Judge Clark Douglas feels lucky. He'd feel even luckier if Harry Callahan weren't pointing a .44 Magnum at him.
Our reviews of Dirty Harry (published April 27th, 2000), Dirty Harry: Special Edition (published November 29th, 2001), Dirty Harry: Two-Disc Special Edition (published June 3rd, 2008), The Enforcer (published December 5th, 2001), The Enforcer: Deluxe Edition (published June 3rd, 2008), Magnum Force (published November 29th, 2001), and Magnum Force: Deluxe Edition (published June 3rd, 2008) are also available.
With his .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, Dirty Harry wipes out crime to hell.
Chief (asking about a crime suspect who has been brutally beaten): Have
you been following that man?
Facts of the Case
You know the famous quotes whether you've seen the films or not:
"You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?"
"Go ahead, make my day."
There's no doubt that Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Inspector Harry Callahan created one of cinema's most iconic and memorable characters. What about the films themselves, though? How well have they held up over time? This new Ultimate Collector's Edition box set of all five films from the Dirty Harry franchise provides the ideal opportunity to take a look back at the questionable exploits of San Francisco's most well-known police inspector.
First up is Don Siegel's seminal Dirty Harry. In the film, the Scorpio killer (Andrew Robinson, Cobra) is taking people out. He demands that the city of San Francisco pay him $200,000…or he's going to murder one person every day. While city officials and the police department bicker over how to handle the situation, Police Inspector Harry Callahan attempts to find the killer. Callahan has been given the nickname "Dirty Harry," and there is much speculation about where that name came from. Maybe it's because the police department asks Harry to handle all their dirty work. Maybe it's because "Harry always gets the s—-- end of the stick." Or maybe it's because Harry is willing to bend and break any rule in the book in order to accomplish his goal. The end may or may not justify the means, but Harry is going to use any means necessary to get to the end.
Magnum Force, directed by Ted Post, offers a story that forces Harry to confront an entirely different type of villain. A group of Harry's fellow police officers are secretly taking the law into their own hands, executing criminals who manage to slip through the cracks of the legal system. Their behavior is not too dissimilar to the behavior Harry demonstrated in the previous film…but Harry thinks these guys are going to unforgivable extremes. Harry is not exactly in good standing with his superiors, but it's going to take a vigilante cop to stop these vigilante cops.
In The Enforcer, a terrorist group calling itself the Revolutionary People's Strike Force is terrorizing San Francisco. Several murders have all ready been committed, and the group has gained access to some significant weaponry. Things get particularly personal for Harry when the group takes out his partner, and he's determined to bring the group to justice at any cost. Harry's not too happy to learn that he's being saddled with a brand new partner…and he's even less enthusiastic about the fact that his partner is a woman (Tyne Daly, Judging Amy). This time around, Harry's got two things to conquer: the Revolutionary People's Strike Force…and his own sexism.
Harry is forced to confront a vigilante once again in Sudden Impact, in which an icy cold blonde woman is suddenly impacting some lecherous men. Male bodies are beginning to turn up, all killed the same way: one bullet in the crotch, one in the head. As usual, Harry isn't exactly on good terms with his superiors. However, when the bodies keep turning up, they begrudgingly ask him to look into it. Things get complicated when Harry starts to fall for the very woman committing the murders. When he discovers the truth about who she is and why she's killing people, is he going to have the strength to do the right thing and put her behind bars?
In The Dead Pool, Harry is more than just an Inspector…he's a celebrity! Tales of Callahan's exploits have become well-known, and Harry isn't too crazy about being recognized everywhere he goes. Meanwhile, horror film director Peter Swann (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) has been playing a creepy game with some of his friends. The game is called "The Dead Pool," in which each participant picks eight celebrities they think are going to die soon. The fun and games end when someone on Swann's list dies, and foul play is suspected. Callahan is on the case as usual, but there's an extra element of danger this time. Harry Callahan is on Peter Swann's list, too!
Let's begin at the beginning, with Dirty Harry. For most viewers (including myself), this is unquestionably the strongest point of the entire franchise. The screenplay was inspired by the horrific actions of the Zodiac killer (chronicled superbly in David Fincher's thought-provoking Zodiac). The Zodiac killer was never brought to justice in real life, just another frustration for American citizens living in the Vietnam era. The people of San Francisco and the rest of the nation were desperate for some sort of catharsis. Dirty Harry came in to provide precisely that.
