Film Review: Sudden Impact (dir. by Clint Eastwood)


Today, we continue our look at the Dirty Harry film series by considering the fourth installment in the franchise, 1983’s Sudden Impact.

“Go ahead.  Make my day…”

Yes, this is the film where Police Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (played, as always, by Clint Eastwood) delivers that classic one liner.  In this case, he says it to a man holding a gun to a waitress’ head.  The implication, I guess, is that the gunman would make Harry’s day by killing the innocent woman that he’s holding hostage and therefore, giving Harry an excuse to shoot him in the head.  That line really does get to the heart of one of the main themes that runs through all of the Dirty Harry movies in general and Sudden Impact in specific.  Harry’s life would be a lot of easier if people would simply stop getting in the way and just let him shoot anyone that he wants to.

At the start of Sudden Impact ,we discover that Harry Callahan is still on the San Francisco police force and Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) is still his antagonistic boss.  Eight years have passed since the end of the Enforcer and Harry is a bit grayer and definitely grumpier.  Whereas the previous three films in the franchise made a (minimal) effort to humanize him, the Harry of Sudden Impact is a snarling, forehead vein-throbbing killing machine.  After years of dealing with sleazy criminals and weak-willed liberals, Harry now appears to wake up each morning and ask himself, “How many people can I find an excuse to kill today?”

Not surprisingly, all those years of shooting people have apparently made Harry the most targeted man in San Francisco.  Within the first 20 minutes of the film, three separate and unconnected groups of criminals attempt to kill Harry.  His superiors demand that Harry take a vacation before the entire city of San Francisco is destroyed.  Harry snarls in response so his bosses do the next best thing and order him to go to the coastal town of San Paulo to help with an unsolved murder.

San Paulo has a problem.  Local lowlifes are turning up dead, shot once in the head and once in the genitals.  Along with the gruesome way that they die, all of them seem to be acquainted with a frightening woman named Rae (played by Audrey J. Neenan).  The chief of police (Pat Hingle) doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to solve the crimes and he openly resents Harry’s attempts to help.  (He’s even less happy about the fact that the mobsters who were trying to kill Harry in San Francisco have followed him out to  San Paulo.)  Harry, however, is determined to solve the crime even while dealing with the unwanted gift of a rather ugly bulldog (given to him by his latest partner, who is played by series regular Albert Poppwell) and romancing an artist (a rather unconvincing Sondra Locke) who has some very strong thoughts of her own on both the sorry state of the criminal justice system and what should be done to improve it.

Sudden Impact was the only one of the Dirty Harry films to officially be directed by Clint Eastwood.  Even if his name wasn’t listed in the opening credits, you would probably be able to guess that Eastwood directed this. From the film’s opening  nighttime scene, during which time the screen is almost totally black except for the occasional flash of a gun being aimed, the film features Eastwood’s signature noir-influenced visual style but it doesn’t contain any of the thematic ambiguity that typifies Eastwood’s better films.

Sudden Impact is an entertaining and well-made action film but it’s also my least favorite of the Dirty Harry series.  Whereas the first three installments at least tried to play around with figuring out what made Harry tick (and, occasionally, even allowing Harry’s methods to be questioned by sympathetic characters like Chico in Dirty Harry or Kate Moore in The Enforcer), Sudden Impact is content to just to let Harry kill some of the most cardboard villains in the franchise’s history.  The end results are crudely effective but ultimately rather forgettable, with none of the eccentric touches that occasionally distinguished the next film in the series, The Dead Pool.  There’s a reason why Sudden Impact is best remembered for a one-liner that’s uttered during the film’s first 10 minutes and which doesn’t really have anything to do with anything else that happens in the movie.

Speaking of The Dead Pool, that’s the film we will be looking at tomorrow as we conclude this series on the Dirty Harry franchise.

VGM Entry 59: Street Fighter II and SNES domination


VGM Entry 59: Street Fighter II and SNES domination
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

An enormous disparity had emerged between the Super Nintendo and competing platforms by the early to mid-90s. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, released two years sooner, still didn’t have much to offer, and the arcade was fading fast. The former simply couldn’t compete with the SNES’s ability to simulate real instrumentation, and the latter, I suspect, was no longer funded the way it used to be. This lends itself to a number of comparisons, but in consideration of the fact that my available time for writing these articles is rapidly coming to an end, let’s just jump straight to the point.

