Moriarty’s One Thing I Love Today! Special Father’s Day Edition! DIRTY HARRY Versus RAMBO, Round One!
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I got a lot of my definition of what is cool from my dad. Anyone who’s met him can tell you. My dad’s a cool dad. He’s an old-fashioned Southern gentleman, unflappable and good-humored. Towering and imposing, but with a cowboy charm, cut from the same cloth as a Sam Elliott. He’s got good taste in icons, raising me on a steady diet of Matt Helm and Travis McGee and Ian Fleming and THE DESTROYER and Doc Savage and Lee Marvin and John Wayne and Steve McQueen and ‘70s action cinema and MIAMI VICE and ’80 Cannon fodder and Clint Eastwood. Oh, yes... especially Clint Eastwood.
I saw DIRTY HARRY for the first time on video, probably sometime around ’81 or ’82. By that point, I was familiar with the film and with imagery from it thanks to the MAD magazine parody. With many of the classic R-rated films of that era, that’s how I got familiar with the films first... through the MAD parody. In those days, those parodies were so good, so well-drawn, that when you finally did see the film, it felt like something you were remembering while you were watching. You really had “seen” the movie in a way. I remember the way MAD drew Andrew Robinson with the bandaged face, and I thought it was crazy and ridiculous until you see the movie and realize that is EXACTLY how Andrew Robinson looks in that bus at the end. When I saw DIRTY HARRY for the first time on VHS, it wasn’t letterboxed, of course, but it still made a hell of an impression on me. I saw both SUDDEN IMPACT and THE DEAD POOL in the theater with my dad, but that first film was unleashed on me at home the first time. With FIRST BLOOD, we saw that one in the theater together. And it was an instant obsession in my house. My dad served in Vietnam, so anytime it came up in movies, it was of particular interest to me. Vietnam was still going on in my lifetime. It was the war I grew up in the shadow of, the ripple effects from it still playing out well into my teenage years. I was always impressed by my dad’s willingness to not only see those films and allow me to see those films, but also to talk to me afterwards about them. The “tortured vet” archetype that was big in the ‘70s and ‘80s was pretty much the opposite of my dad’s experience. When we watched FIRST BLOOD... or DIRTY HARRY for that matter... politics was the last thing on our minds.
To celebrate Father’s Day, I decided on a marathon of films in honor of the coolest guy I know, my dad. Both of these film series were just released on BluRay, so I decided to pit them head-to-head in a series of double-features. The first match-up is the most iconic, of course, since both films managed to resonate enough to set off a whole slew of sequels. Which transfers are the best? Which movies are the best? Which series aged better overall? Let’s kick this off and find out.
The Warner Bros. Blu-Ray box for the DIRTY HARRY series is a thing of beauty, a nice balance of fun packaging and genuinely jam-packed discs. No surprise based on the overall strength of the Warner catalog program. They excel so regularly on so many diverse types of titles that it’s to be expected at this point. When you put in the BluRay for the first film, it just gives you the quick FBI warning and then launches right into the movie. The moment I saw the vintage Warner shield dissolve into that dizzying close-up of the business end of the sniper rifle, I could see just how sharp this transfer is. It’s a huge improvement over any previous release of the film, and there are myriad details I caught this time that I’ve never seen before. Clint’s sly wink after one of his most infamous lines of dialogue, a gesture that changes the meaning of the scene, was invisible on the original VHS versions, but it’s crystal-clear here. Like the recent high-def BONNIE & CLYDE transfer, another stunner, the flesh tones and shadows and fine grain all seem to reproduce all the qualities of a real film print better than any home video format yet. More and more, I am seeing studios finally start to release material that really shows off just how great the high-def can be for reproducing real film quality. And as a movie? DIRTY HARRY is a masterpiece. A movie star movie with one great scene after another. Entertaining. Provocative. Harry Callahan is a reaction to the era, to things like the Zodiac killer and the public’s mistrust of the police after the ‘60s, and he’s also a reaction to Clint Eastwood’s whole career up to that point and, specifically, to the success of PLAY MISTY FOR ME, which even gets name-checked on a marquee in one scene, just before the bank robbery scene.
