Sudden Impact

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Sudden Impact
A picture of Detective Harry Callaghan against a city skyline. In front of him is glass with a bullet-hole.
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byClint Eastwood
Screenplay byJoseph Stinson
Story by
Based onCharacters
by Harry Julian Fink
R.M. Fink
Produced byClint Eastwood
CinematographyBruce Surtees
Edited byJoel Cox
Music byLalo Schifrin
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 9, 1983 (1983-12-09)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[1]
Box office$150 million[2]

Sudden Impact is a 1983 American neo-noir action thriller film, the fourth in the Dirty Harry series, directed, produced by and starring Clint Eastwood (making it the only Dirty Harry film to be directed by Eastwood himself) and co-starring Sondra Locke.[3] The film tells the story of a gang rape victim (Locke) who decides to seek revenge on her rapists 10 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.

The film is notable for the catchphrase "Go ahead, make my day", written by John Milius and 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. This is the last Dirty Harry film to feature Albert Popwell.


In 1973, artist Jennifer Spencer and her sister, Beth, are gang-raped. The attack leaves Beth in a catatonic state. Ten years later, Spencer kills George Wilburn, one of the rapists, in San Francisco and returns to her hometown of San Paulo, looking for the remaining criminals.

Meanwhile, Inspector Harry Callahan is frustrated when a judge yet again dismisses a case due to his direct methods. At his favorite diner, he foils a robbery, killing three criminals in the process. Callahan later causes local crime lord Threlkis to suffer a fatal heart attack, after threatening him with prosecution.

Unable to fire him because his methods "get results", Callahan's superiors instead order him to take a vacation. Four of Threlkis's hitmen eventually attack him. Callahan takes down three, while the fourth escapes. Later, the suspect from the dismissed case and his friends throw Molotov cocktails into Callahan's car. Acting in self-defense, he kills his attackers. To get Harry out of sight until the furor dies down, Callahan is sent to San Paulo.

Upon arriving in San Paulo, Callahan chases down a robber. The reckless but successful pursuit angers the local police. While jogging with his bulldog, Meathead, Callahan accidentally runs into Spencer. On returning to his room at a motel, he is targeted by the surviving Threlkis hitman, who is shot dead by Harry.

Meanwhile, Spencer kills a second rapist. Callahan recognizes the modus operandi, but local police chief Lester Jannings refuses to work with him.

Callahan learns both victims are friends of Jannings' son, Alby. Ray Parkins, the female member of the gang of rapists, figures out they are being targeted and warns the two remaining men, Tyrone and Mick. At an outdoor cafe, Callahan meets Spencer again. 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." Callahan reveals that he is investigating Wilburn's murder, which rattles Spencer. Later, he finds Tyrone dead.

To be more protected, Mick stays with Parkins at her place. While visiting them for questioning, Mick attacks Harry. After Harry subdues Mick and takes him to the police station, Spencer guns down Parkins.

Callahan and Spencer meet again and have sex. On his way back to the motel, Callahan notices her car, which he had seen earlier at Parkins' place. Returning there, he finds Parkins' body. Two of Mick's friends bail him out of jail. Meanwhile, Harry's partner Horace arrives at the motel to celebrate the easing of tensions in San Francisco. He meets Mick and his henchmen instead, who have been waiting to spring an ambush. Mick's gang kills Horace and neuters Meathead with a switchblade. They then beat up Callahan before throwing him off a pier, presuming he will drown.

Spencer arrives at the Jannings home with the intention of killing Alby, another one of the rapists. To her surprise, Alby, like her sister, is catatonic. A guilty conscience caused him to attempt suicide, which left him with permanent brain damage. To protect his own reputation and his only child, Chief Jannings refused to jail the guilty parties. He convinces Spencer to spare Alby's life and promises Mick will be punished. Mick and his henchmen, however, arrive and capture Spencer, using her gun to kill Jannings.

Enraged at what happened to Horace and Meathead, Callahan goes after Mick's gang with his .44 Automag. The gang brings Spencer to the boardwalk for another rape, but are startled by Callahan's apparent return from the dead. Callahan chases Mick after killing his henchmen. Mick drags Spencer to the top of a rollercoaster, where she breaks free. Callahan shoots Mick, who falls from the top of the coaster, crashes through the glass roof of the carousel below, and is impaled on the horn of its unicorn.

Before the local cops arrive, Harry considers arresting Jennifer. She, however, convinces him that her actions against the rapists were justified.

