MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Dirty Harry

Being one of Warner Home Video’s core assets, Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood film, Dirty Harry, has long since undergone stereophonication and upgraded image transfers. Warner released the title initially in the beginning days of DVD and then put together a collector’s edition with improved colors and a few supplementary features. Warner has now, however, upgraded the movie once more, issuing a Two-Disc Special Edition with even better colors and a stronger soundtrack, and a Blu-ray release that is better still. The film was made during a time when the quality of film stock took a real dive, and the movie has always been somewhat grainy, particularly in its many night sequences. The night sequences on the new release, however, are solid black, and anything illuminated in that blackness is, at the most, a touch soft. Colors are rich and precise. Eastwood’s complexion, which appears pale on both older releases, has a healthy tan on the new release, and in the opening credits, the word, ‘Dirty,’ which was brown before, is now blood red. The differences between the DVD and the BD are subtler, but colors are more finely detailed on the latter. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound also seems to have been overhauled. The music is deeper and more dimensional, and other sounds, such as helicopters and gunfire, are more dimensional. It is here that the BD, especially on its True HD audio track, shines, delivering a sound mix that is as dimensional and engrossing as any contemporary release. Lalo Schifrin’s jazz score-which dovetails his San Francisco jazz score for Bullitt perfectly-makes the movie seem larger and more intimate at the same time, and the atmosphere it creates contributes directly to the film’s suspense. The DVD has French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese audio tracks in mono and optional English, French, Spanish Portuguese and Japanese subtitles. The BD has 5 alternate foreign language tracks and twelve optional subtitling tracks including English. The DVD’s movie platter also holds a trailer, a 7-minute promotional documentary from 1971, and 27 minutes of retrospective interviews covering all of the Dirty Harry films, all of which appeared on the previous DVD release.

Additionally, film critic Richard Schickel provides a relaxed but informative commentary track, for the first time. He has thoroughly picked Eastwood’s brain on the film’s creation and identifies the contributions Eastwood made in choosing locations, actions and story points, as well as what Siegel was responsible for. There are gaps in his talk and he is not adverse to using double negatives as a way of softening his opinions, but his talk is entertaining and he has many rewarding insights. On a complicated night scene that Eastwood himself directed because Siegel was incapacitated: “Clint was terribly pleased that he’d gotten this thing squeezed out in a night. He kind of enjoyed sort of sticking it to the studio and the studio bureaucracy, which had decreed that they’d have to spend an expensive six days on this thing. So there is an analogy, I suppose, between Eastwood’s attitude toward bureaucratic authority, which has never been a happy one, and the attitude of Dirty Harry, involved as he is with a much more deadly and potent bureaucracy.” He also has many kind words for Andy Robinson’s over-for-the top but nevertheless underrated turn as the insane villain. “It’s a terrific performance. He really creeps right up to the edge of breaking down on camera. I mean there is a notable lack of control in his portrayal of psychopathy, when he’s under pressure, in particular. It’s a terrific piece of nut job acting.”

The second platter holds two retrospective documentaries that are geared as much to marketing home video product as they are to providing a historical perspective upon the film at hand. The better of the two is a 58-minute profile of Eastwood and his career, from 1993. The program is selective in the films that it analyzes, but looks at both Warner and Universal releases (as well as the United Artists Sergio Leone pictures), and gives attention to such films as Honkytonk Man and High Plains Drifter, as well as the more expected inclusions, such as Dirty Harry and Unforgiven. The other is an original 25-minute retrospective look at the Dirty Harry films and the first movie in particular, drawing parallels to (Warner) westerns and providing an appreciation of how well the series has held up over time. It is interesting to note, however, that none of the supplements mentions David Fincher’s Zodiac (Feb 08), even though that movie provided an excellent deconstruction of Dirty Harry and its source inspirations.

The BD contains all of the special features found on the two DVD platters, as well as a 30-minute retrospective documentary on the series that appeared on the earlier DVD, and another Eastwood career profile, this one a PBS American Masters program from 2000, running 87 minutes and looking at an even wider array of Eastwood films.

August 14, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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“There was somebody from Creative Screenwriting Magazine who was here earlier, and she said ‘Have you got any advice for writers?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, write standing up’. Because this time around, I bought a cheap little stand off Amazon, and I wrote standing up, because it’s slightly uncomfortable – it’s not so uncomfortable that you can’t do it, it’s slightly uncomfortable. And it means you don’t end up going on the internet, basically, because you’re there to do a fucking job. So I’ll write for 25 minutes… then I’ll go and play on the PlayStation for a bit. And I do this all night. I go nocturnal. And then I go back and I’ll write a bit more, and then I go back to the PlayStation, and then I go back… And hopefully by then, I’ll lose track of time and then I’ll be writing for fucking ages, and then there’s a point where you get excited about it. So my advice for writers is always: write standing up, and get Scrivener, and write in 25 minute bursts, and get a PlayStation.”
~ Charlie Brooker

“People used to love to call me a maverick, because I had a big mouth, and I’d say, ‘That bum!’ or something like that when I was young. Mainly, because I believed it, and I didn’t know there was anybody’s pain connected to the business. I was so young, I didn’t feel any pain. I just thought, ‘Why don’t they do some exciting, venturesome things? Why are they just sitting there, doing these dull pictures that have already been done many, many times, and calling them exciting? That’s a lie — they’re not exciting. Exciting is an experiment… That reputation keeps with you, through the years. Once the press calls you a maverick, it stays in their files. I’ll be dead five years, and they’ll still be saying, ‘That maverick son-of-a-bitch, he’s off in Colorado, making a movie.’ As if they really cared. You know, in this business, it’s all jealousy. I mean, this is the dumbest business I’ve ever seen in my life. If somebody gets married, they say, ‘It’ll never work.’ If somebody gets divorced, they say, ‘Good. I’ll give you my lawyer.’ If somebody loses a job, everyone will call him — to gloat. They’ll discuss it, they’ll be happy, they’ll have parties. I don’t understand how people that can see each other all the time, and be friends, can be so happy about each other’s demise.”
~ John Cassavetes


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