Eastwood created a genuine American folk hero in Harry Callahan, and whether you like him and his Neanderthal ways or not, he's around to stay.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Everybody has turning points. For Clint Eastwood, TV's "Rawhide" gained him recognition, "The Man With No Name" Spaghetti Westerns made him a star, and the "Dirty Harry" films established him as an icon. To promote the latter series, the folks at Warner Home Video released all five of the "Dirty Harry" movies to DVD several years ago, and now they have remastered them yet again, making them available in the Blu-ray "Ultimate Collector's Edition" box set reviewed here (also available in standard-definition DVD), or on separate discs in standard definition, or in the case of the original "Dirty Harry" on a separate Blu-ray disc as well. While the "Dirty Harry" films may not appeal to all viewers, for their legions of devoted fans these new editions and their new extra features are surely attractive.

Harry struck a chord with audiences of the day fed up with what they perceived as the leniency of the law. What they wanted was a tough cop who shot first and asked questions later, a modern-day Wyatt Earp who wasn't afraid to clean up a town. Maybe it was a conservative backlash against in the early seventies against the peace-and-love movement, against Vietnam War protesters, against rising crime, or whatever. Or maybe viewers have always relished the sight of good guys blowing away bad guys, which existed in films since "The Great Train Robbery" in 1903. Who knows. In any case, the films worked, and Harry, for good or bad, became a legend.

Believe it or not, Eastwood was not the first choice to play San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan. Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and even John Wayne were among the top contenders, but they all turned down the role. Nor did the filmmakers even spell the name of the main character with two l's in the first movie. The closing credits for "Dirty Harry" list Eastwood's character simply as "Harry." The second movie lists him as "Harry Calahan," and from the third movie on he was "Callahan" with two l's. The fact is, when they were making the first movie, nobody was thinking of sequels, so I suppose the name didn't matter. By the time the third, fourth, and fifth installments rolled around, the filmmakers probably figured they ought to settle on a single spelling.

"Dirty Harry" (1971) is not only the first movie in the series, it's still the best. Fans will, of course, have their own personal favorites, but if I were buying the movies singly instead of in the box and I were unsure of which one to start with, it would be at the beginning. It's in "Dirty Harry" that we learn the most about Harry's personality and about his past. In subsequent films the writers toned him down considerably. For instance, why do people call the character "Dirty" Harry? Well, initially the film tells us it's because he's a bigoted, racist SOB who hates everybody, even to calling his new partner a derogatory name. Later, it says he got his trademark because he always got assigned the dirtiest jobs in the department. Or because he he's a peeping Tom. Take your pick.

Harry is a widower, his wife having been killed in an auto accident. That's not unusual for Harry: Everybody around him--wives, girlfriends, partners--eventually dies, usually a violent death, or gets seriously maimed. Harry is also a prototype loner and a hard-core maverick cop, a fellow who takes it upon himself to rid the world of criminal scum in any manner he deems reasonable, inside or outside the strict application of the law, and his superiors are constantly criticizing him for his extreme use of vigilante force. In other words, in many ways he is just as wrong as the villains he puts away.

I mean, here's the thing: I lived in San Francisco for about five years back in the mid 1960s, and I visited the City on a weekly basis for many years thereafter. I walked and drove the City streets on end, and in all that time I never once saw anything improper or untoward happen. Harry, on the other hand, can walk or drive down any street in the City at any time of the day or night, and he will run into a murder or a robbery in progress, necessitating his shooting at least three to five people. Only in the movies.

The movie begins, as most of these movies do, with Harry breaking up a crime totally unrelated to the ensuing plot, in this case a bank robbery in which he shoots three of the perpetrators. Then the real story begins as the Mayor (John Vernon) receives an extortion threat from a psycho who calls himself "Scorpio" (Andy Robinson, an actor who in real life was a pacificist and had never shot a gun) and who threatens to kill a citizen a day if he's not given $100,000 (with inflation, today he'd ask for a million). The writers based the Scorpio character on the real-life killer who called himself "Zodiac" and terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late sixties and seventies. It is, in fact, the presence of this strong, focused villain that gives "Dirty Harry" an edge over the following episodes, which tend to have more diluted opponents for Harry to handle. In all, director Don Siegel's ("Invasion of the Body Snatchers") "Dirty Harry" comes off as a taut, well-paced cop thriller with two solid adversaries in conflict. Harry doesn't do so much actual detecting in the story as he does run around a lot, but this no-nonsense, blood-and-guts approach to police non-procedurals was a first of its kind. And, of course, "Harry" spawned a score of Hollywood imitators.

