Two entertaining but lesser Dirty Harry movies, The Enforcer (1976) and Sudden Impact (1983) have been released to Blu-ray before, first in 2008 as part of Warner's pricey Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition, and again this past February as the more reasonably priced Dirty Harry Collection. This Action Double Feature follows the similarly-formatted Dirty Harry/Magnum Force twofer, but buyer beware; if you also want the last series entry, The Dead Pool, it's presently available only as part of those two, all-inclusive boxed sets.
Both The Enforcer and Sudden Impact include previously released extra features and apparently utilize the same transfers as before.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, Dirty Harry was the cornerstone of Clint Eastwood's fame, more so even than his Man with No Name Westerns for Sergio Leone. For a time Eastwood felt obliged to make a new Dirty Harry movie or something like it every few years; even after the series unofficially ended, later films like The Rookie (1990), a terrible movie, were Dirty Harrys in all but name.
This week Clint Eastwood became an octogenarian, and doubtlessly aware that with much effort he's been able (and continues) to transcend his fame as a mere superstar of action-thrillers. Over time he became a competent director of such films and an especially inspired director of Westerns. Better still, Eastwood kept improving, both as a director and as an actor. In the latter capacity he was a genuine revelation in Million Dollar Baby (2004) and continued taking chances in Gran Torino (2008). Those and other later career works like Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), and Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) have been among his best films, all but erasing the bad taste left by occasional turkeys such as Pink Cadillac (1989).
Back in 1976, however, Clint Eastwood was perceived a little more than an action star that sometimes directed his own projects. However The Enforcer, the third Dirty Harry movie, was helmed by James Fargo, a former assistant director/unit production manager under Eastwood, as well as Steven Spielberg's Duel, The Sugarland Express, and Jaws.
Suggested by the Symbionese Liberation Army's (SLA) crimes of 1973-75, The Enforcer's screenplay fashions them into one-dimensional hippie terrorists with no lofty socio-political ambitions at all. In the movie, the People's Revolutionary Strike Force (PRSF) is in it strictly for the cash!
The PRSF steal M72 LAW rockets and other military hardware from a warehouse, killing a guard and fatally wounding Inspector Frank DiGeorgio (John Mitchum, Robert's brother) - who is also Harry Callahan's (Clint Eastwood) partner. The PRSF then threaten the City of San Francisco with the weapons, announcing their intention to detonate a series of bombs and cause other mayhem unless the city agrees to pony up several million dollars.
Callahan, meanwhile, gets a new partner, newly appointed Inspector Kate Moore (Tyne Daly). The ultra-conservative senior cop is appalled; bad enough to be saddled with a rookie - but a woman! With Moore tagging along like a lost puppy, Callahan tries to extract information from black militant "Big" Ed Mustapha (Albert Popwell, the "punk" who didn't feel quite so lucky in Dirty Harry). However, Callahan's martinet of a boss, Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman), decides Mustaspha is behind the acts of terrorism and has him arrested. Meanwhile, the PRSF ups the ante by kidnapping the Mayor (John Crawford), holding him hostage in the dilapidated ruins on Alcatraz Island. (To subdue him they use a taser gun, a new invention in 1976.)
Clocking in at a tight 97 minutes, The Enforcer moves along at a better clip than the other, generally overlong Dirty Harry sequels, but its plot is even more empty-headed than usual. The villains come off as thugs-of-convenience with no shading and are such an incongruous bunch that it's hard to believe they'd ever band together in the first place. Fifty-eight-year-old screenwriter Stirling Silliphant doesn't help matters by giving them phony lines like, "Jive-ass bastard!"
Most of The Enforcer follows the tried-and-true Dirty Harry formula, incorporating already tired but audience-pleasing clichés. There is, for instance, the opening action set-piece, establishing Callahan as the rogue cop who plays by his own rules: at a hostage stand-off in a liquor store robbery gone bad, Callahan drives a police car right through the front door, the criminals' shock at his audacity allowing Callahan just enough time to pick 'em off with his trademark .44 Magnum.
As with other Dirty Harry movies, The Enforcer has its own particular catch-phrase, Callahan's cynical "Marvelous." "Go ahead, make my day" it's not.
No, if The Enforcer is remembered at all, it's because of Tyne Daly's Kate Moore, a performance that almost certainly played a role in her eventual casting opposite Sharon Gless in the long-running police procedural Cagney & Lacey. The daughter of actor James Daly (but unrelated to the film's producer/Warner Bros. studio head Robert Daley), she was an inspired choice, striking a perfect balance in expressing a fierce determination to succeed at her job while at the same time coming close to being overwhelmed by its myriad challenges. Critics ignored or disliked Eastwood but were nearly uniform in their praise for her.
Unfortunately, the film treats this character with such obvious calculation that at most a moderately interesting relationship between Moore and Callahan is established. They dress her in over-emphatically frumpy wardrobe and in early scenes turn her into something like a comedy relief character. The movie was a big success but audiences generally disapproved of the way her character is handled for the big climax.
