Forty Years of Dirty Harry and His .44 Magnum

What self respecting gun enthusiastic doesn’t know these words? “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Forty years ago those words were uttered onscreen in Dirty Harry by Clint Eastwood as San Francisco Detective Harry Callahan in the role that made him an icon, but that role took a backseat to his choice of celluloid weaponry, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 chambered in .44 Magnum.

The .44 Magnum was introduced in 1955 by Smith & Wesson in their large N-frame revolvers, but the guns did not become an overnight sensation. In fact, for the first years that the gun was on the market, it was not a top seller. The Ruger Blackhawk and then the Super Blackhawk were more commonly seen in places than the big Smith & Wesson.

Many shooters were not at all comfortable with .44 Magnum. There are stories of several ranges renting the Model 29’s only to watch those who had never fired a gun of that size before only being able to shoot one and at the most two cylinders of factory ammunition before calling it quits. For many years there were used Smith & Wesson Model 29’s turning up in near mint condition after having less than a box of ammo fired through them.

All that changed however after Dirty Harry hit the box office, and the Smith & Wesson Model 29 not only became the most famous gun onscreen, but according to a 2008 20th Century Fox poll, it came in second as the most recognized weapon on film behind the lightsaber from Star Wars.

For Smith & Wesson, the film was the greatest advertisement money never had to buy. The Model 29 wasn’t even in production at the time the movie was filmed. According to an article in the September, 1972 issue of Guns magazine, Clint Eastwood got in touch with Bob Sauer a representative from Smith & Wesson about the gun he wanted. They had to assemble a couple of revolvers together from parts in the factory.

Sales of the .44 Magnum were never an issue for Smith & Wesson after the release of Dirty Harry, and when production couldn’t keep up with demand it was not uncommon to find Model 29’s going for double their original retail price. The blued finish Model 29 revolver was discontinued in 1999 with the exception of a few commemoratives and the slimmed down Mountain Gun. Recently it came out as part of the Classic line. Smith & Wesson introduced their stainless version, the Model 629 in 1979 and it has never been out of production.

Clint Eastwood was last seen onscreen as Harry Callahan in The Dead Pool which was released in 1988 and at his age we are unlikely to see another film with him in that role. Yet it was the original film that not only changed the movie industry, but it helped to create a huge boon in gun sales that has not been seen since. So if you run across one of those Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolvers and have never experienced the thrill of shooting what was at one time the most powerful handgun in the world, you have to ask yourself. Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya?

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