Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Clint Eastwood reprises his role as Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department in "Hang'em High" director Ted Post's "Dirty Harry" sequel "Magnum Force." The sturdy supporting cast includes Hal Holbrook, David Soul, Robert Ulrich, Tim Matheson, John Mitchum and Mitchell Ryan. The vigorous John Milius & Michael Cimino screenplay clarifies our hero's law & order ideology that he took so much flak for in the original. Indeed, "Magnum Force" whitewashes Eastwood's saintly but insubordinate cop. Remember, in "Dirty Harry," he ignored the law when he tried to save the life of a kidnapped girl, but Harry's violation of the villain's Miranda rights allowed the fiend to go free despite overwhelming evidence that he was the murderer. In "Magnum Force," we find Harry back on the job. The filmmakers never explain what precisely occurred during the interim, but it really doesn't matter. Harry is back and that is all that counts. Harry encounters a quartet of gung-ho 'young Turk' motorcycle traffic cops who are crack shots with their .357 magnum service revolvers.

"Magnum Force" opens with an angry mob of citizens protesting the release of infamous mobster Carmine Ricca (career character actor villain Richard Devon of "The Silencers") and his associates, who walk out of court, climb into their automobile and tool off to freedom despite the riotous crowd. They don't get very far before a uniformed traffic cop in black leather with a cream white helmet pulls them over for crossing the double lines on the freeway. When the thug driver gives the cop some lip, the cop—who we cannot see because he is virtually anonymous in his regalia—whips out of his service revolver and punches holes in all four of them, leaving them sprawled dead in the car. Harry investigates and his new superior, Lieutenant Neil Briggs (Hal Holbrook of "The Great White Hope") chews him out for not being on the stake-out to which he has been assigned. By this time, Harry has acquired a new partner, an African-American (Felton Perry of the original "Walking Tall") to show that he isn't a bigot. Harry takes Smith out to airport to grab a hamburger and stumbles onto a hijacking plot. Harry masquerades as an airline pilot to get aboard the jetliner and thwarts the swarthy looking hijackers with a few shots. When Harry gets back to the stake-out at a super market, he nails a couple of gun-toting bandits. Later, a pimp (Albert Popwell who played the bank robber in "Dirty Harry" that was on the receiving end of Callahan's speech) corners one of his girls at night and takes a stash of cash that she has been hording. He repays her greedy by pouring drain cleaner down her throat. The next time that we see the pimp he is being pulled over by another traffic cop. He offers the cop a bribe and the cop blows him away. prefer to take the law into their own hands and execute crooks that rely on the loopholes in justice to get out of being prosecuted from their crimes.

Ted Post isn't half of the helmer that Don Siegel was, and "Magnum Force" pales by comparison with its illustrious predecessor. First, despite the presence of some strong villains, the bad guys are rather straightforward types. Nobody is as psychotic as Andy Robinson's Scorpio in "Dirty Harry." These antagonists are well-heeled gangsters with armies of gunmen or they are slickly dressed motorcycle cops with impenetrable sunglasses that make them look intimidating. All in all, "Magnum Force" is rather conventional. Dirty Harry fans would have to wait for "Sudden Impact" before the character had another memorable speech. The closest that Milius & Cimino come to a signature line is Harry's comment: "A man has got to know his limitations." Otherwise, the dialogue is as disposable as the spent shells that Harry empties from his revolver. The shoot-outs are staged with some competence, and lenser Frank Stanley's camera-work is far about average. There is a major shoot-out between a mob and Harry. Eventually, Harry winds up on the hood of the car being driven by a hood that conveniently loses control of the vehicle and impales himself on a crane. Early in the storyline, Harry stumbles across a career cop and an old friend, Officer Charlie McCoy (Mitchell Ryan of "High Plains Drifter") who hates the system almost as much as Harry does and makes no pretense about it. Milius and Cimino use McCoy as the red herring. He appears to be the unhinged cop who has been killing thugs, that is, until he gets killed himself.

A little more than half-way through the action, the badguys identify themselves to Harry and ask him to join them. Surprisingly, for them, Harry refuses to and it's only a matter of time before he has to confront them. As it turns out, Harry's worst suspicions have come true. Vigilante cops within the SFPD are knocking off suspected criminals with extreme prejudice. Eventually, Harry has to tangle with them aboard a mothballed aircraft carrier after a brisk but uneventful car chase. The motorcycle stunts come off looking tame.

The biggest difference in "Magnum Force" from "Dirty Harry" is the relationships that Harry has with women. He had no woman in "Dirty Harry," but here we see him date an Asian-American as well as Charlie's ex-wife. Harry never gets them between the sheets because he has to respond to some criminal emergency that cannot wait for him. Interestingly, according to scenarist John Milius—in an above-average but less than satisfactorily complete commentary—revealed that Eastwood had received mail from women requesting that he work women into the movies, but that the women come onto Harry instead of vice-versa. "Magnum Force" packs a lot of heat, but it cannot compare with Don Siegel's original. Hal Holbrook makes an okay villain. John Mitchum returns as Inspector Frank DiGiorgo, the only cast member who appeared in the original "Dirty Harry."