was famously not a fan of Clint Eastwood’s output either and refused to consider starring with Eastwood in a Western called The Hostiles. While Wayne turned down many roles throughout his career, Dirty Harry is arguably the most well-known, and a decision he came to regret.

Why John Wayne Passed On Dirty Harry (& Regretted It)

John Wayne passed on Dirty Harry not because of any issues over the quality of the material, but down to good old-fashioned ego. The actor hadn’t been the first choice for “Dirty” Harry Callahan, with Frank Sinatra having been cast in the role first. A hand injury forced the singer to exit the movie, and when Warner Bros approached Wayne to take it over, he didn’t like the idea of accepting “Sinatra’s “rejections” (via John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth).

Wayne also disliked that Dirty Harry was a “rogue cop,” though when he saw the movie he realized he’d played similar rule-breaking kind of characters before. A quote attributed to Dirty Harry director Siegel at Movies! TV Network stated of Wayne’s near casting: β€œHe was just too old, and he would have objected to many of the things that Clint would do because Clint was never bothered by image. Wayne was.” While Wayne’s concerns with his screen image may have impacted Dirty Harry had he signed on, the actor expressed regret about rejecting the film.

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McQ And Brannigan Prove He Was A Bad Fit For Dirty Harry

Wayne realized that cop movies were becoming like modern Westerns, and set about dipping his toes in the genre. Thus, he made two cop movies back to back with Dirty Harry ripoffs McQ and 1975’s Brannigan. The former cast him as a Seattle detective looking to avenge his partner’s death, while the latter sent his gruff Chicago cop to London to chase down a crime lord played by Dirty Harry alum John Vernon. Another Wayne quote had him state of McQ that β€œI thought I could be Dirty Duke.”

Of the two movies, McQ is easily the best and features some well-staged setpieces from veteran director John Sturges. However, both films show that Wayne just wasn’t a good fit for the Dirty Harry mold. Wayne still has that movie star charisma that served him well for decades, but he feels about ten years too old for both movies. Wayne also lacks the intensity and stoicism that Eastwood brought to Dirty Harry, and while McQ and Brannigan saw Wayne offer his version of a similar rogue cop archetype, it wasn’t something he appeared comfortable with.

 

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