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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

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 www.DVDLaser.com

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

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~ Joe Dante

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