Friday, February 5, 2010

DIRTY HARRY: Blu-Ray (W.B. 1971) Warner Home Video

Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (1971) is the gritty cop caper that, in essence, style and storytelling, turns the traditionalist mold of the noble detective on end. In hindsight, the film is rather predictable entertainment, both from a reflective and historical perspective.

For example, throughout the 1960s, social, cultural and political upheaval seemed a daily occurrence in mid-town America. By the end of the decade, both young and old were asking more probing questions of both their leaders and themselves, with a pervasive sense of overwhelming helplessness and disenchantment as the byproduct of a disintegrating pop culture.

From a film industry perspective, the dismantling of the studio system, the star system and the production code of ethics gave rise to a new form of heroism in the movies that mirrored that social disillusionment. Heroes were no longer neither noble nor pure of heart, but seemed to be articulating society's popular rage with vigilante ideas of their own. As main staple genres like the musical and the western fell out of favor with audiences, the criminal drama came into its own.

In Dirty Harry, director Siegel is blessed with Clint Eastwood as his star; an established celebrity whose hard hitting, stoic realism in spaghetti westerns for Sergio Leone throughout the 60s ironically proved the ideal platform for Eastwood's transition from outlaw/desperado to crime fighting vigilante.

The screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Dean Riesner and John Milius wisely sticks to Eastwood's strengths as an actor - his ability to convey menace without speaking too much dialogue. The film's justly famous line of "Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?" is about all the literary depth we get from San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan and it fits Eastwood's no nonsense persona like a glove.

Dirty Harry opens with a sniper (later identified as Charles 'Scorpio' Davis and played to deranged perfection by Andrew Robinson) taking dead aim at a lovely young woman (Diana Davidson) as she swims in the rooftop pool of her apartment building. From here we are quickly introduced to Inspector Harry Callahan (Eastwood): a.k.a. Dirty Harry because his superior Lt. Al Bressler (Harry Guardino) tends to assign him the most undesirable cases. To illustrate the extent to which Harry is willing to take the law into his own hands, the script departs from its central story for a pivotal sequence in the film.

Harry foils a bank robbery singlehandedly, threatening to murder one of the wounded suspects in cold blood with his Smith & Wesson Magnum revolver . Even though Harry's open season shooting spree foils the robbery, it also incurs the wrath of San Francisco's Mayor (John Vernon) who, along with Judge Bannerman (William Paterson) point out to Harry that the law is to be obeyed by everyone - but especially by those who wear the badge.

Having established the tempestuous nature of Harry's relationship with authority figures, the film turns once more to focus on hunting down Charles Davis before he can kill again. Harry is assigned a partner, Chico Gonzolez (Reni Santoni) and although the partnership begins on rough footing, eventually a quiet mutual respect develops between these two men - particularly after they discover another of Davis' victims, a young black boy in a vacant field with half his head missing.

The rest of the film is essentially a ruthless game of cat and mouse between Harry and Charles Davis who has kidnapped another victim and informs Harry that she will be suffocated if Harry doesn't play along with his plan.

At one point, while on a stakeout, Charles wounds Chico by shooting him while Harry stabs Charles in the leg - later taking him into custody. Unhappy circumstance for Harry that his search of Charles seedy apartment was illegal - thereby rendering all evidence found inside inadmissible in court. Free to kill again, Charles hires a thug to brutalize him, then attempts to pin the assault on Harry who has been tailing him around town.

Eventually, Charles cannot contain his blood lust. He hijacks a school bus full of children, intending to hold them for ransom until he can escape the city. Harry, however, has other ideas; intercepting the bus in mid-travel and directing it to a rock query where an inevitable final showdown ensues.

Dirty Harry may not be the most consistent police/drama/thriller but it continues to pack a wallop today. Chiefly responsible for the film's enduring appeal is Clint Eastwood's central performance; done with fearless focus and a determination to do all of his own stunts - including jumping from a trestle onto the roof of a moving bus. Also working in the film's favor is the fact that, apart from one brief scene, the entire production has been shot on location in and around San Francisco, giving the story an air of genuine authenticity. While Eastwood would reprise Harry Callahan in several more films throughout the 1970s and 80s, Dirty Harry remains the one for which he is best remembered.

Warner Home Video's Blu-Ray easily bests all previous DVD releases. The image is generally crisp with eye popping Technicolor photography of the city by the bay. Scenes shot outdoors tend to offer truer, more natural appearing color than those photographed indoors. Film grain is inconsistently rendered. There are scenes that appear almost entirely free of it while other scenes contain an obvious patina of grain that has been accurately rendered.

The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Tru HD and delivers a fairly aggressive - though dated - sonic presentation throughout. Extras include three extensive documentaries - the first two on the making of the movie; the third a career profile on Eastwood. There's also a juicy audio commentary to indulge in and vintage junket materials that round out our appreciation for the movie. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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