Dirty Harry ponders just what it would be like if a human being were willing to go to any extreme in order to bring a killer to justice. Harry's character is reflected early on in the film's most well-known scene. Harry violently interrupts a bank robbery and approaches one of his wounded victims when the smoke clears. The man glances at a gun, just a few feet away. He wonders if he could grab it and fire it in time to get back at Callahan. "I know what you're thinking," Harry sneers as he points his .44 Magnum at the bleeding criminal. "Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?" The man silently concedes the point, and Harry picks the gun up off the ground. The man on the ground calls out to Harry. "I've got to know." Harry turns around and walks back to the man, aims his Magnum, and pulls the trigger. *click* A slightly savage smile creeps across Harry's face, and he walks away, leaving his victim shaking in fear.
Without this scene, one might be tempted to think that Harry feels he is doing what he does for noble reasons. Maybe he feels that the only way to find a killer is to use threatening measures. However, that early scene leaves an unpleasant question lingering in the viewer's mind: is Harry acting this way because he likes it? When he crushes a man's broken body with his foot, is he doing it because he feels he must…or just because he really wants to? Harry may be the most effective Inspector on the police force, but how many moral lines can he cross before he becomes no better than the criminals he is hunting? Some of the films in the Dirty Harry franchise are celebrations of Callahan's heroics, but Dirty Harry itself remains the best because it doesn't take an obvious stand on Harry's actions. The film lets the viewer decide whether Callahan is a hero or a villain, and many angry citizens who saw the film in 1971 decided on the former.
All of the sequels included at least some level of humor and fun, but Dirty Harry is dead serious from start to finish. This is a gritty and hard-boiled thriller that fully understands the gravity of the themes it is dealing with. Though much of the then-sensational violence of the film lacks the shock value it once had (similar stuff can now be seen on network television shows like CSI), the film's final sequence (featuring the Scorpio killer taunting a bus full of school children) is still quite harrowing stuff. The film is paced very well by Siegel, nicely capturing the rhythms of Callahan's life: an event happens, Callahan acts on the event, and various men of authority lecture Callahan on the consequences of his actions.
While Dirty Harry permitted viewers to question Callahan's actions, to wonder whether he was a good cop or a bad cop, Magnum Force takes a definite side. It views Harry as a good cop, but it softens him up a little bit in order to do so. The Harry Callahan of Magnum Force is just a little gentler, a little funnier, and a little less approving of violent vigilante behavior. The filmmakers wanted people to like Harry and attempt to make him look good by comparison. "Sure, Harry may be a bit of a vigilante…but he's nothing compared to these bad vigilantes."
Many critics often cite Magnum Force as the honorary runner-up of the series. I may have to disagree with that (this film is a little on the bloated side), but it's still a pretty decent flick. It's less gripping than its predecessor, but certainly engaging and enjoyable. The morals of Magnum Force are a bit more honorable than those of the first film, though the movie is a lot less thought-provoking. Still, the film is to be commended for chastising (albeit in a rather semi-hypocritical and violent manner) the mentality of bloodthirsty vengeance that some feel the first film encouraged. There are also some nice supporting turns from the likes of Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) and Robert Urich (The Ice Pirates).
It's with The Enforcer that my own feelings really begin to differ from the general consensus. The film is often regarded as one of the lesser films in the franchise, but it has always been one my favorites. The relationship between Callahan and his female partner, Inspector Moore, is one of the few touching elements of the entire series. Eastwood and Daly have a chemistry together that was never replicated anywhere else in the series. Daly's performance is exceptionally multi-dimensional, as she brings deep levels of intelligence, resourcefulness and carefully-masked vulnerability to her role. In addition, she brings out a softer and kinder side of Eastwood that is more than welcome.
Don't worry, though…The Enforcer is still very much a Dirty Harry film. However, it represents a departure thematically from the previous two outings, concerning itself less with controversial statements about vigilante violence and focusing on simply being an entertaining thriller. On that latter count, it works exceptionally well. The movie doesn't offer a lot of food for thought, but it's well-crafted enough and engaging enough to be forgiven for that. There are a lot of moments of humor in the film (such as Eastwood's visit to a house of ill repute), and some genuinely exciting action scenes as well (the highlighting being a foot chase across San Francisco rooftops).
