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Magnum Force
Tonight's Feature Presentation

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Felton Perry, David Soul, Robert Urich, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, Mitchell Ryan

Written By: John Milius, Michael Cimino Directed By: Ted Post

The Short Version

Dirty Harry is back to clarify his position on vigilantism.

He also kicks back a little more, but don’t worry; there’s still a body count, and his highest one at that.

There’s quite the crop of supporting bad guys in this flick.

Steady, methodical direction and storytelling still pay off.

Magnum Force is a very solid follow-up for Dirty Harry Callahan.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEESEBURGER.

There’s an ex-cop who makes great ones at the airport.  It’s the perfect pick-me-up for when you decide to foil a hijacking on your lunch break.


Pairs Well With...

SCHLITZ.

During the course of the movie, Harry pops open Schlitz and Olympia.  Given the choice between the two, I’ll go for the Schlitz.

“I hate the goddamn system, but until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I'll stick with it.”


In 1971, Clint Eastwood made his debut as Dirty Harry Callahan, playing the title role in one of the two most influential action movies of the 20th Century.

Two years later, he came back for a sequel… and a little clarification about that first movie.  When many people started looking upon Dirty Harry Callahan as an advocate for vigilantism, Eastwood, screenwriter John Milius, and company decided to tell a story about cops who went to an even greater extreme than Callahan and formed a death squad that executed “known” criminals outright on the streets, and to show that not only would Harry refuse to join them, but that he would indeed be appalled by their actions and fight them.  It’s a neat trick, and more importantly from an audience perspective, it makes for a very compelling movie that carries the same weight as the one that came before.

As our story begins, well-known mobster Carmine Ricca (Richard Devon, Kid Galahad) has just been acquitted for the murder of a labor reformer who had been causing trouble in Ricca’s union.  Though he has some friends standing outside the courthouse steps, most of those gathered are protesting what they consider to be a miscarriage of justice and the triumph of a corrupt system.  Even the prosecutor seems resigned to the fact that the good guys will never win.

Meanwhile, there’s a young cop watching coverage of the event from home.  He agrees that there’s been a miscarriage of justice, and he intends to do something about it.  So he hops on his police motorcycle and heads for the route he knows that Ricca will be taking to go home.  Spotting Ricca’s car, he pulls it over for a bogus traffic violation.  He then pulls out his gun and shoots everyone inside the vehicle dead, including Ricca.

Soon after, other cops are swarming the scene.  While many say that it served Ricca right, murder is still murder.  Also pulling up to the scene is Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood, The Rookie), who’s been taken off the homicide beat but desperately wants back on.  His boss, Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook, The Firm), tells him to get lost, but Harry knows trouble when he sees it, and he suspects that this is just the start of something else.  As more bodies pile up, Briggs has no choice but to call in ‘Dirty’ Harry, and once Harry’s on the case, he won’t stop until he uncovers the truth, no matter how many people don’t want him to…

Magnum Force pulls off the remarkable feat of being not just a worthy successor to an iconic film, but in many ways an equal to its challenge.  It does this by building on the formula that worked, fleshing out some points that were missing, and turning the audience’s expectations upside down.

Starting with what worked before, Dirty Harry Callahan is still Dirty Harry Callahan.  He’s still a man who defines himself more by action than by words, with the action often being that of his .44 Magnum, with which he has no problem shooting a bad guy down while said bad guy in the process of committing a crime.  (This distinction becomes quite important in Magnum Force, boys and girls.)  When he does speak, he’s either sarcastic or to the point; often both.  He takes no shit but gives plenty out.  He is, in a nutshell, still the prototypical badass cop.

The opening act of Magnum Force also lets Dirty Harry play a new riff on the introductory tune that worked for him the first time around.  The initial kill of the movie’s major crime spree is committed, Harry shows up at the scene to prove he’s a real cop, and then he heads off to a nice junk food lunch.  While he’s trying to eat his lunch, he becomes aware of a crime being committed, and heads off to try and break it up while still chewing his food.  In both films, what follows is indeed a badass moment, but if there’s any wrong note hit during the course of Magnum Force, the hijacking scene that is Dirty Harry working through his lunch break is it.  Taken as pure action, it’s cool stuff, to be sure, and it also establishes Dirty Harry’s ability to take down a target on the other side of a wall, which will be important later.  However, if you’ve seen the first film, then this hijacking sequence becomes very obvious for the rerun that it is, and without that “I gots to know” moment, it just doesn’t have the same impact.  At the end of the day, it’s a minor quibble, but if you really want to find fault with Magnum Force, that scene is where you’ll find it.

