Yet another dismal snow-filled week in February begins. So let us gather around and warm not only the cockles of our hearts but cockles everywhere with throwing yet another wonderful sequel on the fire. The fire of appreciation that is! Let us stoke the furnace of love with these sequel logs, shall we?
By the by, thanks to those of you out there in the Interwebnetwebs who have insisted upon reading this quite controversial blog despite the lack of controversy in general. Your persistence amazes even me, despite my overall ennui and a relatively jaded nature of cynicism!
And I would warn you about spoilers with this 2nd Dirty Harry entry, but I might overstep my bounds and a good man, well, let’s just say he knows his limitations.
The Sequel: Magnum Force (1973)
Original Movie: Dirty Harry (1971)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Clint Eastwood||as Inspector Harry Callahan|
|John Mitchum||as Inspector Frank DiGiorgio|
|Albert Popwell||as Pimp|
To Start With:
“Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot.”
Clint Eastwood is over 90 years old. Let that sink in. Nine decades. Quite an accomplishment to even achieve that age, let alone do a quarter of what he’s done in those four score and ten! I am not even half of his age and I know that if it ever came down to it, he could still kick my ass right off the planet. It wouldn’t even be close. Not that I would ever find a reason to tangle with an icon like Eastwood. After all, he’s so tough that after he made a movie with an orangutan, when he was done he made another one just so he could look you right in the eye and say “You gotta a problem with that, punk? Didn’t think so.”
1971’s Dirty Harry was the film that put Clint into another stratosphere of star. Yes, he was well known from Rawhide. Sergio Leone’s Italian westerns put him as an above the title star in Europe and then the U.S. Clint was then hung high, painted a wagon, kicked some Nazi arse with Richard Burton and then with Telly Savalas, pulled a bluff, became beguiled, was a mule for Shirley MacLaine, and then he played “Misty” for everyone. But Dirty Harry? That struck a whole other chord, punk.
At the time, it appeared to some that the country was more concerned with the rights of criminals rather than their victims. Dirty Harry was a reaction to that mindset, trying to show that there are indeed some twisted folks out there, who were doing horrible things. And sometimes the system would indeed fail the victims. Harry Callahan was there to balance the scales.
After the great box office returns as well as some heated reactions about Harry’s .44 Magnum reacting to the rights of criminals, the idea was born for a sequel. One that would touch on both the positive and negative responses to the first movie. How about a group of vigilante cops that are knocking off criminals left and right? How would Harry react to these guys? Would he approve? Would he disapprove? Would John Milius and Michael Cimino be able to write a script that could touch on these reactions while not essentially diluting or changing the character of Harry?
I’ll answer myself: yes, I think they did. For my money, Magnum Force not only turned out well but was also the best of the Harry sequels. Not that the other entries are garbage, not at all, but Magnum Force follows the first one closer than the following follow-ups that followed. You follow me?
Anything Done Better than the Original?
“Briggs, I hate the goddamn system! But until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it.”
Harry Callahan is back! And Clint certainly seems to put Harry on like a pair of comfortable ass-kicking shoes. Harry’s a bit more human in this movie compared to the first one and that is certainly an improvement. Oh, he’s not going to be hugging puppies and wearing cardigans and his .44 still can’t wait to be unholstered, but there’s more characterization moments that pop up for him. Like how he interacts with a colleague’s ex-wife and children or how Harry flirts and then some with a rather attractive female neighbor in his apartment building. These are little moments that add some coloring to Harry’s life.
The plot this time around is an actual mystery. Compared to the first movie, where we know right off the bat that Scorpio is our twisted soul of choice, in Magnum Force, we don’t really know who is making murderous mayhem. There’s even a red herring thrown in along the way. By having Inspector Callahan inspect and detect, rather than just simply being a blunt force thrown into the situation, it adds even more to his character.
Oh, and if you want situations where Harry gets to still blast away left and right and up and down and in-between, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, there’s a series of vignettes that could almost be used as Dirty Harry short subjects as they don’t impact the overall plot and just show Clint kicking some hoodlum ass. If you like that sort of thing, that is. (Author’s note: I do!)
