MAGNUM FORCE (1973)
***/**** IMAGE A SOUND A- EXTRAS B+
starring Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, David Soul
screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino
directed by Ted Post
THE ENFORCER (1976)
**/**** IMAGE A- SOUND A EXTRAS B+
starring Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman
screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner
directed by James Fargo
SUDDEN IMPACT (1983)
*½/**** IMAGE C+ SOUND A- EXTRAS B
starring Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman
screenplay by Joseph C. Stinson
directed by Clint Eastwood
THE DEAD POOL (1988)
***/**** IMAGE A+ SOUND A- EXTRAS B-
starring Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan C. Kim
screenplay by Steve Sharon
directed by Buddy Van Horn
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The barrel of a sniper rifle seeps through a memorial-wall dedication to San Francisco's finest, and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry establishes right off the bat that the war on crime is just that: a war; the real question is how to properly fight it when the only real motivators are fear and anger. The film already has its ready-made villain in a fictionalized version of the Bay Area's own Zodiac Killer, "Scorpio" (Andy Robinson, almost certainly the greatest madman in cinematic history), and the viewer encounters a terrifying golem personifying his frustrations with killers consistently eluding a seemingly-helpless police force and criminals who are caught and released back into society on mere technicalities. Dirty Harry only takes the next logical step by pandering to our basest desires with an equally frightening and chaotic icon: "Dirty Harry" Callahan (Clint Eastwood, at the top of his game), an inspector in the SFPD's Homicide department who lost his wife to a drunk driver a while back and now takes it out on the rest of criminal society with his .44 Magnum, blasting a hole through any motherfucker unfortunate enough to disturb the peace in his presence. The French Connection's Popeye Doyle impressed with his dogged determination, but Harry is the genuine realization of a dick-raising fantasy of the quintessential modern man (notice that the numbers of his radio call sign, "Inspector 71," reflect the film's year of release) in that he gives us everything we want without burdening us with the trauma of actually having to become him.
As citizens/filmgoers eager for some escapist relief from the murderers and rapists of the outside world, the base excitement of the "Do I feel lucky?" speech conveniently makes us forget that a man like Harry knows his gun too intimately to lose track of how many bullets he has left, thus it's not a matter of indiscriminate luck so much as trying to gauge how badly someone wants to die. It's also about intuiting how badly Harry wants to kill someone at a given moment, and subsequently the film that bears his name never lets us forget the mindset dictating that criminals will always get what they deserve, nor how it coldly, subtly excludes us from that same "eye for an eye" ethic. "These loonies, they oughta throw a net over the whole bunch of 'em," Harry sneers while driving through a red-light district--and we're expected to agree, ignoring Harry's own little perversions (he's caught playing Peeping Tom on two separate occasions), thus making Dirty Harry a natural ancestor to Taxi Driver. You can't call it a work of strict nihilism, though, as it merely forces us to realize that there's a nihilistic streak in all of us--it may be an early entry in the 1970s' cinematic cycle of authority paranoia, but more accurately it's a classic rumination on the fallout from the culture of fear and the willingness to idolize any amoral maniac who promises to protect us from the more menacing amoral maniacs without any of that legal bullshit getting in the way. The key moment arrives when a tired and bloodied Harry finally incapacitates Scorpio with his hand cannon, torturing him in the middle of an empty football field--the coliseum setting emphasizing the expectation for our bloodthirsty approval--while the killer screams and whines for his right to an attorney. At first glance, it's wish-fulfillment of the ugliest variety that tells the criminals in this country exactly where they can shove their civil rights. But Eastwood's wild-eyed performance here belies the film's intentions, with Harry demanding to know where the killer is hiding a kidnapped girl despite, by his own admission, that he knows she's already dead. Protecting the innocent is a matter long past--there's nothing left except the rage. It speaks to an ancient facet of human nature that too often goes unspoken, reaching all the way to Abu Ghraib: a superficial demand for justice that masks the neanderthalic need to hurt those who've hurt us. Dirty Harry strongly vocalizes its disgust for the laws and methods that allow killers to get off scot-free on technicalities, but with a subtler hand (Harry later claims he didn't really know the girl was dead in order to deflect criticism), it points a heavy finger of responsibility at the self-conscious brutality that willingly ignores those technicalities in the first place. Furthermore, the film decries the notion that we are somehow smarter and more civilized for choosing which laws "should" be obeyed under a strict banner of good guy/bad guy morality--the fact that many of Harry's confrontations with Scorpio take place with Christian imagery nearby (a shoot-out with a neon "JESUS SAVES" sign rotating in the background; a game of cat-and-mouse that ends in front of a stone cross in Mount Davidson Park) is a reflection of how we preach New Testament values but prefer to enforce them by Old Testament means.
