Dirty Harry: Two-Disc Special Edition:
As a reviewer of DVDs, or worse yet a Movie Critic, I've got to ask myself a question. Have I used up all the clichés in my writing arsenal? Did I write five reviews that begin "there's a point in X movie when ..." or did I write six? I guess in all the excitement (free DVDs! Yeay!) I forgot that this is actually hard work. So as I sit here attempting to write something new or interesting about Dirty Harry - the Bible of cop movies - I'm asking myself; do I feel lucky? Well, do I, punk?
Yes, I do feel lucky to have the pleasure of watching Dirty Harry, a damn fine example of laconic agit-prop machismo that's still causing ripples in the pond today, almost forty years after its theatrical run. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a San Franciscan detective with a small, satisfying life. He catches criminals by any means necessary. Doesn't do much else, however, and when a political movement concerned with criminal's rights starts messing up his game, his slow-burn anti-anti-establishment rage makes for delightful viewing.
On the loose is a scumbag's scumbag, Scorpio, (the truly frightening Andy Robinson) a Vietnam veteran employing first-rate sniper skills for fun and profit. Callahan gets the case (he gets all the dirty jobs) but his robust, rights-violating methods run counter to trendy new Miranda Rights, meaning that Scorpio has lots of extra time to kill. Even with a green but gung-ho partner to replace Callahan's other partners (who all seem to have suffered some terrible injury) Harry faces an uphill battle that not only threatens victims he doesn't even know, but also threatens his very life and livelihood.
Directed by Don Siegel, Dirty Harry is a real piece of work; dryly humorous, savage, politically incorrect and leisurely, it's a movie for a select audience that delivers a particular worldview into mass popularity. It's really sort of a wish-dream for the square nebbish of 1971. Uncool, passive guys who missed out on the free love and drugs of the '60s - only to find themselves feeling more powerless as the hippie wave broke on the shores of a penal culture that placed criminal's rights ahead of victims - found a true icon in Callahan. Here's this straight-laced cop who's also the essence of cool, casually chewing on a hotdog as he slowly but purposefully strides straight into the street, huge gun drawn, ventilating three bank robbers before he even swallows. He's handsome but not matinee idol handsome, tidy but unimpressively dressed, and to top it off, he has cool things to say!
Facing Scorpio, a wild-eyed, cackling maniac who plays the system, Callahan suffers indignities, seemingly unaware of looking like a fool. Hunting for the perpetrator one night, he appears to be and is treated as a peeping tom as he balances on a garbage can. Later, running helter-skelter through town at night - during a strangely gripping game of cat-and-mouse phone tag - he does what's necessary regardless of appearance. Siegel sets up a continuing motif of unknown observation almost from the first shot; Scorpio sighting a victim from blocks away, pointing up how it doesn't matter who's looking, (and someone's always looking) if you've got the belief and/or ordnance to back yourself up.
Aside from the immense coolness that is Eastwood, two things separate Dirty Harry from the pack, and alleviate in unforced manner its vile insight into the dark side of humanity. A natural humor, nothing like comic relief, springs from Callahan's A-to-B methodology. Called upon to talk a potential suicide down from a ledge, Callahan uses a mix of psychology and physical therapy that's startling and hilarious in its immediate efficacy. It's hard also not to see the inherent humor in the classic opening bank robbery scene, not from Callahan's pre-Tarantino quipping, but simply from his bolt upright, slow roll across the street, 44 in hand as if it were nothing more than an umbrella. (As far as humor is concerned, David Rasche's Sledge Hammer appears to take cues from no one but Dirty Harry.)
But more important is Siegel's leisurely efficiency. Known as a director who could get things done at speed, Siegel nonetheless sees the value in letting Callahan take his time in Dirty Harry. On the way to his suicide rescue, we see Callahan slowly rise up each and every floor in his cherry picker, with nothing else at all going on save the establishing of his singular confidence. (A sharp-eyed reader points out this scene was directed by an uncredited Eastwood, as such it certainly exemplifies the relaxed bravado found throughout the film.) Even climactic hijacking and quarry scenes unfold not at a breakneck 'action' pace, but almost in real time. Though racing against the clock, Harry, in his righteous anger, looks like he's got all the time in the world.