Anything as Good as the Original?
“I didn’t start shooting at anyone that didn’t start shooting at me first.”
Magnum Force is another instance where Harry works well with a partner, just like the first movie. This time his partner is “Early” Smith, played by Felton Perry. Like Chico in Dirty Harry, Early is right there alongside Harry and Perry plays him as a very reliable partner. So, of course, this means that Early has to get killed. Nothing personal, this is simply par for course for most of Harry’s partners.
Speaking of Harry’s partners, always good to see John Mitchum as Frank DiGiorgio again. Frank knows Harry inside and out and isn’t really afraid to give him crap either. Not many people can do that without getting shot or a limp. I wish there could have been more Mitchum, but I feel that way whenever I see John’s older brother Bob in a film too, so it must be a family thing.
There is quite the bevy of established character actors and actors on the rise in Magnum Force. Mitchell Ryan, David Soul, Robert Urich, Tim Matheson, Richard Devon, Kip Niven, Albert Popwell, all with lengthy careers that speak for themselves. The always welcome Hal Holbrook is especially good as Harry’s superior/pain in the arse Lt. Briggs. Briggs is the first in a line of officious wankers that keep clashing with Callahan’s methods over the series.
Lalo Schifrin returns as composer and once again delivers. He scored four of the five Dirty Harry movies and the music here in Magnum Force might edge out what he did for the first film. It depends on what day you ask me about that one, but it is still a very good score nonetheless.
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“You do things someone else’s way and you take your life into your own hands.”
Ted Post came from TV and had previously directed Clint a few times on Rawhide as well as 1968’s Hang ‘Em High. I think the direction is a step down from Don Siegel, who directed Dirty Harry. Magnum Force occasionally gets a TV movie vibe, subsequently looking like an episode of Columbo at times. While not necessarily a deal breaker (after all, who doesn’t love Columbo?), it seems to hold Magnum Force back since it doesn’t look like a movie movie overall. I know this was a bone of contention that Eastwood had with Post, but to be slightly fair here, most movies made in 1973 look like well-made TV movies/shows. Well, except for High Plains Drifter, that is. Hm. Maybe Clint had a point.
The lack of a main baddie is a slight detriment for the film. At the end of the day, the death squad consists of motorcycle cop rookies just following orders from a middle management police department desk jockey. Come to think of it, there is probably an element out there that doesn’t even think that the covert police department death squad is really doing anything wrong by whacking the criminal element, which makes for an interesting layer to explore someday…
But I suppose that since Magnum Force ends up having an antagonist without a single face, it doesn’t make Harry beating them as satisfactory as it was when he blew Scorpio away at the end of the first film. Of course, it could just be that Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio was such a right bastard that the subsequent members of the Dirty Harry Rogues Gallery just pale in comparison to him. (Oh, and that is the correct answer by the way.)
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
“You know, when police start becoming their own executioners, where’s it gonna end? Huh, Briggs? Pretty soon, you’ll start executing people for jaywalking, and executing people for traffic violations. Then you end up executing your neighbor ’cause his dog pisses on your lawn.”
Golly, this movie could use about 20-30 minutes or so taken out. For instance, could they have combined two of the attacks on the mob goons into one hit? Or, as sacrilege as it sounds, cut a Harry segment out that has nothing to do with the plot as we roll along? There are moments where the film sidetracks to follow Harry blasting away, which is fine at the time, but ultimately does nothing to advance the overall story. We already know that Harry takes no shit and metes out justice accordingly so we don’t need dozens of extraneous examples over two hour padded runtime.
Just thought I’d mention that Dirty Harry was about 20 minutes shorter and managed to get everything in that we needed to know. Magnum Force should have done some pruning just to keep the plot humming. A little paring here and a bit of cutting there and drop a scene or two and you end up with a tighter and more engaging film overall.
Also, while I don’t necessarily hate the cat and mouse game on that disused aircraft carrier for the finale, I think a big misstep is not having some kind of shootout between Callahan and David Soul, whose character was established as an incredible marksman. Come to think of it, what if they ended up on the same shooting competition street range from earlier, trying to pick off each other? Instead we get a not-David Soul stunt guy plunge off his motorcycle into San Francisco Bay and the audience goes, “Huh. So that killed him? Huh. I guess. Oh, well.” It is just not as satisfying as it could have been.
