Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition

The inspiration for countless movie cops and 80s action heroes, as well as our very own Judge Dredd (who truly adopted the character’s judge, jury and executioner schtick), Clint Eastwood’s San Franciscan Homicide detective Harry Callahan aka Dirty Harry is one of cinema’s most iconic and quotable creations. Produced at a time when America was fighting a losing war in Vietnam, Dirty Harry (1971, ****) tapped into a nation’s fears and frustrations, specifically pertaining to a perceived erosion of justice at home and a mollycoddling of the criminal. “People were so sick of worrying about the accused,” recalls Eastwood in The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry documentary, “what about worrying about the victims for a while.” In that regard, Callahan was the perfect conduit, a decisive anti-hero more interested in justice than the letter of the law.

Eastwood himself was undergoing something of a career shift at the time, both as an actor — moving away from the western that had made his name — and filmmaker — he’d recently made his directorial debut with Play Misty For Me — although Dirty Harry’s pistol-packing, taciturn, no-nonsense loner was, essentially, just an urban cowboy in cool shades and a three-piece suit, cleaning up the streets of San Francisco instead of Dodge.

While celebrated critic Pauline Kael called the film fascist, Dirty Harry proved hugely popular, although, in deliberate response, the first sequel, Magnum Force (1973, ****), flipped the coin, focussing on what happens when you take vigilantism too far, with Harry facing off against a group of sharp-shooting traffic cops who, to his mind, had crossed the line. The Enforcer (1976, **) revealed a slightly mellower Callahan taking on a group of revolutionaries trying to hold San Francisco to ransom, but the script had already begun to lapse into parody, and it was another seven years until Callahan, now greyer and saddled with a comic mutt, actually got to utter the immortal line “Go ahead, make my day” in Sudden Impact (1983, ***), although the complex I Spit On Your Grave style revenge plot showed something of a return to the values of the original with Harry finding a likeminded soul in Sondra Locke’s serial killer. Alas, the series’ swansong The Dead Pool (1988, *) was a poor, dispiriting affair with Eastwood’s aging action hero having already been userped by a new generation of onscreen cop.

While some extras in the chocolate box collection — a 30th anniversary documentary and vintage Making Ofs — have been carried over from the previous box set, the majority are new, including two informative if dry chat-tracks from noted Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel. Ironically, the best commentary is for the worst movie, as Dead Pool producer David Valdes’ longstanding working relationship with Eastwood makes for an illuminating look into Clint’s processes, revealing him to be a smart, loyal, immensely likeable man, a view echoed by several of the well-crafted accompanying documentaries spread across the six discs. It’s just a shame Clint’s own contribution extends only to a talking head here and there. That said, Dirty Harry hasn’t looked better, the deep blacks of Bruce Sturtees’ night photography looking particularly crisp, even if the same can’t be said of The Enforcer, which shows signs of wear.

If you’re a Dirty Harry fan, this collection, while not without flaws, will definitely make your day.

* originally published in DVD & Blu-Ray Review


Schmid4Brains said...

"If you’re a Dirty Harry fan, this collection, while not without flaws, will definitely make your day."

you just couldn't resist, could you? you must still be sick. buck up, old chap! don't let the deadly sick get ya down. FIGHT, DAMN YOU!! FIIIIIIIGHT!!!

okay, that was a little over the top, but i'm bored and waiting for reviews of my own. namely from my boss on my project that has to go out today. BOOOOO waiting!

Mark Salisbury said...

Well, since the movies themselves fell back on cliche, it seemed appropriate to follow a similar path.