So yes, the conflict between chaos and order is a war, but the lines dividing them are blurred and indistinct. Ultimately, it's the innocents themselves who will always be caught in the middle. Harry and Scorpio are two sides of the same psychopathic coin, both driven by impulses beyond their control (Harry argues that "because he likes it," Scorpio won't stop killing--stopping just short of admitting he knows this from personal experience), pledging allegiance to no one but themselves. There'll always be murderers of Scorpio's calibre running rampant, though, and at last we can understand Harry's claim that he earned his nickname because he's saddled with "every dirty job that comes along." He's a stone-cold nihilist thrown into the line of line of fire, treated as the only logical defense against an equally brutal world with the vague hope that he won't kill too many of the wrong people along the way. When Harry eventually tosses his inspector's badge in the river, it's the opposite of Gary Cooper's gesture at the end of High Noon: instead of a stalwart protector scorned by those he has sworn to watch over, he's a man scorned by a system with which he should never have had any involvement--but only theoretically. It's not just a matter of how long you can stare into the Nietzschean abyss before you turn into a monster, because we know that happened to Harry a long time ago; his subsequent career, and his eventual departure, brings up an even more complex question: how long can a monster fight monsters before he becomes a liability to the cause?
Despite that the film's immediate sequel literalizes that question by putting Harry back on the force to take on a team of traffic cops executing underworld figures, Magnum Force is too confrontational to be seen as a straight apologia for Dirty Harry--something immediately apparent by how unapologetically shocking it is, pumping crooks full of lead at point-blank range the moment they elude the court system. "Nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot," Harry says, and you can certainly see this new death squad as being raised on that mentality. It's close to the quandary of soldiers killing soldiers that co-screenwriter John Milius would later explore in Apocalypse Now, but if you accept that this is the same character from Dirty Harry, his steadfast opposition to his ideological children becomes an attempt to prevent his own bleak worldview from spreading to a legalized institution. Basically interchangeable bogeymen in helmets and sunglasses, the traffic cops are revealed as an omnipresent hive mind in service to a fascist state; it's a lot more terrifying when you've got four Dirty Harrys acting in cooperation--but that's what you wanted, isn't it? A police force that wouldn't let the "bad" laws prevent it from enforcing its own brand of justice? Magnum Force shines because it successfully filters the frightening implications of these concepts through victims who are demonstrated as being guilty as sin before our very eyes. A scene in which a pimp (series mainstay Albert Popwell) viciously murders a hooker by pouring Drano down her throat isn't necessarily saying he deserves to die, and the fact that a motorcycle cop simply appears in the pimp's rear-view mirror the next day without discernable precedent (did they actually locate the body?) underscores the lack of connective, due-process tissue in his inevitable execution.
As mentioned, Magnum Force's greatest weakness lies in how the very nature of its plot demands it excessively literalize the subtleties of its predecessor. Sometimes it results in something wonderful: for as often as Harry finds himself at odds with simpering authority figures, it's a pretty bold twist that his no-nonsense lieutenant (Hal Holbrook) is the traffic cops' ringleader. More often, it results in something like the film's best yet somehow worst sequence: facing off against one of his quarries, Davis (David Soul, later Hutch of "Starsky & Hutch"), in a police marksman's tournament, Harry plants his last bullet in the cardboard likeness of a cop without blinking an eye. It's a genuinely astonishing moment that draws its lines in the sand--one that's immediately ruined by some moron in the crowd announcing that Harry just shot "a good guy!" with the wide-eyed obviousness of a five-year-old. You know, in case you didn't understand what was going on there. "A man's got to know his limitations," as Harry concludes by film's end; if Magnum Force doesn't come close to matching the same political stranglehold with which Dirty Harry grabbed audiences, then at least it holds up as a solid action flick. It can probably be considered a masterpiece of visual and sound editing on the sole basis of the wild car/motorcycle chase and warehouse showdown that constitute its finale.
