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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“At a recent screening of Creed, as the familiar fanfare of Bill Conti’s beloved Rocky score signaled the start of the final round of the big fight, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. This was no sneak-preview crowd, primed with free admission and popcorn, but a room full of critics and journalists armored in professional skepticism. A cynic might say that the cheering was a Pavlovian reflex set off by a piece of commercial entertainment in the hands of a skilled, manipulative director. This cynic, however, was too busy choking up and clapping to form the thought.”
A. O. Scott On Creed

The physical object is so banalized nowadays, you have to bring something else. And the audience is completely ready to get that, and want that, voilà. It’s difficult because it’s a lot of work and there are a lot of requirements, but you have to try to be more and more unique; if not, you’re just releasing a DVD in the old way, and even if a title might interest some cinephiles, it won’t be enough regarding the fact that they could see on S-VOD for ten bucks hundreds of movies. So how do you bring this audience who’s continuing following you because they have the same feeling of cinephilia to acquire what you’re releasing ? And even though we can see of course that the 3000-limited-edition of Body Double is to be able to go out-of-print very quickly, at the same time it will increase interest on the title itself.
~ Carlotta Films’ Vincent Paul-Boncour