Eastwood knew exactly what he was doing in this one, and he seems to relish this character, this opportunity to play thinly-disguised disgust with everyone and everything. Dirty Harry is a walking catharsis, the guy who can’t tolerate the bullshit. Harry gets the shit jobs, but it’s not because he’s being punished... it’s because of the way he problem-solves. He’s a blunt object that you point at a situation if you want it to be over. There won’t be anything graceful or subtle about what Callahan does, but it’ll get done. A movie like DIRTY HARRY had to happen when it did. It’s just made more impressive because of the way the film entertains so deliberately, even as it breaks taboos with glee. It’s a classic Hollywood movie, no question about it, but it’s also a pretty radical ‘70s picture that wasn’t playing it safe at all. Don Siegel was always a great, taut, smart director, but I don’t think he ever pulled it all together with quite the same panache as he does here. The cast is uniformly great, but it’s the chemistry between psycho Andrew Robinson and badass Eastwood that really defines the film, leading up to the HIGH NOON riff that must have driven audiences to cheers when it first played in ’71.
FIRST BLOOD starts off absolutely great. Ted Kotcheff has never been what anyone would call a great director, but he was solid, and he seemed to understand just how juicy the premise to the movie was. He manages to wring every bit of tension and dread out of the first half of the film, and the way Rambo is cornered into his extreme actions is credible and awful. I think there’s a tremendous sadness to the film, and it works in spite of a stretch near the end of the second act where the film just kind of treads water for a while. There are some sequences I’d forgotten because it’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie, and also because... well... they’re completely forgettable. There are also some strange tonal choices like the scene with the Nation Guard unit that’s practically played as broad slapstick. Still, this is one of the best overall performances by Stallone, and I can see why it became such an instant icon. Like Rocky, this is a character defined by his physical presence and by what he does more than what he says. Stallone has always been best as a silent presence, and that’s not an insult. He’s riveting here, and he does the whole “caged animal” thing really well in the build-up to Rambo’s meltdown.
There is a social commentary at work here in the idea of mistreated veterans who were never able to hit the off switch after the war, and we’re certainly seeing some of the same type of blowback in terms of stateside violence with today’s soldiers, too. I think it’s just a sad inevitability that happens when you get very good at training people to kill. FIRST BLOOD isn’t a heavy-handed message movie, though. It’s an action movie first, a thriller, and it certainly hits its fair share of high notes during its running time. The best scenes are early on, when it’s just Rambo versus Brian Dennehey and his initial group of deputies, including cult director Jack Starett, a young David Caruso and a young Chris Mulkey. Once the situation escalates beyond that, the film deflates a bit. It’s still a solid, smart, powerful little action movie, but for round one...
DECISION: DIRTY HARRY
Happy Father’s Day to all of you fellow father geeks out there, including and especially Jay Knowles, the original Father Geek. These days, I am starting to be able to take Toshi to more movies, as he has been bitten by the bug. In the last few weeks, he’s seen WALL-E, KUNG-FU PANDA, and THE INCREDIBLE HULK with me, and it’s been amazing to be able to enjoy these movies with my son, watching how they affect him and seeing the way his imagination ignites after each of them. And watching these two movies tonight, I feel connected to my dad, who is 3,000 miles away, and connected to the process by which each of us in the father-son chain passes down these things we love from generation to generation. It's one of the many, many things that make the job of fatherhood so much fun.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back to throw RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and MAGNUM FORCE up against each other to see which one kicks more ass. Until then...
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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June 15, 2008, 6:57 a.m. CST
Oh yeah. Shame we arent getting another dirty harry movie!! Would it work though?
June 15, 2008, 7:01 a.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 7:08 a.m. CST
if you can call anything going up against John Matrix a fight. John Matrix is the baddest motherfucker ever.
June 15, 2008, 7:13 a.m. CST
Damn You Michael Bay
June 15, 2008, 7:37 a.m. CST
Can't wait to read it. Just wished they had used the tagline, "On Friday the 13th... Shit Happens."
June 15, 2008, 7:40 a.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
... but I'm sure I'll catch up with it this week, JackIsLost.
June 15, 2008, 7:55 a.m. CST
by Iowa Snot Client
My dad took me to see Star Wars, Close Encounters, Moonraker, Octopussy, Spy Who Loved Me, Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, Star Trek 1, all the geeky stuff. And now I'm taking my otaku daughter to Death Note and Bleach. Geek family bonding rules.