The movie runs a quick 96 minutes, but it's paced as if the film were a half hour longer. The film comes to a rather sudden and dramatic conclusion that caught me off guard the first time I saw the film, and it still seemed a little jolting this time around. Additionally, the film's generally entertaining and humorous vibe adds increased intensity to the rather gritty and violent conclusion of the film. The Enforcer may be immensely entertaining for most of its running time, but it drops the viewer off on a particularly sobering note, and sends a seemingly gentler Harry spinning back into an abyss of cynicism and bitterness. It's an effective and memorable film, very well directed by James Fargo.
Eastwood himself took over the directing role for the fourth film in the series, Sudden Impact. The film gives us a version of Harry Callahan that very much resembles the Callahan of Dirty Harry, a man who is mean and brutal. The film would seem to confirm what Dirty Harry quietly implied: that Callahan enjoys killing people. As with Dirty Harry, it's the film's most iconic scene that suggests this. You know the one. "Go ahead…make my day." When Harry isn't killing them, he's still being uglier than usual…kicking prostitutes, intentionally giving tired old criminals heart attacks, and so on. Unsurprisingly, Sudden Impact has a higher body count than any other film in the franchise. It violently hacks its way to an ending that represents the nastiest implications of the entire series.
What Eastwood creates is nothing short of a vicious nonconservative revenge fantasy. While Dirty Harry and Magnum Force both featured similar elements, neither was such a blatant endorsement of such behavior. In addition, Callahan goes a step further in this film than he did in any other. While Magnum Force feature Callahan condemning a group of police officers who determined to take the law into their own hands, Sudden Impact concludes with Harry essentially giving an enthusiastic thumbs up to a serial killer. That would be quite a bold move if Eastwood had offered less infatuated view of Callahan…but because the movie endorses Callahan (the climax of the movie romanticizes the character like no other film in the series), it also endorses his controversial actions. Sure, Eastwood does everything in his power to make us think such a decision is justified (most notably a garishly over-the-top rape sequence set inside a creepy carnival). But that's not enough for me. The Harry Callahan of Sudden Impact needs somebody like the Harry Callahan of Magnum Force to deal with him.
Otherwise, the film is reasonably well-crafted from a technical standpoint. Eastwood is a superb director, and he brings a level of intimate creepiness to the proceedings here that is very effective. Still, this doesn't exactly rank among his finest work behind the camera. The film is my least favorite visually, as that ugly bright red '80s vibe creeps into much of the movie. The dialogue in also seems a little less sharp than you might expect, with the confrontations between Harry and various villains/thugs/city officials often falling pretty flat. Early on in a scene in an elevator, some jerk lawyer sneers, "Hey Callahan…better luck next time, fool." Harry responds with an ungainly speech about dog feces that comes across as a lame attempt at sounding tough. The brightest part of the movie is probably the performance of Sandra Locke as the killer. She manages to be both creepy and sympathetic, which is precisely what the part calls for. There's also a nice performance from Pat Hingle (Batman) as a local sheriff who particularly dislikes Harry.
By the time The Dead Pool rolled around, Eastwood had more or less admitted that he was ready to leave his Dirty Harry persona behind. Perhaps it's no surprise that Harry seems milder in this film than he does in any other. Oh, he'll still shoot a guy when the situation calls for it…but he seems a whole lot less enthusiastic about it than before. The Dead Pool is understandably disliked by fans of the early films in the franchise, but I've always found it to be a fun spin on the character. The clichés feel a little less tired this time around, because the movie has a little bit of satirical fun with them.
The first Dirty Harry film was criticized by Pauline Kael for being fascist, and this film gets revenge by having a very Kael-like movie critic murdered in a particularly brutal manner. The films have often been mentioned in critical discussions of whether movies encourage or inspire violence. This movie responds by featuring a killer that just so happens to be heavily influenced by violent horror movies. The film is by turns amusing and exasperating in its high degree of self-awareness, and becomes so deeply self-absorbed at times that I honestly can't tell whether it's hypocritical or clever. Maybe it's both. It's best to just sit back and enjoy the film's many little pleasures.
