There are a couple of golden rules that make for a genuinely outstanding special edition disc release. And the first of these is time, and more specifically the passage of it. For there to be genuine meat to extra features, you need the honestly and retrospect that only at least a decade can give you. Nobody is going to blabber on about the lows as well as the highs in the years immediately after a film’s release, and as the DVD market has shown time and time again, you only really got the warts and all story a long time after the fact. It’s usually, of course, well worth the wait.
Secondly, it’s probably best to have released a good special edition already, to make sure the ante is suitably upped for the next version. We’re not fans of ‘double-dipping’, but many excellent special editions have hit the market when studios have already put out the disc before, and need to dig out more material to entice people back.
So where does that leave Dirty Harry? In the case of the former, time has long since moved on, and that’s not a problem (although, obviously, it would have been outstanding had Don Siegel been alive to contribute to behind the scenes material of his films). There’s a welcome candidness and genuine retrospect to the material contained on the disc here that’s hard to grumble with.
On the second point, however, there is a small problem. Because a few years’ back, a strong DVD special edition of Dirty Harry was released, and was a fine release. The difficulty though is that this new version hasn’t topped it quite as well as you’d hope. Granted, it’s still a feature-packed disc, and it’s a terrific buy if you don’t have a special edition of the film already, but it’s not a completely compelling upgrade. So what do you get? Well, making a return appearance is a Dirty Harry: The Original feature, which is hosted by Robert Urich. There are plenty of interesting talking heads here, with John Milius discussing his thoughts on the character, Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about how he saw the film five times in a row, and even Ted Post, director of the first sequel – Magnum Force – talking about how he tried to soften Dirty Harry’s image. It’s a fine feature, just as it was several years ago.
The new documentary for this release is called The Long Shadow Of Dirty Harry, but it’s not particularly distinctive. Instead of digging up new material surrounding the film, it’s primarily a lot more talking heads, with some crossover with the other main extra feature on the disc. Among the many who pop up are Shane Black, Narc director Joe Carnahan, Michael Madsen, Hal Holbrook, Peter Hyams, The Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society) and screenwriter Steven E De Souza. It does at times feel like an exercise in cramming in names over an attempt to dig too much into the film, but it’s a satisfactory watch. Clint is, we should point out, a contributor to both features.
Some of the uncut interview material from these features is then available separately through the extras menu.
Next up is Clint Eastwood: The Man From Malpaso, a fairly glossy, and hardly fresh, overview of his career. It’s functional enough, and proves to be an easy watch. Much better is the terrific Out Of The Shadows, a nigh-on 90 minute documentary about Eastwood that once upon a time had a separate DVD release all to itself. It’s a terrific and very welcome inclusion, and for many could justify the disc purchase outright.
The interesting commentary track from Richard Shickel is worth a spin, too. Shickel is an Eastwood and Dirty Harry expert, and while his delivery isn’t always engaging, the material he delivers certainly is, and it’s a track very well worth spending time with.
A further intriguing supplement is a brief promotional piece from the time of the film’s release. This features some quick footage of director Don Siegel at work, and while little attempt has been made to hide the age of the piece, it’s just the kind of inclusion that makes discs like this all the more fascinating.
As for the presentation of the film itself? It’s good. You won’t be in any doubt that this is an early 70s flick you’re watching, but it’s the best shape we’ve seen Dirty Harry in. The original mono audio has been reworked into a high-def surround sound track, although it does feel a little like a wasted effort. The soundstage is quite limited, and the end result is clear, but unspectacular.
Which just leaves us with the movie itself. I checked out Dirty Harry again just before finally sitting down to watch David Fincher’s Zodiac, and Eastwood’s hunt for the Scorpio killer does have similarities. They’re very different films, of course, but both rely on extremely well rounded, interesting characters, and both Eastwood and Andrew Robinson deliver knockout performances here. Furthermore, the steadiness of Don Siegel behind the camera was missing from the Dirty Harry sequels, and he really shows what they’re missing.
Dirty Harry is a cracking film, always was and still is. It also has a surprising amount of relevance as it continues towards its 40th birthday, and, while standing on the shoulders of the release that preceded it, this is the best edition of the film to date. If Warner Bros decide to repackage it again, though, it’d be good to have a deeper root through the archives…The Film