June 15, 2008, 7:57 a.m. CST
Both movies are still very watchable to this day and created perhaps two of the most iconic characters in movie history. However Dirty Harry is heads above First Blood. Dirty Harry changed all the rules for how a action film good guy could be portrayed, Harry was a complete bastard who reveled in committing violence in the name of the law. There was no way a guy like Callahan should have been a hero in a Hollywood movie, but there he was doing things to bad guys that most criminals could only dream of and getting away with(for the most part). Of course now a days asshole good guys that break the rules are pretty standard, but back in the early 70's when Dirty Harry opened it was mind blowing. <p> John Rambo on the other hand was a master of violence and mayhem that was trying to avoid doing the things he was good at, until pushed. The difference between First Blood and Rambo sequels is pretty striking in terms of the John Rambo character. <p> When the violence starts in First Blood it is a little more satisfying knowing John did everything he could to avoid a physical confrontation with the police, like watching a bunch idiots poke of hornets nest with a stick until the hornets jump out and kick their ass. Dirty Harry's shoot first ask question later way of dealing with bad guys is cool at first, but it is hard to develop any sympathize for Harry as a character when bad things happen to him. <p> All that rambling aside, First Blood was a great action film, but Dirty Harry was one of the great films of all time for me.
June 15, 2008, 8:02 a.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 8:10 a.m. CST
Everyone knows me for being a HUGE Sly and Arnold fan, but EASTWOOD is a god as well. FIRST BLOOD and DIRTY HARRY are classics and I will leave it at that:)
June 15, 2008, 8:10 a.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
Watched all three Rambo films recently, and First Blood is pretty cartoonish and one-sided. Like Mori said, the National Gurad scene where they have Rambo pinned down in the mine is laughable (one actually shouts "BULLSEYE!" when they blow up the entrance with a bazooka!), and the final, "anguished" Stallone monologue is completely incomprehensible and unintentionally funny. Jerry Goldsmith's music was the best thing to come out of the whole trilogy.
June 15, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
... actually, Rambo did almost everything to avoid the confrontation. He did walk back over the bridge after Dennehey drove him out of town at the start. If he hadn't done that, none of it would have happened. He was provoked, but he had a chance to walk away. Still... that's a compelling difference between the two, I'll agree.
June 15, 2008, 8:14 a.m. CST
by lucky slevin
June 15, 2008, 8:23 a.m. CST
I realize this piece is comparing icon to icon, and Stallone's character in Copland is far from iconic. But I can't let the moment pass and not give that film and Stallone's performance in it some love. That was an incredibly moving piece of work to me. The scene where Stallone is listening to "Stolen Car" from Springsteen's The River album with the girl...just beautiful. And the horrendous ass kicking he unleashed at the end...just beautiful. Dirty Harry rules all...but Copland is more than worthy to lick Callahan's blood encrusted boots.
June 15, 2008, 8:27 a.m. CST
by Iowa Snot Client
Way to hijack a thread, self.
June 15, 2008, 8:46 a.m. CST
...that's not a complete cartridge coming out of the .44, with the bullet still in the casing (in the Dirty Harry disc sleeve)
June 15, 2008, 8:59 a.m. CST
That is all. (I knew I liked you for some reason Mori).
June 15, 2008, 9:02 a.m. CST
From your old friend AB ;)
June 15, 2008, 9:11 a.m. CST
But my father-in-law is great. :)
June 15, 2008, 9:31 a.m. CST
by Annie The Pod Racer
Supposedly, I was made by midichlorians.
June 15, 2008, 10:04 a.m. CST
exactly revelled in the violence, Ironmuskrat, he'd mete it out without guilt or feeling that his actions were wrong, not the same as enjoying it. It's the economy and ambiguity of that film that still strikes me. Clint was a big star and placing him in a tough cop drama was as close to today's action movies as the 70's got. Scenes like him discussing the death of his wife, with an almost dismissive "no real reason for it" would never find a home in mainstream commercial cinema now - we'd get flashbacks of Clint holding his dead wife's body, he'd probably be crying too. It's because they didn't fill in the blanks, respecting the audience's intelligence, that DH can be such a different and separate experience for anyone watching it, to this day. Oh, I remember having to rely on MAD for info on movies, the first issue I got was because I'd been mesmerized by the poster for Rollerball and had no other way of finding out anything about it. MAD's version was called Rollerbrawl.
June 15, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST
I know Mori mentioned 'em as a throwaway reference, but damn, I used to feel the same way back when I wasn't old enough to see the R-rated flicks. I always had the Mad parodies to read. The Ecchorcist. A Crockwork Lemon. And so on. Back before video, I actually couldn't wait to read the parodies of movies I had seen, and it would take months. In the '70s they really got it down to an art. The Godfather parodies (I and II, not so much III) were probably the pinnacle of that particular craft. Mort Drucker got right down and drew every last supporting character in those Godfather movies. Then there were the musicals by Frank Jacobs, like the Lord of the Rings musical (before there was even the Bakshi movie) and the Star Wars musical. Maybe it's just because that was the era I grew up with, but the '70s felt like a real vintage era for Mad. God knows I can't read whatever's calling itself Mad these days.