By the time Sudden Impact came along, Dirty Harry Callahan was no longer a neo-fascist anachronism but part of the conservative mainstream, so much so that then-President Ronald Reagan was even quoting dialogue from Callahan's latest adventure. Accordingly, the movie grapples with exceedingly complex social problems by turning them into simplistic, black-and-white extremes.
To wit: In an early scene, Callahan is chastised by a judge (Lois De Banzie) for lacking probable cause in a search of criminals obviously as Guilty as Hell. At a shootout in a coffee shop where a waitress (Tarantula's Mara Corday) is held hostage, Callahan's Wild West shoot-out is completely justified because all the bad guys are shot while none of the hostages are injured. Nevertheless, because of all the negative press Callahan is ordered to take a vacation, but that's as difficult to imagine as Joe Friday taking time off to visit Disneyland.
The main story concerns Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke, Eastwood's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend), an artist famous for her dark, brooding oils. (Her latest collection: "Dark Visions.") In fact, ten years before Jennifer and her younger sister were victims of a gang rape, the experience leaving the sister catatonic and in a nursing home. After a chance encounter with one of the rapists, Jennifer decides to murder the men (and their sadistic lesbian accomplice) one-by-one execution-style, after an initial gunshot to the groin. (The basic plot is a variation of the first two Death Wish movies. It's as if Hope Lange, not Charles Bronson, survived and went after all the bad guys instead.)
The clumsy screenplay by Joseph Stinson, from Earl E. Smith and Charles B. Pierce's story, has Callahan becoming romantically involved with Jennifer, unaware until the climax that she's also the very killer he's pursing. He comes off as less than brilliant.
Sudden Impact is dumb and borderline offensive but also quite entertaining. Confronting the hood that the liberal judge foolishly set free, Callahan grabs him by the necktie and, eyeball-to-eyeball, warns him, "To me you're nothin' but dogshit, you understand? And a lot of things can happen to dogshit. It can be scraped up with a shovel off the ground. It can dry up and blow away in the wind. Or it can be stepped on and squashed." It's not exactly Shakespeare, but Eastwood's over-the-top intensity makes it amusing.
As a director, Eastwood seems to have been influenced by Hitchcock for his single Dirty Harry stint as director-star. At its center is the requisite Hitchcockian icy blonde, and the film opens with a Psycho-like series of aerial-to-intimacy shots, while the climatic fight atop a whirling carousel recalls Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. It's still a heck of a long way from Vertigo, but there are these little visual flourishes.
The movie makes some unfortunate choices, first among these giving Callahan a slobbery English bulldog that he eventually names Meathead. Eastwood crudely cuts to the animal (often seen urinating) for Cheeta-like comedy relief.
Also noteworthy is lesbian gang member Ray Parkins (Audrie J. Neenan), who completely dominates her male counterparts. In some ways Neenan's go-for-broke performance makes Parkins the best Dirty Harry villain since the original film, but as written she's also an embarrassing gender stereotype: the foul-mouthed, coarse, unattractive bull-dyke. I doubt this won many awards from GLAAD.
Though a registered Republican, Eastwood himself quickly tired of the Harry Callahan character, and in Gran Torino seemed to be directly refuting its simplistic notions of law & order, vigilantism, and gun violence. I wonder what he makes of these movies now?
Video & Audio
Both films were shot in Panavision though stylistically their approaches are quite different. The Enforcer has the bright sheen of a mid-'70s big studio "A" picture while Sudden Impact opts for a more noirish look, with more subtle and subdued lighting and, significantly, frequent, extremely shallow focus even in many wide, medium shots. This works against the Blu-ray's high-def capabilities, having so much of the frame deliberately out-of-focus, but it reflects the theatrical presentation well enough. Each movie gets its own single-sided disc. English audio is offered three ways: in DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, and 5.1 Dolby Digital, with mono tracks in Spanish and French, along with subtitles in all three languages. The mixing on both films is pleasant but not particularly exceptional, to my ears anyway. My Japanese PlayStation 3 defaulted to Japanese menus and language options.
Supplements, all previously released, include: The Enforcer: Audio commentary by director James Fargo; "The Business End: Violence in Cinema" and "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films" featurettes plus trailers. Sudden Impact: Audio Curmudgeontary by Richard Schickel; "The Evolution of Clint Eastwood" featurette.
To buy or not to buy depends entirely on one's own particular needs. If among the series you want just one or both of these films but none of the others then, obviously, this is a good deal, but if you're likely to purchase all the Dirty Harry movies eventually, you might be better off targeting the less expensive of the two boxed sets. In any case, while The Enforcer and Sudden Impact have become pretty dated (while at the same time Eastwood's Westerns seem to get better and better), this is still a fun double-feature and comes Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.