1976's The Enforcer is the only film in the Dirty Harry anthology with a score by someone other than Lalo Schifrin, but Jerry Fielding's electronic keyboards and heavy brass section turn out to be perfectly suited to the material. The film itself is essentially an oh-so-topical half-hour detective show blown up to feature-length. After his partner Frank DiGiorgio (Robert Mitchum's brother John, in his third and final turn in the role) is knifed to death in a firearms warehouse, Harry sets out to investigate a group of hippie/veterans collectively known as "The People's Revolutionary Strike Force," saddled with a new partner he doesn't like (gasp, a woman (Tyne Daly, given all the best lines)) while hitting up black militants for information and avoiding department politics like the plague. There's nothing wrong with any of these ideas in theory, but despite the PRSF's plot to kidnap the Mayor and blow up San Francisco (or something), there's also nothing here to distinguish it from any other likeminded thriller of the era. Ripping another Bay Area cause célèbre (the Symbionese Liberation Army) from the headlines, it's just another pale entry in the shoot-first/ask-questions-later sweepstakes following Dirty Harry's success: Harry blasts through bad guys, fosters a grudging respect for his partner, and hands over his badge at his superiors' order. As it happens, The Enforcer is the lone Dirty Harry film to actually portray the latter; considering that the series began with him willingly offering his star to the higher-ups at every opportunity (and being rejected for fear that he would simply go apeshit if allowed to shed all legal pretense), this ridiculously cliché moment is enough to demonstrate how a psycho like Harry could be transformed into a folk hero.
As such, it's pretty easy to say that Harry was resurrected in 1983 to defend Reagan's Morning in America: locate a perfect metaphor for contemporary dick-swinging foreign policy in replacing the .44 Magnum with the even bigger, shinier .44 Automag, while Harry's catchphrase du jour, "Go ahead, make my day," probably sparked a national craze (particularly popular with the Gipper himself, natch) because it's a vague, fuck-you dare that manages to say everything and nothing at the same time. Still, at the end of the day, Sudden Impact probably speaks more to its star's growing boredom with Harry Callahan. Under Eastwood's own seemingly-reluctant direction, The Enforcer's action-movie formula is reduced to a sarcastic twinge: in-dialogue complaints about red-tape and the rights afforded to criminals are now smug recitations; Harry is gifted with a partner (Popwell again) whose only reason to live is to die (along with a farting, pissing dog named "Meathead"); and our hero's one-man war on crime is taken to a stupefying extreme, with Harry more or less taking on every single criminal in all of Southern California in the span of the film's first hour.
Once Eastwood grows tired of throwing Harry into overblown set-pieces involving teenaged maniacs, bank robbers, and Mafia hoods, he sends him to the small burg of San Paulo in search of Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), who's hunting down the lowlifes who gang-raped her some ten years previous and emasculating them with her .38 snubnose. It's right around then that Sudden Impact becomes a ponderous version of I Spit on Your Grave, opting to forget that Harry exists beyond a sympathetic eye to the killings and a curled-up sneer before he finally steps in to save the day on Jennifer's behalf. The film has no sense of balance and nothing to add to the conversation; needless to say, it fails to justify its own rationales for the vengeance-fuelled murders that so concerned the original Dirty Harry. More to the point, no one involved had much desire to make any sort of movie at all--much less an action movie, much less another Dirty Harry movie. Roger Ebert called Sudden Impact "a Dirty Harry movie with only the good parts left in," but the distillation is merely cynical to no discernable end, implicitly asking why you're still watching the same old shit you've seen a million times before instead of bothering to offer any kind of alternative. Of course, it still managed to attract 'em in droves. For a film that had such a sudden impact on the pop landscape1, it's maddeningly disposable, predicting the fatal flaw of Eastwood's later Flags of Our Fathers: intended as an indignant rumination on his own fictionalized heroism, it only comes across as whiny and petulant.
The Dead Pool is the film Sudden Impact should have been (or perhaps it is the natural reaction to Sudden Impact), first and foremost in that it re-establishes Harry as the same character we met seventeen years prior, somewhat mellowed by age but now incredibly pissed-off at what society has made of him. He's spent years growling at criticism from his superiors, but it's the admiration of the (moviegoing?) public that finally drives him off the deep end: Harry puts infamous mob boss Lou Janero (Anthony Charnota) behind bars, which thrusts his name onto a few choice hit lists as well as into the news and the titular dead-celebrity contest run by obnoxious horror-film auteur Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). Swan emerges as the prime suspect when other names in the betting pool are brutally murdered, but Harry would have a much easier time solving the case if the swarm of reporters (led by Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson)) would stop looking to him for their daily dose of blood and guts. The topics at hand are, of course, the perils of celebrity and the media's obsession with violence--nothing too special on their own. What makes The Dead Pool so wonderful is how it refuses to excuse Harry (and, by extension, itself) from that line of thought.