June 15, 2008, 10:25 a.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 10:31 a.m. CST
But I have to go with Inspector Callahan, because I just like the overall character better. Rambo is an awesome character to be sure, but there is something about Harry Callahan, he is instantly likeable, just a normal guy trying to make a difference, working in a system he despises. Rambo, to me, is someone you can sympathize with, feel sorry for, and is very likeable as well, but I really can't say exactly why I like DH better, I just do.
June 15, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST
totally agree with you about Copland. By far Stallones best performance. And a bloody good movie too.
June 15, 2008, 11:40 a.m. CST
Man I walked Rambo: First Blood right before I saw Rambo and i didn't think it held up very well. Plus I didn't understand why this town just hated him. I could understand like some hippie town but not some biker town in the woods, those towns are always filled with vets.
June 15, 2008, 11:46 a.m. CST
My dad took me to see Star Wars, Superman(1978, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rescuers, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Goonies and Gremlins...all before I reached the age of 10. Thanks dad!
June 15, 2008, 11:59 a.m. CST
by Harry Weinstein
The man whose remarkably, beautifully inconsistent taste in cinema made me who I am today. You can't have your Kurosawa without your PORKY'S, and why the hell would you want to live in a world that forced you to make such a choice? Better to embrace them both for what they are.
June 15, 2008, noon CST
by Iowa Snot Client
June 15, 2008, 12:09 p.m. CST
and the character Mark Ruffalo played in Zodiac is the guy Dirty Harry is based off, so effectively Clint Eastwood worked on the Zodiac case.
June 15, 2008, 12:43 p.m. CST
by Nice Marmot
But we are both watching Streets of Fire and talking on the phone during our favorite scenes. One of our faves from the 80s!
June 15, 2008, 12:45 p.m. CST
In some strange way, my issue is with the ending. I'm not sure whether the original ending should have been kept or not. It seems like a crime for Rambo to kill himself, yet, it kinda fits with the character of the first film. I'm just not sure... Anyway, Dirty Harry is better, but I love both movies.
June 15, 2008, 12:49 p.m. CST
Nothing wrong with that, I guess. But in this battle, it depends where the contest is held. In an urban environment Harry wins hands down, but in the jungle... I am sorry to say, but then Rambo will win.
June 15, 2008, 12:53 p.m. CST
by Fat and Curious
What'd you and your kid think of it?
June 15, 2008, 1:11 p.m. CST
June 15, 2008, 2:05 p.m. CST
by The Dum Guy
Rambo will beat Sudden Impact.
June 15, 2008, 2:23 p.m. CST
Welcome, I am Batman!
June 15, 2008, 2:44 p.m. CST
Batman, I would point out why you're wrong, but you are clearly trying to get attention so why bother.
June 15, 2008, 3:38 p.m. CST
Glad to hear of the quality enhancement for Dirty Harry but does First Blood bring anything new to the visceral quality in the glory that is 1080p? Happy Father's Day to all who's sons & daughters couldn't make it but I hope they at least sent a card!
June 15, 2008, 3:50 p.m. CST
Dirty Harry is one of Eastwood's best, and out of a career that includes Play Misty For Me, Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Man With No Name Trilogy, Mystic River, Bird, and a fistful of others, that is higher than high praise. The Rambo movies are cool and all and to a generation that grew up with them they might hold a certain nostalgia, but even the shittiest of the Harry Callahan movies are better than any Rambo movie, for my money. Though I have yet to see the lamely titled Rambo (what the fuck? Why not just admit that Rocky Balboa and Rambo are sequels? ADMIT THAT YOU ARE BEATING A DEAD HORSE!) and hear that if anything it is super violent, I'd take an Eastwood movie over a Stallone movie in a heartbeat. Can't wait to hear Mori's assessment of Magnum Force, the very John Milius-y John Milius Dirty Harry movie.
June 15, 2008, 3:54 p.m. CST
haha, no. I mean Toschi was the inspiration for Callahan for sure, but Dirty Harry was only very loosely based on the real facts of the Zodiac case. Anyone who as at least seen the movie Zodiac would already know this. Hell, the Zodiac film and book have their own problems with reality as well.
