I know what you’re thinking: Does the Dirty Harry Collection released today on standard DVD and newfangled Blu-Ray include all five “Harry” movies or only four, thus sparing us The Dead Pool, the final chapter released in 1988? Well, to tell you the truth, in all the excitement, I’ve kind of lost track. But being as this is the “Ultimate Collection,” remastered with a quality in image and sound that will blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” My answer is:
You damn well should. Even with The Dead Pool pulling up the rear, this Dirty Harry package is a keeper. Clint Eastwood never won an Oscar for playing renegade San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, but the role is his true million dollar baby. Why kid ourselves about which of the five Harrys is the best? It’s the first one, dude. When Dirty Harry No. One was released in 1971, our man Clint was pilloried for promoting police brutality. Harry did all the dirty jobs including taking care of a psycho serial killer (Andy Robinson) while the courts stood up for the psycho’s rights. Critic Pauline Kael labeled the film “fascist” for the way Harry circumvented the law to get the bad guys. But Dirty Harry was part of the moral chaos Eastwood would later investigate in his best westerns from The Outlaw Josey Wales to Unforgiven. The widescreen DVD of Dirty Harry plays like gangbusters today thanks less to technical improvements than to Don Siegal’s astute direction and Eastwood’s uncanny ability to turn a squint and a sassy line (“That’ll be the day” ) into lasting superstardom. So the fun of enjoying a Dirty Harry marathon is picking the runners-up.
I’m going with 1983’s Sudden Impact. Mostly because it’s the only Harry Eastwood himself ever directed. We know that the Man has ripened with age into a director of masterworks (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima). Sudden Impact is just not in that league, but it’s instructive to find the Eastwood touches in this tale of Harry and a woman (Sondra Locke) who is systematically bumping off the pigs who raped her and her sister a decade before. This is the one in which Clint’s Harry utters the immortal line that Ronald Reagan borrowed: “Go ahead, make my day.”
Next in quality would be 1973’s Magnum Force, the second in the series. It’s a tale of Harry nearly meeting his match in an elite group of vigilante cops led by Hal Holbrook. Directed by Ted Post, the movie benefits from a near-rabid script by John Milius and Michael Cimino. Watch for the scene in which a sicko hood gets his for enjoying a drug-fueled threeway romp on a waterbed with an underaged girl and boy.
I wish I felt more empathy for 1976’s The Enforcer, but except for teaming Harry with a woman (the formidable Tyne Daly), director James Fargo is content with business as usual.
The Dead Pool, directed by Buddy Van Horn, wouldn’t be worth a look except to watch Harry mix it up with Hollywood types played by a pre-Schindler Liam Neeson and a pre-everything Jim Carrey, billed as James.
For those keeping score, that’s one great (Dirty Harry), two good (Sudden Impact, Magnum Force), one meh (The Enforcer) and one lousy (The Dead Pool). Still, Eastwood the icon is worth watching in all of them. He can get more out of a snarl than most actors can reciting from the Bard. The bonus material is top tier, notably incisive commentary by film critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel and a dig-deep doc, “The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry.” The fan stuff packed in the DVD package goes from nifty (Harry’s badge) to creepy (a map of San Francisco detailing the places Harry stopped on his hunt for the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry). Notable restraint was shown in not including Harry’s fully-loaded 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world.
So all that’s left now is for you to weigh in on the best and worst of Dirty Harry. There might even be a few Dead Pool junkies out there.