There are certainly plenty of those. The Dead Pool is one of the funniest films of the series. The movie features one of my favorite car chases of all time, a delightful spoof of Bullitt in which Eastwood attempts to escape from an explosive toy car. There are a lot of entertaining little scenes of dialogue and action in the film, and some very solid supporting performances from such diverse participants as Jim Carrey (The Mask), Liam Neeson, and Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under). Yes, The Dead Pool is pretty trivial in comparison to the other Dirty Harry films…or most films, for that matter…but taken on its own terms, The Dead Pool is still good fun that doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets.
The performances of Clint Eastwood over the course of the series represent the actor at his best as a movie star, though perhaps not at his best as an actor. Yes, the performances are good, particularly Eastwood's first turn in Dirty Harry. However, Eastwood is simply playing his patented tough guy persona. The squints, the memorable tough guy talk, the threatening voice…they're all here, but Eastwood gives Callahan a very strict set of limits. This works very well for the movies, but don't expect anything as complex or nuanced as Eastwood's performances in movies like Unforgiven, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter, Black Heart, Million Dollar Baby, or…well, most of his non-Callahan performances. The performances here are much easier to love than they are to admire.
The hi-def transfers on these films are mostly very impressive. Dirty Harry remains one of the visually darkest thrillers I've seen…some scenes offer little more than fragments of noise and motion moving around in a sea of blackness. The transfer deliberately attempts to retain the slightly worn 1970s feel of the film, with plenty of grain and smudges left intact. I have mixed feelings about this, but overall I approve. Magnum Force features a good deal of grain, but is considerably sharper overall. The Enforcer is one of the best-looking films in the set, with video quality ranging from good to superb. Minor scratches appear here and there, but there's very little to complain about with this third entry. Though I'm so fan of the color scheme on Sudden Impact, it also looks terrific, very clean and detailed (though I was surprised at how many camera shots were a little out of focus). Many scenes in the film take place at night, and these are presented with considerably more clarity than those in the first film. Blacks are impressively deep, too. The Dead Pool receives an average transfer, but it really shines from time to time, particularly during the car chase sequence. Minor grain appears, but otherwise this is a pretty clean-looking film.
Sound is excellent on all five films, particularly in terms of all of the original scores. The musical outings by composer Lalo Schifrin (and the equally talented Jerry Fielding on The Enforcer) add a lot to each film and each score comes through with surprising strength and clarity. That striking main title music from Magnum Force (complete with war-like vocals) has never sounded more impressive. There is a refreshingly nice balance between the dialogue and sound effects in the early films; you won't feel a need to play with the volume on a regular basis (something that many films from the 1970s inspire me to do).
Warner Bros. has generously provided a whole host of brand new featurettes and commentaries for each film. The Dirty Harry disc features considerably more in terms of special features than the rest of the films. "Dirty Harry: The Original" (29 minutes) focuses primarily on the first film, but is also a general overview of the character over the course of each film. "The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry" (25 minutes) is a tribute to the influence of the first film. The likes of Michael Madsen, Peter Hyams, Shane Black, Joe Carnahan, David Ayer, John Badham, George Gallo, and others who know their way around an action movie pay homage to one of their great influences. "Dirty Harry's Way" (7 minutes) is a fun little vintage featurette from the 1970s, primarily included for nostalgic value. "Clint Eastwood: The Man From Malpaso" (58 minutes) is a nice tribute to the actor's entire career…my only problem is that there are no chapter stops during this hour-long doc, so if you want to find info on something in particular, you have a lot of fast-forwarding to do. "Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows" (86 minutes, narrated by Morgan Freeman) covers some similar territory, but is also quite good, well worth checking out. I could fill another paragraph just listing all the A-list names paying homage to Clint in these documentaries. An interview gallery runs about 27 minutes combined. These are all pretty short, so be sure to use the "Play All" option. I've been unhappy with the way so many Blu-ray discs have not utilized their expanded disc space. That's certainly not the case here, as we get a whopping four hours or so of featurettes and documentaries. Bravo.
