Dirty Harry (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Clint Eastwood has appeared in a LOT of movies, but he might be best remembered for his role as Inspector Harry Callahan better known as “Dirty Harry”. The phrases he utters have become almost as popular as the man himself “Go ahead, make my day” (though that didn’t come until a later Harry flick) and “Do you feel lucky punk, well do ya?” have become part of mainstream American culture. And this is the movie that started it all. At the time, 1971, Eastwood was already a well-established Hollywood star with his Western movies under his belt, most notably “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Still, Eastwood wanted to transition out of his western roles (though he would later return to a few of them with “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, “Pale Rider” and “Unforgiven”) and into something more modern. It was at this time that Eastwood started his career as a Director. Though he didn’t direct Dirty Harry, he went behind the camera for the first time in “Play Misty for Me”. Still, Dirty Harry remains a landmark in Eastwood’s career and it seems to have only gotten better with age.

Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) has earned the nickname “Dirty Harry” for many reasons. Some think it’s because he doesn’t like anyone and others because it’s him that always ends up with the dirty jobs. Either way, Harry is the original renegade cop who everyone turns to in a crisis. But in the streets of San Francisco, there is a killer on the loose by the name of Scorpio (Andy Robinson). Perched atop the many rooftops of the city, he uses a high powered rifle to kill innocents and writes an open letter to the city wanting money or else he will continue to kill a person a day until his demands are met. Naturally, the police aren’t too happy about this and it’s Harry who is assigned the case. While it’s true that Harry has his own methods that the Mayor (John Vernon) and his superiors don’t approve of, he does usually get the job done, there’s usually a body trail though! He also likes to work alone, but is assigned a new partner (his previous two have ended up in the hospital or dead) and as his boss puts it “You either work with a partner or you don’t work”. Harry quickly tracks down the killer, but after roughing him up a little, the killer turns to the law and claims that he was the victim of police brutality. Finding a loophole in the system, Scorpio is turned loose and it seems that only Harry believes he will go right back to killing.

Though the film is some 30 years old now, I think it still stands up very well to the action movies of today. There is violence, rough language and a grittiness that makes the film feel a lot more real than those of the modern era. While it is very dated with the clothes, hairstyles and cars, it doesn’t seem to matter as I was as captivated as I was the first time I saw it. Eastwood would go on to make four more of the Dirty Harry movies, and all were popular, but none as popular as the original. Though Eastwood and Mayor John Vernon are the only two stars of the movie that went on to successful careers, the rest of the cast plays well and they all make it work. Harry makes his appearance on Blu-ray and has been given the kind of treatment worth of the man himself.

Video: How does it look?

Dirty Harry was one of the initial titles offered by Warner ten years ago when DVD first hit the streets. The transfer left much to be desired and though superior to the VHS and Laserdisc versions, looking back on it now makes my eyes hurt. In 2001, Warner gave us a new digital transfer of the film that improved upon the previous version offering more color saturation, more detail and an overall cleaner print. A concurrent release with this Blu-ray version, a third edition is now out and though the Blu-ray is the best version yet, the standard DVD does offer a marginal improvement over the 2001 version. Colors are muted in the transfer and the 2.40:1 VC-1 HD transfer does show its age at times, though I found some of the scenes to be crystal clear. Naturally there are a lot of landmarks of the Bay area, notably Sausalito, Aquatic Park and the Golden Gate Bridge to name just a few. They all look stunning, though in some of the darker (night time) scenes, I saw a lot of noise in the black levels. Edge enhancement isnt really a problem with the Blu-ray version, though I noticed a bit of it in the standard DVD version. Overall, the transfer is better though my complaint would be that its inconsistent (though consistently better than all three standard DVDs). Whatever the case, this is the best Dirty Harrys looked on a home video format and any fan of the film shouldnt be disappointed.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio has been re-mastered in a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, but dont let that fool you at all. Some of the score sounds great and Lalo Schifrins soundtrack sounds as good as it ever has (and in uncompressed sound to boot). Lets face facts here, the movie is coming up on its fortieth anniversary and they just didnt have the technology to make great-sounding movies back then. Even now, with all of our technology, theres so much you can do to a mono track. Yes, some of the chase scenes do bring out the surrounds and Harrys .44 magnum does sound pretty intimidating, but this doesnt hold a candle to some of the modern-day soundtracks. Its just a fact. That said, like the video, this is the best the film has ever sounded so fans should be appeased.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Thankfully, this Blu-ray version of Dirty Harry has all of the supplements from the Special Edition DVD and a commentary track by film critic Richard Schikel (who has also collaborated with Eastwood on other films) to boot. Schikels track is very lively and entertaining and suffice it to say that the man is a bona fide Eastwood fan. He offers some insight into the making of the movie and its a must-listen for any fan of the movie. A documentary is included entitled “Dirty Harry: The Original” which is hosted by Robert Urich (who had a small part in Magnum Force). It’s mainly flashbacks and scenes from the Dirty Harry movies, but it has new interviews with stars and Clint himself. Very interesting and entertaining. A 1971 Behind the Scenes documentary is a short 6 minute bit of fluff, but it was 30 years ago and they weren’t exactly concentrating on “supplements” then. Still, it tells a bit of what to expect from the movie and has some extra footage as well. An interview gallery is a very interesting featurette, it has interviews from a dozen or so stars that tell the effect the movies had on them, or Eastwood himself. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself tells how Eastwood was one of the three people who inspired him to go into acting. An interesting feature, to hear so many points of view yet the all praise Eastwood (as they should). On Location and Behind the Scenes are two other text-only features that are essentially production notes. They tell of where and how the movie was shot and are both very informative. Lastly, the theatrical trailers for all Dirty Harry films are shown. Lastly, this is the second in the Warner Blu-ray Book series (the first being Bonnie and Clyde) which gives us a twenty odd page book full of production shots from the film as well as some bios as well.

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