Jun 05 2008

DVD of the Week: “Ultimate Dirty Harry Collection” – June 3, 2008

“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 kind of lost track myself. But being as 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 a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

I had only had my Blu-ray player a few weeks when The Ultimate Dirty Harry Collection arrived. As inconsistent as the collection is, I couldn’t be more excited. After redefining the western as the terse mercenary of Sergio Leone’s westerns, Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel worked over the American cop picture with the angry, violent maverick cop Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971). Tracking a psychotic serial killer named Scorpio (Andy Robinson), he winds up taking on the whole “coddling” system after violating Scorpio’s civil rights in the rush to save a victim this sadistic punk buried alive. The killer signs his ransom demands “Scorpio,” a not-so-veiled reference to the Zodiac killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay area for years. The real-life serial killer eluded capture, but on the big screen we get a pure law-and-order fantasy and closure from the end of a barrel. Siegel is lean, terse director who is happy leave “Dirty” Harry the vivid kind of moral conundrum that makes movies interesting, while bringing a hard, jagged edge to the action and the violence. Callahan was made to order for an audience nervous about escalating urban violence in the seventies, the go-it-alone John Wayne cowboy for the modern era. Despite comments about his “long hair” from his fellow cops, he’s square as they come. And as ornery. Harry tossed his badge in disgust at the end of the film, but came back in four more films.

The “do ya feel lucky” line is revived for his return in Magnum Force (1973), written by John Milius and Michael Cimino, but it’s quickly replaced with a new catch-phrase: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Harry is back on the force (doing stake-outs) and brought back to homicide to solve a slew of underworld slayings, and finds himself the patsy for a secret vigilante group of cops (including Robert Urich, David Soul, and Tim Matheson) who take out criminals untouchable by the law. The film feels like a response to the charges of fascism lobbed against the original film, but Harry is still a maverick butting heads with bosses and director Ted Post knows how stage an action scene with grit. Callahan is teamed with Tyne Daly to take on terrorists in The Enforcer (1976), the third chapter directed by James Fargo, which gives Harry plenty of opportunity to rail on women’s liberation. Eastwood directs himself as a rather more compromising Harry in Sudden Impact (1983), a humorless revenge film starring Sondra Locke as a rape victim hunting down her attackers while a somewhat sympathetic Harry is on her trail. His final appearance, The Dead Pool (1988), is the most lightweight of the series, with Eastwood tracking one of those high concept killers that so often shows up in American crime movies. This Buddy Van Horn directed film has more humor than most (love that chase over San Francisco hills as Harry outruns a radio controlled toy car packed with explosives), and even allows a little adult romance with Patricia Clarkson. Liam Neeson and Jim Carrey co-star as potential victims.

A set was released back in 2001. This new collection features brand new transfers, commentary for each feature and new featurettes on every disc (which also includes the old releases). The box set also features the exclusive 2000 feature-length documentary Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows, a hardcover booklet and a collection of memorabilia reproductions and other funky gewgaws. But the Blu-ray version is beautiful. Watching Dirty Harry is something else: that defining seventies film-stock grain is still there, but so is a clarity of image and color that I’ve never seen, not even on the screen (my only big screen viewing was a rep house showing of a much worn print). I’m used to seeing that sharpness in new movies, but it’s downright revitalizing to see it in vintage cinema, even if that vintage is early seventies.

Read my review of the set and the supplements in my MSN DVD column here.

Also reviewed this week on MSN is the DVD debut of Anthony Mann’s Man of the West:

The aging Gary Cooper plays a town elder stranded in the desert after a railway holdup and reunited with the outlaw gang he fled years ago in Anthony Mann’s stark 1958 Western drama. Cooper brings a wounded, weary dignity to his role as a man haunted by a past that has returned with a vengeance, Lee J. Cobb is almost sad as the patriarchal gang leader who welcomes the reluctant Coop back like the prodigal son, and Julie London is a sad-eyed prostitute caught in the middle. The DVD debut of this edgy sunset Western, a minor masterpiece in the careers of both Mann and Cooper, finally presents the film on home video in its widescreen format, which beautifully sets off the human drama with spare but unforgiving landscapes.

MGM released a number of western and war movie DVD debuts under the radar (which, quite frankly, I almost missed – thank you Dave Kehr for being so alert and featuring the release in your New York Times column). Other long-awaited releases from the same MGM batch include William Wyler’s essential The Westerner (1940), Roger Corman’s proto-Dirty Dozen platoon caper thriller The Secret Invasion and Andre De Toth’s stark, stripped down The Day of the Outlaw (1959), a tense, terse western thriller about a ruthless gang on the run that gets trapped in an isolated, snowbound town in the mountains and holds the population hostage in a wary stand-off, with dying gangleader Burl Ives barely holding his own men in check.

 

Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: the semi-funny Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson, the completely unfunny Meet the Spartans and Anton Corbijn’s portrait of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, Control:

Sam Riley plays handsome, somewhat shy Curtis (who fell victim to the depression that led to his suicide at age 23) as a working-class poet who enjoys a pint with his mates and rummaging through medicine cabinets to experiment with prescription pharmaceuticals. The black-and-white photography captures the working-class milieu and the late-’70s Manchester music scene with an easy intimacy, and Corbijn shows a great compassion for Curtis, who comes off less a music icon than an angst-ridden kid working out his demons in his songs.

TV: new seasons of cable shows Weeds and Rescue Me, the A&E mini-series remake of The Andromeda Strain and the debut season of the long-running private-eye drama Mannix:

Mike Connors is Mannix, the maverick detective in a corporate agency called Intertect, the last word in high tech for 1967 (just watch those computers spit out punch cards full of analyses). Mannix is a sport-coat guy in a suit-and-tie office, more comfortable punching a suspect than punching a time clock. He can’t be bothered to follow company policy, let alone orders from the boss, but he’s the best man they have, and Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) has a soft spot for the tough-guy renegade investigator. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s probably because this arrangement only lasted a single season. By the 1968 TV season, Mannix had left Intertect to start his own detective agency and front a more conventional private eye show. This original incarnation, created by Richard Levinson and William Link (of “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” fame) and developed by Bruce Geller (“Mission: Impossible”), is a mix of spy TV modernity and old-fashioned detective show, with stories leaning toward the dark side of human nature.

Special Releases: silent star Mabel Normand’s final comedy The Extra Girl and a new special edition of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva:

Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1982 lark of a modern noir about an opera-mad young postman (Frédéric Andréi), a Zen knight errant (Richard Bohringer), an international crime conspiracy and a pirate music recording became an art-house smash when young European audiences and college crowds stateside embraced the cool attitude, vibrant color and hip style. More than 25 years later the neon palette and funky fashion deliver a nostalgic buzz, but the energy and spirit are still infectious. Beineix directs the sleek little entertainment with a playfulness that tells the audience to hang back and have fun. He succeeds.

 

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

1 Comment

  • By A.J., June 5, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

    Working for a company working for an employee timesheet company, I truly appreciate the line :

    Mannix is a sport-coat guy in a suit-and-tie office, more comfortable punching a suspect than punching a time clock.

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