The rest of the featurettes are sparely scattered across the other four films. Magnum Force offers "A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry" (24 minutes). This is a pretty solid featurette, as it digs into the most interesting aspect of these films. We hear discussion of Kael's assertion that Dirty Harry was a fascist film, arguments from critics and Hollywood personalities about the film, and so on. It's good stuff, though less substantial than one might hope. "A Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today" (8 minutes) is another amusing archival featurette from the time of the film's release. The Enforcer offers up "The Business End: Violence in Cinema" (30 minutes), which features an engaging debate between a wide variety of participants on whether or not violent movies cause violence in society. This is accompanied by a pretty bland six-minute promotional feature for The Enforcer from the 1970s. Sudden Impact gives us "The Evolution of Clint Eastwood," an overview of Eastwood's ambitious career. This is a little pointless, as it overlaps with the more in-depth documentaries on the Dirty Harry disc. "The Craft of Dirty Harry" (21 minutes) appears with The Dead Pool and very quickly makes a nod in the direction of people in charge of lighting, cinematography, music, editing, etc. Overall, I was fairly impressed by the way these features dealt honestly with some of the more troubling themes and ideas in the series (though there's a pretty noteworthy lack of technical info).
This set is one of the cases where I honestly prefer the featurettes over the commentaries, more or less for one simple reason: Clint Eastwood only participates in the featurettes. He is the one who offers the most revealing comments about Harry Callahan and the films themselves. Additionally, the featurettes pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the films (though they're not all film-specific, you need to watch them all to get the desired effect). Unless you are really a diehard fan of the films who wants to learn some very specific details and trivia (the primary attribute of these commentaries), there's no pressing need to listen to these tracks. They're not bad, just a little redundant.
Film critic and historic Richard Schickel contributes two of the tracks, for Dirty Harry and Sudden Impact. Schickel has some interesting things to say here and there, but he does tend to slip into simply describing the action from time to time. Still, his commentaries are both reasonably solid, if somewhat dry. Writer John Milius accepts the job for Magnum Force and turns in what may be the weakest of all the tracks. I've always found Milius' commentaries pretty engaging, but he really disappoints here. He is silent the majority of the time, only commenting here and there at random. One interesting note from Milius: he sinisterly suggests that if he had ever directed a Harry movie, he would have had the character commit an unforgivably violent act of unprovoked murder. That certainly would have been interesting. Much better is the commentary from James Fargo on The Enforcer, who tends to focus on technical aspects like cinematography and location, but is a generally engaging speaker. Editor Joel Cox and Producer David Valdes offer the final track for The Dead Pool, a genial and pleasant commentary that I enjoyed listening to.
But wait, there's more! Warner Bros. has also included some physical extras that are pretty cool. You get a replica of Harry's police badge, a large poster of San Francisco highlighting the locations of the Scorpio killer, some movie poster cards, replicas of various letters from Eastwood and others involved with the films, a new statement from Eastwood on the series, and a 44-page hardbound book featuring photos, quotes, and stats from the films. Cool!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One criticism that would extend to most of the films is how badly they have dated. Some may call the films "classics," but these movies seem a lot less relevant than they used to. They are very much portraits and reflections of a very particular public mentality, and seem to work better as snapshots of a time that has passed. They're not completely irrelevant today by any means, but they've certainly lost a lot of their punch in the past couple of decades. Additionally, the whole "turn in your badge" routine between Harry and his superiors is particularly tiresome, a cliché that these films and oh-so-many subsequent action movies have unfortunately embraced. There are also a handful of "mild" racial slurs tossed out by Harry and others (mostly in the first three films) that are particularly unfortunate inclusions.
None of these films quite reaches the status of being a truly great film, though the original Dirty Harry is certainly one of the important cinematic landmarks of the 1970s. However, all of the films have a lot of noteworthy attributes, and Sudden Impact is the only flick worthy of being called "guilty." Overall, this new hi-def box set from Warner Bros. is impressive, and well worth the money for fans of the series. While it's a shame that all of the films aren't available individually in hi-def (only Dirty Harry is given that honor), this box set is worthy of considerable commendation.
Warner Bros. is heartily thanked for giving this series first-class
treatment. Don't think about questioning my verdict, you punk. Not guilty.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Dirty Harry
Perp Profile, Dirty Harry
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Dirty Harry
• Commentary by Richard Schickel
Scales of Justice, Magnum Force
Perp Profile, Magnum Force
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Magnum Force
• Commentary by John Milius
Scales of Justice, The Enforcer
Perp Profile, The Enforcer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Enforcer
• Commentary by James Fargo
Scales of Justice, Sudden Impact
Perp Profile, Sudden Impact
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, Sudden Impact
• Commentary with Richard Schickel
Scales of Justice, The Dead Pool
Perp Profile, The Dead Pool
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Dead Pool
• Commentary with Joel Cox and David Valdes
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.