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Guns of Pop Culture: “Dirty Harry” & the Smith & Wesson Model 29

In this Guns of Pop Culture, we take a look at the iconic .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 wielded by Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry."

There are a few legendary movie guns…guns so famous they could arguably be called the co-stars of the film. 

These movies are rare and the list could be argued. One that is readily obvious, however, is the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in the film Dirty Harry

Close up of the S&W Model 29 in Dirty Harry
A close up of the S&W Model 29 in Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry made this gun a celebrity. Supposedly throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, anytime the movie re-ran on TV, it would drive sales of the firearm. 

At the very beginning of the film, the shootout solidified the firearm in the American mind. As Inspector Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood delivered a monologue that made the weapon famous. 

Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry

“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda 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?”

We’ve skipped right to the juicy line here.

With that, history was made. 

The S&W .44 Magnum would become an absolute legend in the world of firearms.

Today, it continues to hold that spot as not just a .44 Magnum revolver, but the .44 Magnum revolver. 

Close up of the S&W Model 29 in Dirty Harry
A close up of the S&W Model 29 in Dirty Harry

American Steel 

The Smith & Wesson Model 29 began production in 1955, and at its time, the Model 29 was the most powerful production firearm in the world. Although by 1958, .454 Casull became a thing, at least for wildcatters. 

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In 1971, Harry should have described his firearm as the most powerful production cartridge in existence. But that pedantic terminology kind of ruins the flow.

S&W Model 29 in Dirty Harry
The Model 29 in Dirty Harry

Regardless, .44 Magnum came from special hand loadings of the .44 Special cartridge. The old revolver shooters’ thoughts were, essentially, “let’s just keep shoving powder into these things and make the round fly faster and hit harder.” Love that. 

Eventually, .44 Magnum was developed. A new cartridge demands a new gun, and thus Smith and Wesson developed the Model 29.

Smith & Wesson Model 29
Smith & Wesson Model 29

This modern DA/SA revolver featured an exposed hammer and a swing-out cylinder, and it packed six rounds of the famed .44 Magnum. 

Harry’s Model came equipped with a 6.5-inch barrel, which helped the big round gather some speed before it exploded out of the barrel.

This barrel length seemed to be the most popular, but the gun’s been produced with 3-, 4-, 8-, and 12-inch barrels. There are also custom length and Performance Center guns with various options. 

Smith & Wesson Model 29 4-inch barrel
Smith & Wesson Model 29 with a 4-inch barrel

.44 Magnum has some stout recoil, but it’s often overblown. Guns like the Model 29 provided a nice, heavy weapon that does a great job of soaking up recoil.

Sure, it’s not a plinker, but any adult can handle one with a little training and practice. 

That doesn’t make it a fighting revolver, though. 

Blasting Away 

Clint Eastwood with Model 29 Dirty Harry 3
Clint Eastwood with the Model 29 in Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry handles the Model 29 like it’s a kitten. He’s a movie hero that can’t be stopped and he doesn’t seem to mind the recoil.

But that’s because he’s not shooting real .44 Magnums. Instead, the gun’s loaded with .44 Special blanks.

A .44 Magnum blank makes no sense, and .44 Special rounds function fine in a .44 Magnum. They share the same type of relationship .357 Magnum and .38 Special share. 

The ammo drops in without an issue and provides you with a soft shooter, a shorter alternative to .44 Magnum. It also makes Clint Eastwood look good.

In the scene where he famously shoots it out during a lunch break, we see 1970s handgun craft. 

Watch the clip from the beginning this time to see the shootout itself.

He fires one shot one-handed. Then he reverts to a classic slight squat and a shooting position in which he supports his dominant wrist with his non-dominant hand.

Harry seems to aim carefully and place his shots well. Although, old Clint is clearly exaggerating the recoil on the weapon between shots. 

Clint Eastwood with Model 29 Dirty Harry
Taking aim during the iconic lunch break shootout

The S&W Model 29 is a damn fine firearm, but it’s not a great fighting pistol. Recoil is rough enough, but that aside, .44 Magnum is more likely to exceed the standard penetration standards set by the FBI. 

That means it can over-penetrate a potential bad guy and harm another person. Sure, you can download, but then you might as well pack a .44 Special. 

Do You Feel Lucky? 

Clint Eastwood with Model 29 Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood with the Model 29 during the iconic “Do I feel lucky?” scene

.44 Magnum and the S&W Model 29 made Dirty Harry, and Dirty Harry most definitely made the weapon and caliber popular. In fact, it made .44 Magnum a household name. 

The Model 29 from Smith and Wesson continues to be a part of their lineup and is one gun everyone should fire at least once in their life. 

This is part of a weekly series on Pew Pew Tactical dedicated to the guns of TV and film. If you’d like more of this content, drop us a comment below. In the meantime, check out last week’s pop culture dive with “Red” & the Smith & Wesson Model 629

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Moon God

    I love Dirty Harry.
    Didn't know what he loaded the gun with until this post. So thank you!

    February 3, 2023 12:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    North Cheney

    I bought a new one about 35 years ago. Took it to a farm dump with a friend who wouldn’t shoot it. 9mm man! We brought along a small round watermelon. He put 4 nines in it and it only made an entry hole. No exit. I had .44 magnum hollow points. My brother was filming with a VHS camera. I fired one round from about 30 feet and the watermelon exploded in a million pieces! We enjoyed that video over and over!!!

    April 29, 2022 6:39 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Wooooohooooo!!! Time for a Dirty Harry movie-thon!!!!

    April 27, 2022 7:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Oklahoma Sooner

      I know this is an old post Tommy, but you're exactly right. Take the afternoon/evening off and watch Clint do to San Francisco what the city could use today. I'll do a binge Dirty Harry film a thon every couple of years just to remind myself when and how good Clint did in making them, spacing them apart as different times in his career. Dirty Harry wasn't made to contend for Oscars but to thoroughly entertain and as Jim Carrey said, Clint made them as every real man wishes or might even have a little Dirty Harry wrapped up inside of them and are watching someone of the screen they wish they were for those 2 hours.

      February 4, 2023 1:26 pm
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