Magnum Force (1973)

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After watching and enjoying Dirty Harry a few weeks ago, I was looking forward to seeing the sequel, once again starring Clint Eastwood reprising the role of maverick San Francisco detective Harry Callahan.

It has a very strong and intriguing premise. Stung by criticism that the first film was too right-wing and fascist, the producers provide Harry with a group of rogue cops dispensing their own brand of capital justice on crooks that have evaded the legal system. That makes Harry look like a left wing civil rights champion and forces him – so quick to break the rules in the original film – to decide which side of the justice fence he’s really on. That should be a wonderful tension and opportunity for the film to dramatically portray some very fundamental issues about law and order.

Unfortunately the film itself misfires all the way down the line and avoids any such interesting avenues. The first half of the film is a sequence of set-ups introducing ‘untouchable’ crooks that are then gunned down by faceless figures in SFPD traffic cop uniforms. The first couple of times these are very well done and the unspeaking assassin is a chilling figure, but after a while it just becomes generally repetitive and the interest and tension dips alarmingly.

Despite being played by some very big name stars of the future (David Soul, Tim Matheson and Robert Urich among them) the traffic cops under suspicion as the assailant get little screen time to develop as characters and end up with little more personality than the faceless assassin figure. The motivation behind the executioner is curiously never really made clear and it’s left to another figure – an unsuspected turncoat – to explain everything to Harry in a car scene that lacks any of the sense of simmering rage and passion of the first Dirty Harry film and instead seems like two tired accountants wrangling over an arcane point of tax law after a long day at the office.

In fact the whole film is curiously flat and lacking spirit throughout. For one thing, an extra half hour of running time over the first film robs it of the hard-hitting pace of Dirty Harry. The one major death in the film is played as little more than a one second ‘shocker’ with no follow-up, while Eastwood himself is given very little to do and no sustained storyline for a good two thirds of this film, instead introducing odd episodic distractions such as two women literally throwing themselves at him for sex. While the film’s exterior locations continue to show off San Francisco’s attractions, almost all the scenes are set in broad Californian sun-drenched daylight which together with a pedestrian directorial style from Ted Post makes the film resemble a very average TV movie of the era. Even Lalo Schifrin’s music underperforms, leaving most of the action sequences unscored and devoid of pace and atmosphere as a result.

Yes, Clint Eastwood is fine, although even he seems a little bored rather than amped up as he did in Dirty Harry. Hal Holbrook is great as ever as Harry’s disapproving boss (a role that actually makes little sense in the unfolding circumstances) and Felton Perry makes for a likeable sidekick, while Mitch Ryan gets strangely high billing for a two-scene cameo as a burnt-out cop with PTSD.

All in all it’s a film that threatens to make Dirty Harry look like a one-off flash in the pan. Only Eastwood’s charisma ensured a third film in the series, and I hope that The Enforcer proves to have more fire in its belly than this flaccid disappointment did.

Available on DVD and as part of a Blu-ray boxset, and shown as part of a series of Clint Eastwood films on Channel 5 in the UK on Fridays at 9pm.

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