The film follows through on Magnum Force's fear that Harry's methodology would be integrated into a blindly-accepted establishment--because that fear had indeed been realized in regards to his impact on popular entertainment. Subsequently, it asks us to question our titillation by recognizing how well Harry fits into the cold, emotionless presentation of murder and mayhem we're supposed to despise: he pulls his Magnum on a couple of schmoes--only reluctantly dropping his aim when it turns out they're just looking for an autograph--and we realize that we've spent years cheering a man we never should have cheered at all. It strikes me as particularly significant that he should find himself at such fatal odds with a genre filmmaker criticized for excessive cruelty and violence when his own films are so often misinterpreted as the sort of feel-good violence everyone can get behind. (The same goes for putting Harry in the dead-pool league with--and therefore on the same level as--a drug-addled rock star ("James" Carrey, a few years before he integrated his Eastwood impression into his repertoire) and a Kaelian film critic (Ronnie Claire Edwards): both scumbag untouchables when it comes to the real and fictional world of Dirty Harry.) It's a genuine meta-reflection of Harry's moral dynamic with Scorpio in Dirty Harry, and The Dead Pool captures the spirit of the original by throwing the burden of examination back on us.
The Dead Pool is something like the Live Free or Die Hard of its generation, trying to decipher how a psychopath became a hero in the same way that the later film would explore how an everyman became a superman. Begin with Callahan shooting fleeing, unarmed thugs in the back while heroic music plays in the background; continue with a stone-faced parody of Bullitt involving an R/C bomb on wheels that manages to trump the genuine article2; and finish with an astounding climax that unequivocally pisses on the last twelve years of undue hero-worship. After all, since Dirty Harry has long been expected to play the part of the professional rebel, it was only a matter of time before he would rebel against his cinematic self: Harry shoots out a stereo playing Guns n' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" (the song used heavily throughout the film and its marketing campaign, going so far as to cast the band in a groan-worthy cameo) before being forced to surrender his gun to the film's killer/starfucker, Harlan Rook (David Hunt), who then chases him with it as if representing a spectral embodiment of the .44 Magnum turning against its master. When Harry gets the upper hand by picking up a harpoon gun, it's not a cynical bigger-gun ethos like Sudden Impact's Automag, but an act of defiance that set out to prove Harry once transcended the iconography that so completely defined him over the years.3 At this late stage of the game, although there was no chance to reverse Dirty Harry's identity in the public consciousness as a hero for the people, The Dead Pool is able to remind us that we ended up pretty far from where we started.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner's "Ultimate Collector's Edition" release of Dirty Harry is currently the only way to own all five franchise entries on Blu-ray. The set itself is geekily chic, its embossed cardboard shell sheathing, in addition to a slim hardcover volume featuring more or less tongue-in-cheek dossiers on Callahan's various partners, two gatefolds for the quintet of discs plus a box of tchotchkes--a miniature reproduction of Harry's ID/badge, a map of San Francisco overlaid with the route for Scorpio's ransom drop, lobby-card reproductions, and production correspondence--complete with the de rigueur certificate of authenticity rubber-stamped by Clint Eastwood. (Incidentally, this letter from Clint is one of the better summations of Dirty Harry's origins to be found herein.) It's all very Franklin mint. A few brief notes so I don't have to keep on repeating myself in the individual reviews: each platter includes the same standard-def, five-film trailer gallery (and you thought the '70s were a more conservative time: the one for Magnum Force excerpts liberally from an unbilled Suzanne Sommers's nude scene), enhanced for 16x9 displays; each film save The Dead Pool is presented in 2.40:1 and 1080p with a choice of Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital 5.1 listening options (sadly, none of the supplementary material exceeds 480i); and the featurettes exclusive to this package were directed by Gary Leva, whose iconoclastic sensibilities--perhaps nurtured during his work on the Kubrick box (or perhaps simply reinforced by the same)--are somewhat eclipsed by a motley assortment of interviewees, many of whom (actor Michael Madsen, director Peter Hyams) fail to justify their inexplicable presence. On the other hand, maybe such a diversionary tactic was precisely the point.
