With “Green Screen”, you can jump to a pivotal scene just by clicking the green text. It’s that simple but be warned, spoilers ahead!
What happens when the law fails to uphold and enact justice? Why, take it within your own hands of course.
In Written by Harry Julian Fink, John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn) Michael Ciminio (The Dear Hunter) and directed by Ted Post, the 1973 Dirty Harry sequel has Clint Eastwood reprising his role as the iconic Anti-Hero Cop who investigates a string of murders committed by those whose primary goal is to “serve and protect”.
Unlike the first film, there is no picturesque scenery of San Francisco during the intro. Instead, we are treated to an unusual but very snazzy theme (Courtesy of Composer Lalo Schifrin) accompanied by some chorus-with a hand firmly holding a 44 Magnum pistol followed by an all too familiar line that was said during the first Dirty Harry movie;
“This is a 44. Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and it could blow your head clean off.
Do you feel lucky?”
The film begins with a Mob Boss Carmine Ricca, who was acquitted of the murders of a labor Disputer and his family. It appears during his leaving the court that he has quite a few supports cheering him on (As in a certain notorious Mafia celebrity who managed to beat the rap for a while).
And as karma would have it, Ricca, his shady lawyer and his goons are gunned down during what may seem to be a “routine” traffic violation. But it doesn’t end there, as what is presumed as the same Police Officer goes on a killing spree starting with infamous Criminals working his way down to Pimps and Hustlers without ramifications. Harry arrives at the crime scene along with his new partner Early Smith (Felton Perry of Robocop) and is immediately chastised by his commanding officer Lt.Briggs for being at the crime scene investigation when he was busted from homicide to stakeout.
I found it quite amusing as to how Briggs’ cryptic comments were made after a few murders which would give the viewer the impression that there is more to this “fine, upstanding Police Officer.”
Despite it being touted as a mystery or conspiracy tale, the core of this film is still an action crime thriller that doesn’t bore thanks in part to sporicidal breaks of gunfights starting with a scene that entails both Harry and Early having lunch an ex Homicide Cop’s Snack Shop located near the airport. A Passenger plane is suddenly hijacked by two thugs who request an international Flight Captain for a more secure extraction out of the United States- and with the FBI nowhere in sight, guess who volunteers as the pilot?
In addition to Briggs and early are a quartet of Rookie Police officers whose youth and capabilities make Harry coming off a bit insecure.But even worse, gives off an ire of suspicion after one too many incidents and “coincidences”.
Then there’s the Supermarket stakeout scene that threw political correctness out the window the second I heard; “Right here is where I kill me a Nigger”! Ah, the good ol’ seventies.
If Harry isn’t taking out hoods and other criminals, we get to see the mysterious Traffic Cop assassin gunning down high ranking Mob Bosses along with their associates be it a Pool party or an upscale Penthouse.
Oh and there’s plenty of room for others to get the receiving end of justice…
“People are guilty until proven… I mean… goddamnit, you know what I mean”.
After following through a what appears to be a crime scene investigation, Harry deduces that the Pimp killed on a highway was murdered by a Traffic Cop as Charlie McCoy however, his theory is shot after Callahan learns about the fate of his close friend. This leads to Harry digging much deeper in order to unearth what seems to be a conspiracy, who is behind this? Can Harry bring this vigilante murderer to justice?
One of the biggest controversies of this film was the infamous “Drano” scene where a notorious Pimp (Played by Albert Popwell in his second appearance within a Dirty Harry film) murders one of his whores via pouring Drano down her throat. Not only was said scene sadistic, but it actually inspired a pair of copycat killers to imitate that same act. Harry’s inquiry of who is responsible for these vigilante murders lead him and into a trail of intrigue and danger following what is perhaps the most pivotal scene from this movie as it well defines the Antihero’s courage of conviction. Even Inspector Harry knows his limitations.
This film manage to provide good supplemental moments such as the romantic interest-Sonny, a beautiful Japanese neighbor who unexpectedly asks Harry; “What does a girl have to do to go to bed with you”? It seems that James Bond ain’t the only cool cat who gets the Pussy. My only gripe was that unfortunately, the relationship wasn’t further fleshed out due to time constraint of the film, but it’s a welcomed break from all the violence.
As for unraveling the mystery during the third act, there’s that excellent revelation toward the end proved to be extremely tantamount towards the story and needless to say, exposes the charade of a major supporting character.
It’s interesting of note that during the scene in which Harry inquires the camaraderie between the four rookie Police officers- Early mentions how “they stick together like flypaper, you know”? And that “Everybody thought they were queer for each other”.
Harry then disregards the rumors with;“Tell you something. If the rest of you could shoot like them, I wouldn’t care if the whole damn department was queer”. Harry’s acceptance of Homosexuals on the force is both progressive and ahead of its time before what is seen as this PC saturation that is happening today.
Magnum force had some very impressive cinephotographic angles that enriched dramatic storytelling most notable was the officer’s approaching Ricca’s Cadillac, reflection from sunglasses, a third person perspective of Harry engaging in a gunfight at the supermarket and an enclosed bird’s eye view of Callahan and Briggs within a confined ballistics room.
“Briggs, I hate the damn system, but until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it.”
Magnum Force is hands down the best film of the Dirty Harry series. It serves as not only as an explanatory and cautious tale of how far is too far with themes of vigilantism but equally important the finger pointing of the Judiciary system and due process or lack thereof. Also I would like to point out how in one scene in particular, Callahan rationalizes his findings with Smith and while doing so mentions that there may be “a Sub-organization within the police force”. Although far-fetched in reality, one has to ponder if such as sub-organization actually exist in the real world especially when you tally all the recent unjustified murders of unarmed civilians. At least the Vigilante officers’ actions although a bit extreme, targeted criminals who thought they were above the law as opposed to killing someone because of their racial identity.
Part action, part suspense thriller and even fragments of humor mostly due to Callahan’s sarcastic dialog and verbal exchanges from Lieutenant Briggs, Early’s reactions from the cop’s description of Ricca’s murder were priceless! Then there’s that annoying neighbor who happens to shows up while Harry is attempting to disarm a bomb.
As a ritual, I find myself watching MF once a year and still enjoy it immensely. For a forty-year plus film, it still stands the test of time. If you want an exceptional Cop thriller without all the pretensions, you can’t go wrong with Magnum Force. And let it be said how MF helped to springboard the careers of noted actors Tim Matheson, Rober Urich and especially David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame.
Magnum Force as well as a few other Dirty Harry films are available now on HBO’s streaming services however, I recommend owning the Blu-Ray available on Amazon for dirt cheap. The visual and sound quality has its share of noticeable blurs every now and then, But for the low price and bonus material, its more than serviceable. than what is offered from HBO NOW.
Magnum Force is one bad Mother..”Shut your mouth”!