Warner Bros. // 1971 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 29th, 2001
Detective Harry Callahan.
He doesn't break murder cases.
He smashes them.
There are some characters (and actors) that take on a larger-than-life role in American pop culture. Everyone knows who The Terminator is. Most everyone has seen at least one film starring Harrison Ford as famous the archeologist Indiana Jones. And who hasn't seen at least one James Bond film? It goes without saying that Clint Eastwood's most remembered character is that of the gritty San Francisco detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan. To date there have been five films in the series (including Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool), and some of Harry's most famous lines are oft quoted in other Hollywood movies and by legions of fans worldwide. Warner Brothers has released Dirty Harry as part of the Clint Eastwood collection featuring all five "Dirty Harry" films on DVD. The question is, do you feel lucky?
Harry Callahan (Eastwood) is one of the San Francisco police department's finest and toughest cops. He's the type of guy you don't want to anger, which is exactly what a crazy killer named "Scorpio" (Andrew Robinson, Hellraiser) manages to do. Scorpio has been picking people off one by one in a lunatic rage to extort money from the city of San Francisco. With the mayor (John Vernon, Killer Klowns From Outer Space) and the police force all breathing down Harry's neck, Harry finds himself between a rock and a hard place. After a 14-year-old girl is kidnapped, raped, and killed, Harry realizes that this madman must be stopped. Now it's up to Harry and his .44 magnum to put an end to an insane killer before he strikes again!
Last night was my first time watching the original Dirty Harry. I'd never seen it or any of it's sequels in my short movie watching career. While I like Clint Eastwood as an actor, I can't say that I've seen many of his films. I'm not much of a western buff, so I've generally avoided movies like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Unforgiven. I watched Space Cowboys a few months ago and found it to be quite slow. Needless to say, I know very little about the Dirty Harry series. After watching Dirty Harry I can say that I was dutifully impressed with how fresh and exciting it was, surprising since it's 30 years old.
Dirty Harry is a larger than live presence. Harry's a growling, grumbling cop who's been embittered by his time on the force. As the film proceeds, we're given tidbits about Callahan's past (i.e., his wife being killed by a drunk driver). We can see why Harry is so angry and aggressive; all he is resides in his job. Harry is the quintessential police character -- films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon owe a great deal to Dirty Harry and the character of Harry Callahan. Eastwood finds just the right balance of gruffness and cockiness to make the character likable yet edgy. Harry does and says a lot of things we wish we could -- he is an everyman thrust into extraordinary situations.
The story for Dirty Harry will seem deceptively simple by today's standards: a mad killer is on the loose and our hero must bring him down. However, keep in mind that Dirty Harry was one of the films that started the trend of rouge cops out for justice. While the story may not be complicated, that doesn't keep it from being very engaging. Many of the set pieces in Dirty Harry are exciting and fun. Chase scenes and shootouts are done with great care and panache. The supporting cast around Eastwood is excellent, especially Andrew Robinson as the whacked-out Scorpio. Played with pure insane evil, Scorpio is a great villain and daunting adversary for Eastwood's Callahan. Robinson gnashes his teeth and contorts his face to let us know that this guy's not playing with all his checkers on the playing board.
Dirty Harry also gives a gleaming eye at the police force and the way the law handles things. At one point in the film, Scorpio is captured but set free due to Harry's needed rule breaking. While one sympathizes with Harry's plight, the simple fact is that the law is still the law. While everyone knows that Scorpio is guilty, he's still set free due to lack of evidence and search warrants. Much like our own system, Dirty Harry shows how the law can be one big catch-22.
I highly recommend renting or buying Dirty Harry if you get the chance. Dirty Harry is the cinematic equivalent of visiting your grandparents -- it may not be as flashy and new as the younger crowd, but it's got a good story to tell and was the one that started it all (just like gramps and granny Naugle).
Dirty Harry is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. From what I've read this new 2000 digital transfer is miles above the original 1997 DVD release. The film still sports a fair amount of grain and dirt, but overall the color patterns are bright and bold with black levels looking even and solid. Edge enhancement was kept to the bare minimum in most cases. For a film of this age, the transfer looks very sharp and clean.
Audio is presented in a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Unlike the video portions of the disc, this remix isn't quite as impressive. There were some nice instances of directional use by all the speakers, but it often sounded unnatural and odd. It was as if some of the sound effects jumped to the rear speakers instead of making a smooth transition through the system. Otherwise, the effects, dialogue, and composer Lalo Schifrin's score were all clear of any distortion or excessive hiss. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital Mono track in French, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
For the 30th anniversary of the film, Warner has put together a few extra features for this new edition of Dirty Harry. To start off there is an all new documentary titled Dirty Harry: The Original which is narrated by Robert Urich and features interviews with Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Urich, Andrew Robinson, Even Kim, Hal Holbrook, John Milius, Patricia Clarkson and director Ted Post. Thirty minutes in length, this documentary is a nice retrospective of the "Dirty Harry" film series and includes lots of insight into the films and character of Harry Callahan. If you're a fan of the entire series this will be a great companion piece for fans, as it delves into the impact of Harry on different generations and the American culture. However, if you're looking for specifics about the first film, you should look elsewhere. This documentary was shot in widescreen yet is bafflingly not enhanced for widescreen TVs. What gives?
Next up is an original 1971 documentary that includes a small amount of behind the scenes footage and some cheesy narration. This is typical promotional fluff that's presented in a rough and aged full frame version. Twenty-five minutes of additional interviews are included with the principle players from the new documentary, focusing on how the film impacted their lives and careers, more behind-the-scenes stories, and other nuggets about the production of the films.
Finally there are some thin production notes, a theatrical trailer for Dirty Harry presented in anamorphic widescreen, and a short list of some of the cast and crew featured in the film.
Um, can you say obscenely dated fashions and hairstyles?
After all these years Dirty Harry is still an exciting movie filled with fast paced action and interesting characters. Clint Eastwood shows why he's such a power to be reckoned with as an actor in Hollywood. Filled with memorable lines and plenty of thrills, Dirty Harry is worth its weight in magnum bullets. Dirty Harry has successfully made me interested in seeing the other four films in this series. Warner has done a nice job on this disc, though personally it would have been nice to have seen a commentary track by Clint Eastwood someone on this new edition.
I know what you're thinking...did I type 1,404 words in this review, or 1,403? Dirty Harry is free to go! Now get outta here, ya lousy punks!
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2001 Nominee
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* 1971 Behind-The-Scenes Documentary Dirty Harry's Way
* Interview Gallery
* Production Notes
* Theatrical Trailer
* All-New 30th Anniversary Documentary Dirty Harry: The Original