The police arrive and find Spencer's .38 on Mick. Ballistics, Callahan states, will prove that "his gun … was used in all the killings." Callahan and a vindicated Jennifer leave the crime scene together.



The screenplay was initially written by Charles B. Pierce and Earl E. Smith for a separate film for Locke, but was later adapted into a Dirty Harry film by Joseph Stinson.[4] Filming occurred in spring 1983.[5] Many of the film's scenes were filmed in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

It was Locke's last film to have theatrical distribution.[9] Part of a career-long pattern that saw her playing female protagonists much younger than herself,[10] at 39, Locke was older than all the actors playing her rapists, and 21 years older than the youth catcalling her near the start of the movie. She was six years older than Audrie Neenan, even though the character of Parkins is clearly meant to be older than Spencer. The actress who played Locke's sister was eleven years her junior. Further, Locke was only seven years younger than the art gallery curator who calls her "child" during their short scene together.


Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend the film took $9,688,561 in 1,530 theaters in the US.[11] In total in the US and Canada, the film made $67,642,693, making it the highest grossing of the five films in the Dirty Harry franchise.[5][12] The film also surpassed the $63.6 million gross of Thunderball (1965) to become the highest-grossing fourth installment of a film in the United States and Canada.[13] Worldwide, it grossed more than $150 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a score of 51% based on 41 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."[14]

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."[15] Roger Ebert was more positive, awarding three stars out of four; 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."[16] Variety noted that "everything is pitched for maximum action impact, so audiences should feel they got their money's worth," but also thought that the action scenes put "too much reliance on characters, particularly Harry, being in the right place at the right time."[17] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and wrote that nothing in the Dirty Harry sequels "has ever come close to the evil Scorpio in its portrayal of a bad guy. Because of that they are lesser films. We never feel that Harry is in any real danger."[18] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times slammed the film as "the exploitation picture at its most nakedly manipulative," which "doesn't just exploit sex and violence but also audience prejudices toward minorities. (True, Callahan's partner, played by Albert Popwell, is black, but he's around only briefly.) That it exploits with sleek cinematic skill—not to mention a great deal of righteousness—makes it all the more reprehensible."[19] A negative review from Pauline Kael in The New Yorker remarked that the film "might be mistaken for parody if the sledgehammer-slow pacing didn't tell you that the director (Eastwood) wasn't in on the joke."[20]


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.[5][21] When campaigning for office as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, in 1986, Eastwood used bumper stickers entitled "Go Ahead — Make Me Mayor".[5]

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.[23] 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.[24] The song was written by Dewayne Blackwell.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Sudden Impact. Archived October 18, 2014, at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Douglas (August 15, 2007). "Nine – White Hat, Grey Heart". Clint Eastwood - The Biography of Cinema's Greatest Ever Star. Kings Road Publishing. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-78418-574-9. Sudden Impact, made five years earlier, had by then earned more than $150 million.
  3. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 9, 1983). "Sudden Impact (1983) FILM: 'IMPACT,' WITH CLINT EASTWOOD". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Hughes, p.66
  5. ^ a b c d Hughes, p.69
  6. ^ Hughes, p.65
  7. ^ "3rd & Townsend McDonald's goes dark In preparation for demolition". SFGate. October 8, 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  8. ^ Munn, p. 194
  9. ^ "Sondra Locke - Box Office". The Numbers.
  10. ^ Raquel Stecher (March 18, 2022). "Starring Sondra Locke". TCM.
  11. ^ "Sudden Impact". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved March 1, 2009.
  12. ^ "Dirty Harry Movies". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 1, 2009.
  13. ^ "Top Five Fourth Chapters". Variety. June 30, 1997. p. 19.
  14. ^ "Sudden Impact". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 12, 2024.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 9, 1983). "FILM: 'IMPACT,' WITH CLINT EASTWOOD". The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  16. ^ "Sudden Impact". December 12, 1983. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  17. ^ "Film Reviews: Sudden Impact". Variety. December 7, 1983. 14.
  18. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 12, 1983). "Dirty Harry's bumbling bad guys lack 'impact'". Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 3.
  19. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 9, 1983). "Orgy of Violence in 'Sudden Impact'". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 19.
  20. ^ Kael, Pauline (January 23, 1984). The Current Cinema. The New Yorker. 93.
  21. ^ George J. Church (March 25, 1985). "Go Ahead - Make My Day". Time Inc. Archived from the original on February 20, 2008. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  22. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  23. ^ "T.G. Sheppard & Clint Eastwood - Make My Day". youtube. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  24. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs: 1944-2012, Eighth edition. Record Research. p. 304.


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