It's important to apply relativity and keep expectations realistic in assessing the Dirty Harry movies on Blu-ray. The first film, for instance, looks more intentionally gritty than ever before, the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer suggesting nothing so much as a brand-new print struck from elements that have been restored but thankfully not subjected to any especial revisionism. (Grain remains in abundance.) Black tends to drape itself over night scenes like a charcoal tarp due to the decision to shoot Dirty Harry documentary-style using available light and high ASA stock, but HiDef nonetheless wrests shadow detail from the image that was heretofore lost to NTSC's low resolution. The only knock against this presentation is that the colours are a little too pumped-up, accentuating a sickly palette that begs to be downplayed. As for the 5.1 audio, Lalo Schifrin's score has an authoritive, stereophonic presence and the dialogue--less brittle than anticipated--is firmly anchored in the centre channel. For the most part, this sounds like glorified mono. Of all the remixes we'll be evaluating herein, this is probably the one that's least likely to anger purists.
On another track, find a characteristically grating commentary from Eastwood sycophant Richard SchICKel. After stating the obvious--Dirty Harry was controversial? Really?!--he drops a few banal observations about director Don Siegel's wide-shot strategy and the Harry character's love of hot dogs. (While this is going on, by the way, Schickel overlooks the rare moment of fourth-wall breaking for his idol in a giant background marquee billing Play Misty for Me.) I didn't get much farther than that before falling into a coma. Near as I can tell, reviewers are treating Schickel with kid gloves because he's acquired elder-statesman status, but the truth is if he were a horse, they'd've shot him by now. Next come the featurettes, starting with a holdover from the 2000 DVD release of Dirty Harry, a series overview somewhat misleadingly-titled "Dirty Harry: The Original" (30 mins.) hosted by the late Robert Urich, who tells the special's best anecdote in recalling an incident from the set of his big-screen debut, Magnum Force. What a difference eight years makes, by the by: Eastwood looks dramatically younger than he does in interviews captured more recently for this package.
"Dirty Harry's Way" (7 mins.) is a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette that boasts of the production's cooperation from the real City Hall in San Francisco. The newly-minted "The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry" (26 mins., 16x9) introduces most of the participants who will become the usual suspects over the course of this box set, such as tough-guy filmmakers Joe Carnahan, Shane Black, and David Ayer, who offer the perspective of artists corrupted by Dirty Harry in adolescence. Already tiresome by this point is Eastwood's aw-shucks-we-were-just-a-buncha-anti-intellectuals-puttin'-on-a-show evasiveness in reflecting on the first film's politics--anyone who tells Spike Lee to "shut his face" is bound to have strong feelings on the subject. Still, Eastwood's cultivated modesty has its charms, and they're on full display in the disc's two long-form docs, Gene Feldman & Suzette Winter's "Clint Eastwood: The Man from Malpaso" (58 mins.) and Bruce Ricker's Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows (87 mins., 16x9), the latter of which Walter reviewed in full. Bearing a 1993 copyright date, the former is an unapologetic hagiography that mainly derives its interest from an eclectic roster of talking-heads, including Eastwood's agent Leonard Hirshman and tarnished legend Michael Cimino. Too, with stuff like the Dollars trilogy fresher in mind for him, Eastwood's memories of the old days ring with a little more clarity than they have lately; I especially dug his admission that he kept Sergio Leone in the dark about American censorship practices so as not to stifle the maestro's creativity.
Rounding out the platter is an interview gallery featuring soundbites from series vets Patricia Clarkson, Hal Holbrook, Evan Kim, and Robert Urich, editor Joel Cox, screenwriter John Milius, director Ted Post, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Eastwood himself. Running 2-3 minutes apiece (27 mins. in toto), these appear to be outtakes from "Dirty Harry: The Original" and cover mostly virgin territory, with Clint addressing the future of Harry Callahan for the first and last time on these discs, Milius showing off his personal .44 Magnum, and Holbrook confessing that for as much as Dirty Harry went against his beliefs, he was secretly happy to be cast in its sequel, since it was a movie people would actually go see.
