This is an excerpt from “History in a Handgun: Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson” by Doug Wicklund, NRA Museum Senior Curator, and published by Soldier of Fortune magazine:
Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you “feel lucky” when considering certain guns in the NRA National Firearms Museum collection.
One in particular, a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver in .44 Magnum, was touted onscreen and in its film publicity as being the “most powerful handgun in the world.” In the early 1970s, it was a strong contender for that title in revolvers, although some single-shot pistols surpassed it at that time.
Nowadays, the .44 Magnum has been eclipsed by many more powerful cartridges in handguns, like the custom .600 Nitro Express pistol we fired at the NRA Range on NRATV this past March. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Back to the Model 29: in 1971, a young San Francisco police inspector named Harry Callahan first appeared on the silver screen in Dirty Harry. We learned early on that Inspector Callahan got his nickname from not playing nice with criminals. While other police settled for .38 Special revolvers, the N-frame Model 29 Smith & Wesson was what Inspector #2211 carried, albeit loaded with light .44 Special cartridges.
The original movie script called for Dirty Harry to carry a nickel finish Model 29, but with a four-inch barrel. Early screen tests in different lighting and actor Clint Eastwood’s own test-firing of a Model 29 revolver led to the consideration of using longer barrels. Both an 8 3/8-inch and three 6 1/2-inch Model 29s were procured for filming. The longest barrel was to be primarily showcased in posters, where with special photography, that already long barrel was made to seem even more sizable.
… Model 29 was not a popular choice in the days before Dirty Harry premiered. Obtaining a nickel 4-inch S&W .44 was not possible, and only by calling in “favors” were the three blued 6 1/2-inch .44 guns found in time for filming.
After the film debuted, interest skyrocketed, and the going price for a Model 29 revolver quickly tripled. It was said for years afterwards that any Dirty Harry marathon on television would spark an immediate run on Model 29s at local gun shops. Even today, any blued Model 29 can receive considerable interest from those “movie gun” collectors who might never travel to a shooting range and never plan to hunt with it.
… To see one of Dirty Harry’s famous Model 29 revolvers alongside thousands of other historic, rare and significant firearms, visit the NRA Museums in person or online!
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