The Street Fighter II series is a massive and confusing string of titles through which Capcom managed to milk a great deal of money releasing minor updates and new characters over a short period of time. The original Street Fighter II came out for the arcade in 1991. This was followed (in the arcade) by Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (April 1992), Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (December 1992), Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers (October 1993), and Super Street Fighter II Turbo (March 1994).

If that were all, it would be fairly easy to sort out, but each of these games was given a different title based on region and platform. Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES, for instance, was a port of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, not Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive was not a port of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, but rather of Hyper Fighting. The additions made in the original Champion Edition were carried over into most future versions of the game and ports, such that the original Sega Master System Street Fighter II (released in Brazil, where there was inexplicably still an SMS market, in 1997) was actually Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.

I would love to sort all this in a nice coherent list, but it would take me all day, and as I said, my time for writing these articles is starting to run short. So let’s just look at the version currently playing: Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers. This one was released for the Super Nintendo in 1994 as simply Super Street Fighter II. Skip ahead to 5:12 and you’ll hear a delicious little oriental arrangement reminiscent of Miki Higashino’s Yie Ar Kung-Fu. (Again, time restricts me from actually finding the name of the song.)

Wikipedia credits Isao Abe and Syun Nishigaki with composing the Super Street Fighter II soundtrack. This is a little confusing as well, since Isao Abe and Yoko Shimomura get credited for the original Street Fighter II and a lot of the music is the same, but whoever wrote it, you’ve now heard the arcade version of the song, and I think we can all agree that at least in the 80s sound quality (not necessarily composition and arrangement) was substantially better in the arcade than on any home system.

The same song appears in the SNES Super Street Fighter II song compilation at 4:29, and I don’t think I need to point out how it’s better. Here’s a game released for a 1990 system, and the quality of sound is decisively better than Capcom’s 1993 arcade release. Forget about state of the art technology in the arcade; I think at this point companies were cutting costs, and high-end sound systems had to go.

Here’s another case in point. Shining Force (Sega, 1992) was a tactical RPG released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Composed by Masahiko Yoshimura, it is one of the most highly regarded soundtracks on the system. Aside from a ton of spin-off titles, Shining Force as a series only saw three installments, and each of these featured a different composer. Motoaki Takenouchi, for all his talents, didn’t do such a hot job with Shining Force II (Sega, 1993), and the third was released on the Saturn, so we’ll just focus on the original.

Masahiko Yoshimura did a really outstanding job here with the limited resources available to him, especially when the gameplay situation called for intensity. The tracks beginning at 1:47 and 2:34 especially impress me in this regard. Yoshimura’s militant snare carries the day, and there’s also something interesting going on in company with the bass. The deep piano tones on this second track play tricks on my ears, projecting a piano vibration onto the bass when I listen to the song as a whole which clearly isn’t there when I focus on the bass specifically. Both at the start of the 1:47 track and mid-way into the next, around 3:19, he musically employs a tone that sounds more like a jumping sound effect in order to simulate an instrument sample that probably wasn’t available on the system, and it works. You can catch some more of this in the track that kicks off at 7:23.

Packed with catchy songs creatively arranged to artificially simulate a higher degree of orchestration than the system allowed, Shining Force was a great success.

But what it took a lot of creativity to pull off on the Genesis the SNES made easy. Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando (both of Kirby series fame) composed Arcana (HAL Laboratory, 1992) the same year Shining Force came out, and the improvement in sound quality was staggering. RPGs to a large extent defined the SNES. I have no statistics to back this up, but I have to imagine more popular games outside of Japan fell into the RPG/adventure/tactics spectrum on the SNES than on any other system, to such an extent that NOA even incorporated an “Epic Center” column into Nintendo Power for two years (March 1995-November 1996).

An end date of late 1996 roughly coincides with the North American launch of the Nintendo 64, when Nintendo Power subscribers began to feel the effects of the cartridge gaming fallout. RPGs were big games, calling for big capacity, and the Playstation rapidly became developers’ new system of choice.

But this was 1992, and even little known, quickly forgotten titles like Arcana were blowing Sega and arcade gaming out of the water.