“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Oh yes, there were other entries as Inspector Harry Callahan, for the most part, proved to be a box office winner for Warner Brothers over the years. I like to think that each time Clint wanted to direct a different kind of project, like Bronco Billy or Bird, he threw the studio a bone by doing another Dirty Harry movie.
1976 brought the third movie in the franchise, The Enforcer. This is the one where Harry is teamed up with Tyne Daly, who is a…woman! *gasp!* Gosh, how will Harry react?! In truth, he reacts just fine. More importantly, the film avoids the easy and clichéd route by not having them end up as a romantic couple. Plus, the bad gang in this one is a true cadre of assholes and it is quite satisfying, no matter how unbelievable, to see Harry take out the main jagoff with a rocket launcher at Alcatraz.
Sudden Impact followed in 1983 and it was the only Dirty Harry film that Clint directed. Again there’s a twist with the attitude towards vigilantism, with the main murderer being a rape victim seeking revenge on those that assaulted her and her sister. It is the darkest entry to be sure. Here is also where Harry gets to say THE signature line of the series, “Go ahead, make my day.” And yes, it is still awesome, I’ll have you know. Also awesome is that genuine chill moment when Harry shows up near the end of the movie to take out the remaining turds that are beating up Sondra Locke. It is lit so wonderfully and in fact, I can just watch the last ten minutes of that film and be well sated with a Dirty Harry fix.
And of course, all good things come to an end, so in 1988, we got the final Dirty Harry film, The Dead Pool. It’s…okay and better than you remember. Harry gets a new partner, Kentucky Fried Movie’s Evan Kim, and he gets to blast people away with his .44 as usual. There is also an interesting cast that includes Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson, Patricia Clarkson, and Guns N’ Roses (No, really! They play a…band!). I think the film’s main flaw is that the actual killer turns out to be someone we’ve never met or seen before. He seems like a last minute add-on, suddenly making all the other suspects retroactive red herrings. Still…Harry does use a big damn harpoon gun to kill him, so take that for what it’s worth.
After that, no more Dirty Harrys, much to my chagrin. I mean, couldn’t In the Line of Fire have been retooled to be a Dirty Harry? Or the not-that-great The Rookie? Blood Work? Maybe even The Bridges of Madison County? No? Oh, well. A man’s got to know his limitations and I guess five Dirty Harrys are the limit.
“This is a 44. Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and it could blow your head clean off. Do you feel lucky?”
Magnum Force is a worthy sequel to Dirty Harry. Yes, it has flaws, but not to the point of making it dreadful or unwatchable whatsoever. Also, Clint Eastwood is no fool. He knows his audience and what they want from him, especially when he plays Harry Callahan. Yes, once in a while Clint will make something like Honkytonk Man or Pink Cadillac or Hereafter just to see if you’re paying attention, but he is certainly aware of the reactions.
The film plays as it should: like a solid sophomore effort from a band whose first release was huge, including a recap of the well-received themes that were established in the first album. There’s even a remix of the line from the first movie about the .44 Magnum being the most powerful handgun in the world during the opening credits. Then Harry fires it right in the screen and apparently the audience was wrong about feeling lucky.
If you just want to watch good character actors mix it together with Clint Eastwood as he blasts his way through the underbelly of 1973 San Francisco, then Magnum Force is right up your alley. Like the rest of the entries in the series, it is a bit of primitive wish fulfillment, which I love. Plus, Eastwood has some great lines! And if Clint hasn’t kicked your ass for not seeing the film yet, don’t worry, he will… You punk.
“Man at Mailbox: ‘What’s that?’
Harry Callahan: ‘Plastic explosive.’
Man at Mailbox: ‘A bomb?’
Harry Callahan: ‘Yeah, that’s right. If you’d bothered me anymore, we’d all be stuck to the ceiling now. Here… would you like to hold it?’
Man at Mailbox: ‘No, no, I don’t want to get involved!’”