June 15, 2008, 3:57 p.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
Sorry... in posting this before bed, I forgot to talk about the FIRST BLOOD transfer. It's okay, but nothing special, and there were video noise issues in a few parts of the film that seem to indicate a less-than-reverent handling of the movie when putting this disc together.
June 15, 2008, 5:21 p.m. CST
Great Collection, I had forgotten just how great the cinematography on first film was. One issue though, on the jacket for the first two movies there is a large spread showing a .44 Magnum firing a round WITH THE CASING STILL ON! I mean I understand that not everyone knows guns, but still you'd think someone in the production process would have fired a gun, or seen one fired, or had a grasp of basic mechanics.
June 15, 2008, 6:43 p.m. CST
by Iowa Snot Client
A lot of "war correspondents" make that mistake too. I remember an AP photo last year of a woman holding a handful of bullets that she claims hit her house...apparently when someone threw them, 'cause they all had their casings intact. The reporter ate it up, though.
June 15, 2008, 7:03 p.m. CST
by James Westfall
Went over to the folks' house and he and I watched the first two movies together, which we haven't done in almost twenty years. Good times.
June 15, 2008, 8:35 p.m. CST
by nolan bautista
..the opening scene w/ the eerie song (ahhh-huuuahhh-ahhhhh)and the scope and the girl on the pool getting plugged..hooked me right away..and then the jazzy score kicks in..then you see Clint with his cool shades..good times!!
June 15, 2008, 9:14 p.m. CST
by Turd Furgeson
For fathers day!! That's funny Mori.. Said all I wanted for Fathers Day was to be left alone to sleep in, and watch whatever I wanted. So I went last night and rented all the blu-ray Rambo movies for a marathon. They are excellent in Blu-Ray. The amazing setting of the pacific northwest in Blu-Ray is breath taking. Cool write up Mori, keep em coming.
June 15, 2008, 9:27 p.m. CST
delve into his years in Nam as Rambo is drafted and made into the psychological soldier-of-slaughter. Sandbox style stalking thru the jungle, slitting and blasting VC, etc.
June 15, 2008, 10:14 p.m. CST
by nolan bautista
..Yes! those were the actual lyrics! Which Steve Martin character are you referring to?
June 15, 2008, 11:38 p.m. CST
by Its a LION
June 15, 2008, 11:45 p.m. CST
Back in college (early 90's) my friends and I used to argue who was the manliest man between Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Sam "Mayday" Malone, and Thomas Sullivan Magnum, IV. Yes, we were kind of dorks, but it made for a good argument. Feel free to post your selection and reasons why... :)
June 16, 2008, 12:45 a.m. CST
by Motoko Kusanagi
June 16, 2008, 7:29 a.m. CST
by Abominable Snowcone
to compare and contrast the originals (and their sequels). They were different ass-kicking characters from different times (70s vs. 80s) striking different kinds of nerves--albeit each with a primal thirst for justice at all costs. I for one love both franchises but cannot say that I like "X" Dirty Harry flick over "X" Rambo movie.
June 16, 2008, 8:16 a.m. CST
Callahan is a bad ass. Rambo is a brainless monkey.
June 16, 2008, 8:39 a.m. CST
by Abominable Snowcone
when Callahan's buddy sneaks up on him at the shooting range. You can see the cameraman reflected in the window of a car. And what's funnier is, the cameraman has a shit-eating grin.
June 16, 2008, 9:13 a.m. CST
By the sounds of it I'll wait for the super-duper-deluxe blu-ray box set of RAMBO films I'm sure they'll release a couple of years down the line.
June 16, 2008, 12:11 p.m. CST
If you had read beyond the subject line of my post you would have noticed that I praised a bunch of cgi-less films. I think your assumption that people who don't like the Rambo films are the reason behind all the "cgi shitfests" making tons of money is puzzling. I don't think anyone would honestly argue that the films of Clint Eastwood are more in line with summer blockbusters than the Rambo films. Sweaty muscular dude who blows shit up real good or vigilante film with an actual story and genuinely interesting questions to raise? Is the former or the latter more in line with your hated cgi shitfests?
June 16, 2008, 2:25 p.m. CST
"But out here, I'm the law," as Rambo said. If Callahan foolishly tried to pursue Rambo into the nearest forest, well, all I can say is that Rambo will have himself a nice Dirty Harry skin to keep him warm...
June 22, 2008, 10:51 a.m. CST
The movie has it all. A great good guy, a badder bad guy, the great score, San Francisco in the 70s and a great atmosphere. Andrew Robinson is one of the greatest bad guys in the history of cinema. It's a crime that he doesn't get more work.
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