Trivia: At the time of making "Dirty Harry," real-life San Francisco Police Inspector Dave Toschi had already achieved a measure of fame when Steve McQueen announced that he had copied Toschi's style of wearing his gun for his own character of Frank Bullitt. Likewise, there's a bit of Toschi in Dirty Harry because it was Toschi who investigated the original Zodiac case, which in turn inspired Scorpio. So Toschi was to some small degree an inspiration for two of the most famous fictional San Francisco cops in movie history.

"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I've kind of lost track myself. But being's 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 you, punk?"

Video and Audio:
As I've said, Warner Bros. present all of the "Dirty Harry" films in remastered picture and sound. This one is in a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, its original Panavision theatrical dimensions, transferred to Blu-ray via VC-1/1080p. Colors are brighter, richer, and often deeper than in regular definition, and, of course, delineation is better all the way around. Still, the higher definition also brings out more of the minor grain present on the original prints, particularly noticeable in outdoor locations shots, and it tends to make the picture look a little rough.

The audio engineers have done up the sound in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1, both of which have a fairly wide front-channel stereo spread and a few good rear-channel effects, like the occasional helicopter flyover, with the TrueHD lending a stronger presence in the clarity and smoothness departments. The TrueHD soundtrack is especially effective in rendering gunshots strongly and realistically as well as in conveying Lalo Schifrin's subtly jazz-inflected musical score.

On Blu-ray "Dirty Harry" comes in a special-edition disc that contains everything on the standard-definition two-disc set and more. First, there is a new commentary by film critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel. Next, there's the 2008 documentary "The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry," twenty-five minutes long and again featuring comments from practically everybody in his "Harry" films. After that is the documentary "Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows," an eighty-six-minute biography of Eastwood covering his life from childhood through the year 2000, when Rhapsody Films, American Masters, and BBC Arena made it. The film is in widescreen and includes twenty-three chapters and again features comments from just about everybody the man has ever worked with. In addition, there's the 1993 documentary, "Clint Eastwood: The Man from Malpaso," fifty-eight minutes long, and the featurette "Dirty Harry: The Original" (2001), thirty minutes long and including interviews with the filmmakers of many of the "Harry" movies, like Eastwood, John Milius, Hal Holbrook, Ted Post and even Arnold Schwarzenegger commenting on how Eastwood's character was one of his inspirations. Then, there's the promotional short "Dirty Harry's Way," seven minutes.

In addition to all of that, there's an interview gallery with Patricia Clarkson, Joel Cox, Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Evan Kim, John Milius, Ted Post, Andy Robinson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Robert Urich, twenty-seven minutes total. And there's a trailer gallery for all five "Dirty Harry" films in widescreen. Rounding out the bonuses are thirty-one scene selections; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Castilian, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Norsk, Suomi and Swedish subtitles, with English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired

The second entry in the series, "Magnum Force" (1973), I found one of the weakest links in the chain. Calahan (later spelled Callahan) has lost some of his edge by this time, the action seems more awkwardly outlandish, and the villain is practically anonymous.

In this one, somebody is taking the law into his own hands (a nice contrast, given that Harry does almost the same thing) by killing some of San Francisco's top gangsters. There may even be an illegal "death squad" in the works. Hal Holbrook plays Lt. Briggs, Harry's new superior, who doesn't like Harry or his methods very much. Unfortunately, aside from him there are few people in the film to hiss. The movie struck a chord with audiences fed up with the hoodlums having more rights than the good guys, so in essence the film gives us two sets of mavericks: vigilante cops and Harry. But instead of making us cheer for Harry, the story--mainly a series of brutal killings--seems too long and too wayward to catch our attention, and not even Lalo Schifrin's musical score can do much to help the situation.

"A man's always got to know his limitations."