You’ll sure have a hard time finding it anywhere else.

Moving on to filling in old gaps, Magnum Force does Dirty Harry the favor of giving him a personal life, which we didn’t get to see before.  The audience finds out that he has friends, including a burned out cop whom Harry sadly describes as being ready for the “rubber gun squad,” and said cop’s estranged wife, with whom he regularly has “sit down dinners,” though he’s not quite ready to be receptive to her lustful advances just yet.  (She is still married, after all.)  The audience also gets to see Harry’s small apartment – an early sketch on what would evolve into the classic burnout cop retreat – as well as meet some of his neighbors, one of whom Inspector Callahan is willing to accept lustful advances from.  (Hilariously, this was inspired by all of the lust letters Eastwood was getting after the first film; the part was cast based on the demographic profile of the majority of the letter senders.)  All of this serves to give Harry a humanity that wasn’t necessarily there before, and along with it, much greater depth that pays off almost immediately as the plot puts him face to face against others whom some might argue are just the logical next step in the evolution of Harry himself.

However, this extra humanity does not make Harry Callahan a “softie” by any means, and he’s still very much “business first.”  When his partner (ably played by Felton Perry, who’d later climb the corporate ladder in RoboCop) invites him to dinner with his family, Harry turns him down because at that point, he’s too wrapped up in working evidence from the case.  Later, when he finds a bomb in his mailbox, his social niceties end once he’s sure everyone’s safe, and after telling them to get inside and lock their doors, he doesn’t give them another moment of his time.  They’re no longer his neighbors at that point; they’re the public, and that’s the mode he goes into.  Magnum Force is very much about nuance, and Eastwood, as always, plays to that very well.  It’s not just about giving the brick oven stare; it’s what kind of brick oven stare is being given that counts.

On the other side of the table, the casting department certainly got themselves a fine crop of rookie bad guys.  Fans will readily recognize Robert Urich (who’d go on to play many cops and investigators himself, most notably Robert Parker’s “Spenser”) in his feature film debut, and stepping up alongside him is David Soul (The Disappearance of Flight 412), who’d actually nail his role on “Starsky & Hutch” thanks to his performance here.  If one of those other guys looks familiar, that’s because it’s Tim Matheson, perhaps most famous for Animal House, but whose full acting resume is big enough to be carried in on a hand cart.  Needless to say, this is no bunch of slouches, and thanks to the strength of their performances, it’s not only easy to see how Callahan can at first look to these young guys with respect, but also how they represent a formidable challenge worthy of Dirty Harry.

Oh, and if you’re up for trying to spot another famous figure (cough), keep an eye on the pool scene and check out one of the topless girls.  That’s Suzanne Somers of “Three’s Company.”

Putting it all together, one might think that taking all the time necessary to introduce all of these things (and many more I didn’t talk about) would kill the pace of the film, but as it turns out, that’s not the case.  Even though Magnum Force is something of a product of “direction by committee” (it’s been heavily suggested that Eastwood himself along with second unit director Buddy Van Horn did as much as credited director Ted Post did), it still maintains a steady, relentless momentum throughout.  Yes, bullets fly at decent intervals, but they’re not needed as wake up calls to the audience; nearly every scene in Magnum Force is gripping in some way, and the pace of the film never slows to a point where the audience feels as though it’s waiting for something to happen.  It’s the kind of thing that few filmmakers would attempt today, especially with an action picture, but as was true in the case of its predecessor, for Magnum Force, it works.

Bottom line, Magnum Force is a solid second outing for Dirty Harry Callahan, and an example of that all-too-rare animal known as the truly worthy sequel.  It builds on the best elements of its hero and then expands into territory previously unexplored to give an already iconic character even greater depth.  It also takes the most controversial part of that character and turns it into a story that challenges the viewer’s expectations in a very rewarding way.  Don’t worry, the action’s still there – Magnum Force actually has the highest body count of any Dirty Harry flick – but at the end of the day, it’s the story that grips you, along with yet another fine performance by Clint Eastwood as the world’s most iconic badass cop.  For any classic action fan, Magnum Force is definitely worth checking out.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


More From The Bar! | Dirty Harry | Hard to Kill | Miami Vice | Death Wish 3 |



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