I should look this good after 37 years (wait, I'm 38 - and I don't look so good). Presented in widescreen (2.35:1) ratio enhanced for widescreen TVs, Dirty Harry is far from dirty. The picture is especially crisp and clean for a film of this age, with very little film grain or damage apparent. No compression artifacts are noticeable, and the only complaints I have I'm tempted to put down to my DVD player, or perhaps they're issues from the original film source. Generally colors are rich and saturated, with natural flesh tones and appropriately deep blacks for the numerous night scenes. For what it's worth, there are a few scenes where very nearly the only colors are black and red - in those scenes the red highlights seem to blow out, creating strong ghost outlines on faces and such. All in all, though, this is by accounts a far superior transfer to ones that have gone before, and a great looking film.
Audio fans from many countries will enjoy this. We get English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, and four additional Mono Audio Tracks, in French, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese. Through my stereo speakers with surround sound, I enjoyed a fairly active, enveloping mix. Dialog is mixed appropriately and well understandable, without any real nods to its age in the way of recording noise. The real pleasure is Lalo Schifrin's jazzy, funky score - smooth, cool and modern when following Callahan on his meticulous rounds, and full of propulsive, menacing funk when Scorpio is doing his thing.
From the packaging down, this is a nifty two-disc edition. A standard sized keepcase with inner flip-over spindle is nested in a plastic slipcover. Ordinarily, cardboard slipcovers that duplicate packaging are nothing more than a pretentious annoyance - they don't make me think the goods are any better than they really are. In this case, the slipcover has a cool broken glass effect for Callahan's magnum to stick through. Once you're past the packaging, you'll get English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese Language Tracks and Subtitles for the feature, but not all of the extras.
In addition to the feature, disc one has a new full-length Commentary Track from Eastwood's biographer and film historian Richard Schickel. Though sparing, (Schickel spends his time enjoying the film as we do) this commentary is insightful in a way that your standard director's commentary isn't. Schickel talks about Siegel's methods, Eastwood's work ethic and relationship to the director, the interior life of Callahan, how Dirty Harry fit into its time, and plenty of other interesting stuff. It's a very pleasant track; like watching the film with an extremely knowledgeable mentor.
Dirty Harry: The Original is a 29-minute featurette hosted by Robert Urich that features clips from the movie, Urich narrating on location in San Francisco, and interviews with Schwarzenegger, director John Milius and others. It has cable TV flair and is light and congratulatory, but fans of the movie will enjoy it like a warm bath.
Dirty Harry's Way is a seven-minute promo for the movie from 1971 - with some behind-the-scenes looks at Siegel and Eastwood in action - that compares and establishes Eastwood/Dirty Harry with his forebears like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. It's brief but lots of fun.
A 27-minute Interview Gallery takes excerpts from interviews used in other featurettes, expanding upon actors reminiscences of working with Eastwood, and the effect Dirty Harry had upon modern screenwriters and directors. Some of those interviewed are Ted Post, Patricia Clarkson, Andy Robinson, Evan Kim and Hal Holbrook, as well as Eastwood himself.
Last for disc one is a Trailer Gallery with one-plus-minute trailers for all five Dirty Harry movies.
Disc Two has the same language and subtitle options as the feature film and an all new 25-minute featurette titled The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry. This featurette is quite similar in tone to Dirty Harry: The Original from disc one, but with zippier graphics. Interviews and clips from the Dirty Harry movies and their antecedents (Westerns in particular) go further in establishing the place and importance of the Dirty Harry canon in the cinematic firmament. It's another no-brainer in terms of entertaining Callahan fans.
Lastly, a television special from 1993, Clint Eastwood: The Man From Malpaso, at 58-minutes looks at Eastwood's life and career from his birth in 1930 (!) up through Unforgiven. Obviously Eastwood fans will love it (though they may remember seeing it already) and it certainly provides inspiration as well as a way to fill in your movie-watching list. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, anyone? Plus, it shows how damn handsome Eastwood was as a young man.
In Dirty Harry, Eastwood and Siegel are a towering team, establishing modern archetypes in casual yet brutal fashion. Battling the horrific Scorpio, Eastwood's Callahan brews simmering resentment for namby-pamby establishment rules into a monolithic march toward true justice. Siegel's relaxed pace and subtle humor both relieves a decidedly grim attitude while heightening tension, making Dirty Harry a one-of-a-kind experience that would be imitated for decades to come and launch the careers of countless cinematic, hard-boiled detectives. Representing a quintessential (or Clintessential?) piece of tough-guy movie making, and with a fully loaded (if not slavishly adulating) set of extras, let's go ahead and put this two-disc edition on the shelf with the DVD Talk Collector's Series.
- Kurt Dahlke
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