Video and Audio:
The screen size, picture quality, and audio are a little better than in the first movie, with the high-definition picture (again a 2.35:1 ratio widescreen) being a trifle cleaner and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound having a bit more dynamic impact. The color shows up well enough, quite deep in this VC-1/1080p transfer, although I noticed that while close-ups looked fine, many of the medium and long shots seemed somewhat soft. In TrueHD the surrounds provide some vigorous effects with bullets and an airplane flyover. The slight constriction of sound in dialogue I heard during the standard-definition presentation didn't make itself known as much, either.

As for bonus items, there are fewer on the next four BD discs than on the fully-loaded "Dirty Harry" disc. On "Magnum Force" we find a new audio commentary by writer John Milius, quite illuminating in that Milius is not always complimentary to the film; a new, 2008 featurette, "A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry," twenty-four minutes; an eight-minute behind-the-scenes promo, "The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today," that works with old newsreels and the present film; and the same trailer gallery of all five "Harry" films found on the other discs. In addition, we get thirty-six scene selections; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Castilian, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Norsk, and Swedish subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.

The third film is "The Enforcer" (1976). This time the gimmick is that the department assigns Harry a woman partner, played by Tyne Daly, which, of course, annoys Harry no end. To be honest, this is the installment I always seem to forget, maybe because the franchise was by now a million-dollar business, the effectiveness of the action was already beginning to wear thin with repetition, and Eastwood seemed to be starting to go routinely through the form. Nonetheless, there's still excitement aplenty to keep one occupied, and Jerry Fielding's musical score, more overtly up-tempo jazzy than Lalo Shifrin's had been, should keep most folks awake.

Like the first movie, "The Enforcer" focuses on another real-life San Francisco Bay Area circumstance. You may remember newspaper heiress Patty Heart's being kidnapped by and then supposedly joining in with a paramilitary organization known as the "Symbionese Liberation Army." In "The Enforcer" Harry and his new partner are up against the "People's Revolutionary Strike Force," a group that wants millions of dollars or it will blow up parts of the City. Harry blasts people away left and right, and his bosses, a Capt. McKay in particular (Bradford Dillman), chastise him for his extreme measures. Like "Magnum Force," "The Enforcer" lacks a strong, clearly defined villainous presence. Instead, we get a whole mess of evildoers with only a quasi leader to boo. It's not quite enough to make the film a favorite of mine, but Eastwood's flinty-eyed stare and snarling lip are still more than satisfactory when compared to most other tough-guy heroes, and his charisma alone carries the day. Ms. Daly suffers the same fate as most of Harry's partners, but it's fun while it lasts, and Harry finally gets two l's in his last name.

"Look: She wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log."

Video and Audio:
Again, the Panavision screen size, about 2.35:1, looks good reproduced in VC-1 1080p. The picture is the cleanest of the first three films in the series and shows up quite well in high-definition. Colors are beautiful from the outset, with deep black levels. Although it's a tad soft and some faces are a bit dark, the overall impression is impressive. The sound comes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 as well as Dolby Digital 5.1, and it seems the most subdued of the first three films, having less opportunity to display any surround effects, but when it gets moving it does fine. The TrueHD is smooth and easy, and the surrounds take care of several explosions effectively. Also, a nice touch, Harry throws away an apple he been eating, and it lands behind us. Cute.

The major extras for "The Enforcer" start with a new commentary by director James Fargo. It's among the best of the lot as Fargo seems genuinely to enjoy talking about this movie. After that is a new, thirty-minute featurette "The Business End: Violence in Cinema," that briefly looks at a history of violence in motion pictures and its effects on audiences. After that is the five-minute featurette "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films," a vintage promo that is, unfortunately, not very special; and, again, a trailer gallery. Things wrap up with thirty scene selections; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Castilian, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Norsk, and Swedish subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.

This is the only entry (1983) in the series produced and directed by Eastwood, and it finds Callahan looking a little older, his face a bit leaner, his hair a little thinner and grayer.

The plot device casts Eastwood's real-life flame, Sondra Locke, as his co-star. She plays Jennifer Spencer, an artist living in San Paulo (filmed in Santa Cruz, CA), who is killing off all the people who raped her and her younger sister one night on the beach ten years earlier. Back to harass Harry is Bradford Dillman, as much a villain in the series as anybody, and Pat Hingle as the sour-tempered San Paulo Police Chief. Since Spencer kills her first victim in San Francisco and the second in San Paulo, the S.F. Police send Harry to San Paulo to investigate, as much to get rid of him as anything else. Removing his presence from San Francisco delights his superiors no end, and it gives the audience a chance to see a new venue, Santa Cruz's famous roller-coaster and boardwalk.

"Sudden Impact" stretches the believability factor to the limit, with a story that's all over the map; no matter where Harry goes or where he turns, he finds some bad guy to shoot. There's even a first: Harry scares a gangster to death! Eastwood's new catch word is "Swell," the body count is higher than ever, he's honed his snarl to perfection, and the ending is straight out of "High Noon."

"Go ahead. Make my day."

Video and Audio:
"Sudden Impact" has the widest screen size of the bunch, about a 2.40 anamorphic ratio. The BD picture quality is probably the best of the lot, too, with bright, natural colors and very little grain except in a few nighttime scenes. The only minor flaws are that it's a bit too dark at times and too glossy at others. The sound, again in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and regular Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds better than the first three movies because it contains more surround information, more environmental and city noises, and strong gunfire with solid impact. In TrueHD it sounds better spread out among the front three speakers as well.

On "Sudden Impact" we get a new commentary by Richard Schickel and a new documentary, "The Evolution of Clint Eastwood." The latter is twenty-five minutes long and traces the growth of Eastwood from actor to director. There are also a healthy thirty-seven scene selections, and spoken languages and subtitles in all of the various languages cited above.

The last "Dirty Harry" film Eastwood did was "The Dead Pool" (1988). It is pretty much more of the same: a new partner, new baddies, Callahan shooting up more people. But this time out we find two budding stars in the making: Liam Neeson as an obnoxious, egotistical horror-movie director and Jim Carrey (credited as "James Carrey") as a drugged-out rock singer. Seems somebody's been murdering celebrities, and Harry is on the list! A TV news reporter, Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson), tries to wine and dine Harry to ferret out a story, but she has about as much luck as a snowflake in July. There is another first, too: a cute "Bullitt"-type car chase through the streets of San Francisco featuring Harry's automobile and a deadly, remote-controlled toy car. Also, Harry gets to use the biggest gun of his career in the closing scene. Otherwise, same old, including more of Lalo Schifrin's music and more quotable quotes, as when Harry observes, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one."


Video and Audio:
Interestingly, this final episode is the least wide of the series, a 1.85:1 ratio widescreen. But the picture quality is among the cleanest in the group, although maybe a bit soft for high definition, with faces a tad dark. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound is not quite as all-enveloping as I remembered it the first time around, but it does provide good impact, there's a wide front-channel stereo spread, and bullets zing by with authority.

"The Dead Pool" includes a new commentary by producer David Valdes and cinematographer Jack N. Green; plus a new, twenty-one-minute featurette, "The Craft of Dirty Harry," which gives us more information on the filmmakers who supported Eastwood. Finally, there's a "Dirty Harry" trailer gallery; thirty scene selections; and the usual assortment of spoken languages, subtitles, and captions for the hearing impaired.

Yet More Goodies:
In addition to the five movies, the "Ultimate Collector's Edition" box contains an assortment of further bonus materials. Here, you'll find a replica Harry Callahan wallet with inspector's badge and identification card (very cute); five 5" x 7" lobby poster cards plus an exclusive Ultimate Collector's Edition card; a 19" x 27" poster map of San Francisco detailing Harry's hunt for Scorpio, the killer in "Dirty Harry"; a "personal message" from Clint Eastwood; and a forty-four-page, hardbound book of photos and information. Warner Bros. have packaged all of this in a handsomely embossed box, with an interior container and a pair of Digipak foldouts for the discs. This is a class production all the way.

Parting Thoughts:
I spent a marathon few days watching all five "Dirty Harry" movies over again, enjoying some of them more than others. My ratings below are a composite for the series in general, but the Film Values would, in fact, vary from a high of "8" for the first "Dirty Harry" installment to maybe 6's for the rest of them.

Eastwood created a genuine American folk hero in Harry Callahan, and whether you like him and his Neanderthal ways or not, he's around to stay. DVD and Blu-ray may preserve him forever, like one of those giant mammoths found in the Siberian ice. It's pretty good preservation, too, particularly on Blu-ray disc.

Go ahead: Make Harry's day.


Film Value