A slightly slicker film than its predecessor, Magnum Force nevertheless feels like part of a continuum with Dirty Harry on BD, visually-speaking. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer invites much the same criticism/praise, though its source print seems to have received a more thorough dustbusting. Its 5.1 audio, meanwhile, boasts an aggressive use of the rear discretes and even employs some sidewall imaging during the climactic chase on the streets of San Fran. LFE usage, on the other hand, is all but restricted to Callahan's .44 Magnum, which packs a great wallop every time it's fired. While I laud that nothing sounds rerecorded (these are the same library effects you hear in every '70s movie), the sheer dimensionality of this remix creates a weird cognitive dissonance that never really lets up.
Billed as a "gritty, entertaining" commentary, co-screenwriter John Milius's yak-track quickly burns through a stash of trivia and eventually succumbs to Mickey Mouse'ing the flick, often in the tasteless fashion you would expect from the man who served as the model for The Big Lebowski's Walter Sobchak. (When the prostitute played by Margaret Avery is being force-fed Drano, Milius remarks, "That's too bad, 'cause she was kinda cute.") This disc's piece of the featurette mosaic is "A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry" (24 mins, 16x9), yet another post-mortem of the first film that all but ignores Magnum Force until the clock has nearly run out. Critic/screenwriter Jay Cocks coins a phrase I like--"oppressively liberal"--and Dirty Harry actor Reni Santoni curls his lips around the words "Pauline Kael, the critic" with a disgust one typically reserves for NAMBLA members. Capping things off is a vintage making-of-cum-promotional tool, "The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today" (8 mins.), that suggests audiences back then weren't such spoiler-sensitive pussies.
The Enforcer is a pleasant surprise on Blu-ray: what telecine neglect had transformed over the years into a fairly putrid-looking film regains colour and lustre in its HD upgrade. Note the numerous shots of the city's skyline, now a healthy cobalt blue instead of a smoggy blue-white. Unfortunately, perfection eludes the transfer, forgivably in a nighttime robbery sequence (chapter 8) that's rife with speckles, less so in the tendency for black levels to drop off steeply and crush detail in the process. Another dynamic remix (probably the boomiest of the bunch and sporting the most aggressively stereophonic score) feels better matched with the picture this time out due to the all-around-fresher elements--it looks less like a Seventies movie and more like a period piece.
Director James Fargo records a pleasant if hardly indispensable commentary track. An Eastwood loyalist, he recalls how he got the gig, the particulars of working in San Francisco, and eventually the angry letters he received for killing off Tyne Daly's character. The featurette here, "The Business End: Violence in Cinema" (30 mins., 16x9), dwells on the subject of cinematic violence and its potential impact on viewers, be it cathartic or inciting. Kudos for sneaking this piece past legal: even though the most credible, charismatic interviewees are in Hollywood's corner (no doubt in the interest of self-preservation where the likes of Shane Black are concerned), just to invoke Money Train and its copycat arson in the context of the Dirty Harry saga seems precarious, not to mention subversive. Strictly food for thought--and a light snack at that, given that it's a DVD supplement when all's said and done--but an admirable acknowledgment of an elephant in the room just the same. Not only the final extra on this disc but also the last contemporaneous making-of in this set, "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films" (6 mins.) contains unvarnished behind-the-scenes footage that demythologizes, nay, deromanticizes the filmmaking process, thus proving that B-roll ain't what it used to be.
Egad! The biggest problem with The Enforcer's BD presentation is amplified--tenfold--on that of Sudden Impact. Black crush is so severe that half the time the picture resembles nothing so much as a velvet Elvis. Check out the grill behind the counter during the famous "Go ahead, make my day" scene: it looks like the monolith from 2001. Was this some misguided attempt to add depth to notoriously flat Eighties film stock? It should be said that the amount of fine detail on display is particularly impressive for something shot in 'scope, but even that is sabotaged a little by oversaturation (another seemingly pre-emptive measure against the picture's essential '80s-ness), and there's a night shootout in chapter 12 where Harry unaccountably resembles Yellow Bastard from Sin City. The 5.1 audio, on the other hand, is very, very good, although there's perhaps less going on between set-pieces in the mix than normal.
