MCN Columnists
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

Leave a Reply

The Ultimate DVD Geek

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas