Clint Eastwood spoke some of the most iconic words in the history of filmmaking during his starring role as Inspector Harry Callahan in the 1971 movie “Dirty Harry”. Many of us still remember him uttering the daring dialogue in his gruff voice as he stared down the 6-1/2” barrel of his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 Revolver. I know that I’ve said this before, but that’s because it's true, the film industry has a knack for boosting the popularity of commercial arms. That statement has probably never held truer than with "Dirty Harry" and the Model 29.
Although Clint Eastwood wasn’t the first, or the last for that matter, to carry the hard recoiling N-Frame revolver on the silver screen, his performance provided the boost that the revolver needed to resurrect its lagging sales. The film debuted in 1971 and even though the Model 29 still appeared in the Smith & Wesson catalogs that year, production had already come to a screeching halt due to a lack of interest.
However, once those words were delivered, everyone seemed to take notice. Just in case you’re not familiar or perhaps forgotten Inspector Harry’s introduction of his revolver, it went something like this –
“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 that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world – And would blow your head clean off – You’ve gotta ask yourself one question – Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?”
Those are some pretty powerful words, especially because it let every person watching the film know that they too could own the most powerful handgun in the world.
The double action Model 29 revolver had been around since 1955, and had previously been featured on the television series “Dragnet” being carried by Sergeant Joe Friday and in the movie “Point Blank” starring Lee Marvin. However, it is clear that it wasn’t until Clint Eastwood introduced it to the world, that it became an iconic symbol of power.
After the film's release, the demand for the powerful Model 29 skyrocketed, as it did with each of the film's sequels - “The Enforcer”, “Sudden Impact” and “The Dead Pool”, which were released in 1976, 1983 and 1988. Smith & Wesson and retailers found it difficult to keep up with the demands during these periods. So much so, that the Model 29 often needed to be backordered, leaving customers waiting for a freshly built revolver. That says a lot for the "Dirty Harry" franchise, because as we stated, it was toted on the big screen afterwards two more times that failed to provoke the same level of interest. Roger Moore as James Bond holstered the revolver in “Live and Let Die”, and Chuck Norris carried a beautiful nickel plated Model 29 with fine engraving in “Lone Wolf McQuade”. But to be fair, none of these other films offered the Smith & Wesson revolver a co-starring role like Clint Eastwood did in “Dirty Harry”.
One can assume that once these movie fans turned gun enthusiasts brought their new hand cannon home and fired a few rounds, they quickly realized that it wasn’t the most practical revolver to carry around. The big .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson was a far better choice for big game hunting than anything else, but it probably sure felt cool to have the same gun as Dirty Harry. That’s probably why so many used revolvers in fine condition can still easily be found today.
Production stopped for the Model 29 back in the nineties, but if you’re in the market for a new one, Smith & Wesson has added a blued, 6-1/2” barrel version to their classics collection that can now be had for a little over $1,100. The question is are you willing to shell out such an amount for a gun you’ll likely shoot only a handful of times? Who are we kidding? Of course you are - it’s the iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum for Pete’s Sake!
I’d just like to offer a few final plugs for the Smith & Wesson Model 29 – we know that each "Dirty Harry" film sparked a boost in sales and production, but why did it need that celebrity status in the first place? It was a great firearm with ridiculous power, and in fact, it is constantly rated high on lists of the best ever. Field & Stream ranks it 5th on the best guns ever made and it is the only handgun to even break their top ten. Outdoor Life ranks it at number 8 on their list of the best guns ever, and it is placed at number 7 by the Washington Times for the best handguns ever made.
It makes you wonder if prior to the film's debut, did folks opt for the practical everyday use of smaller caliber revolvers more frequently? Or could it be that the novelty of owning an iconic revolver helped lessen the anticipated effect of the recoil? Either way I’m sure Smith & Wesson was happy with the outcome, and probably wouldn’t be opposed to a few more "Dirty Harry" sequels.