The cockroach in the Warner stable, Richard SchICKel returns for another tedious commentary track. Talking aimlessly as usual, he shows his ignorance in giving Sudden Impact way too much credit for defining the rape-revenge genre, never crediting Ms. 45 or I Spit on Your Grave for inoculating American cinema to the high concept of a female serial killer. (One imagines that Ms. 45, et al don't even qualify as real movies in Schickel's eyes, just savages that were waiting around to be optimized by Hollywood imperialists.) I perked up at the bit about Clint's remorse over "Go ahead, make my day" becoming a slogan, but actors are always dogged by the iconic stuff, so it's not exactly a revelation; and check out this earth-shattering insight into Harry's canine companion, Meathead: "Well whaddya know, he's really a police dog." The fun continues with "The Evolution of Clint Eastwood" (26 mins., 16x9), another bloody hagiography for the erstwhile Man with No Name. Playing like a trailer for Out of the Shadows, the piece has currency to recommend it--the cut-off point for the earlier Eastwood docs predated the auteur's recent run of prestige pics starting with 2003's Mystic River. Though I personally appreciated that A Perfect World did not get shafted for a change, potential smudges on Eastwood's track record not validated by box-office receipts or manifest artistry are Pollyannaish-ly stricken from the record. (Hence Every Which Way But Loose is mentioned while countless others--City Heat, The Rookie, and Blood Work, to name a few--are ignored.) Some choice quotes to finish: "Oz" producer Tom Fontana describes the ever-capricious Eastwood as "like watching a cobra come out of a basket," and Shane Black says Unforgiven only "pretends to be anti-western."
Now, The Dead Pool: that's more like it. Who knew an '80s movie--hell, this '80s movie--could look so good? This is an immaculate rendering of fairly challenging elements. If it's short on deep black, that can only come as a relief post-The Enforcer/Sudden Impact: no plugged-up shadows here. The scrim of grain is hardly anything oppressive, the colours are breathtakingly natural, and the image is consistently deep. All in all, a bar-raiser. (That being said, the fact that this is the only Dirty Harry film with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is maddening.) Another fine 5.1 remix graces the disc, though it's lighter on LFE usage than the previous three. Meanwhile, in a departure that makes Clint's non-participation in these yakkers more conspicuous, long-time Eastwood collaborators David Valdes and Jack N. Green (this film's producer and cinematographer, respectively) do commentary duty for The Dead Pool, ultimately reminiscing in a fashion so generic they could've been P.A.s on the production.
The two get the most mileage out of Jim Carrey's extended cameo, recalling that he was the only actor to, at his own insistence, audition in person (Eastwood, sensitive to performance anxiety, encourages prospective cast members to submit tapes), whereupon he did his "post-apocalyptic Elvis" act instead of reading from the script. Between the lines of this anecdote is that Carrey's on-set behaviour was a harbinger of Method antics to come, but as dish is not on the menu they swiftly move on to stuff like Clint's preference for location shooting and the serendipity of "Welcome to the Jungle" being the #1 song in the country just as the movie was opening. No word from Green on why he didn't shoot The Dead Pool anamorphic, unless I tuned out. Last and possibly least among the Leva featurettes, "The Craft of Dirty Harry" (22 mins., 16x9) sees Clint rejecting the auteur label and David Ayer, a man "respected," according to WIKIPEDIA, "for his insight into the dual worlds of L.A. street life and submarines," taking a prosaically paramilitary view of the hierarchy on a movie set. Strictly Film 101 territory, with more time predictably devoted to the process of scoring these pictures than to the editing of them (because making music is not as abstract a concept as cutting, I suppose). If I admired anything, it would be Leva's willingness to bite the hand that feeds in a passage that uses clips from Warner's own The Matrix Reloaded to illustrate Green's criticism of filmmakers who use "toys" to avoid telling the story. Originally published: June 24, 2008.
1. The pseudo-onomatopoeic title itself is another indication that Sudden Impact was pretty coldly calculated--it has nothing to do with the film and everything to do with your intended reaction to it. It may be as close to "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" as you can get. return
2. Because, let's face it, although there would probably be no Dirty Harry without Bullitt, it's a pretty lousy movie unless you have a serious fetish for muscle cars. Even its centrepiece chase sequence is better remembered for its green VW-related continuity errors than for any serious cinematic excitement. return
3. The Dead Pool's poster is quite phenomenal with this in mind, another marketing tool begging to be subverted: Eastwood's profile--tired, digitized, black-and-white--overshadowed by his enormous, smoking Smith & Wesson. return