Should I Watch..? 'Magnum Force'
What's the big deal?
Magnum Force is an action thriller film released in 1973 and is the second film in the series that featured the iconic character "Dirty" Harry Callahan. The film stars Clint Eastwood as Inspector Callahan, this time on the trail of vigilante cops pursuing known criminals across San Francisco before taking justice into their own hands. The film would unintentionally launch the career of a number of actors including David Soul, Robert Urich and Tim Matheson. The film's script was specifically written to address criticisms of Dirty Harry by showing that there were worse cops on the force than Callahan, who was seen as something of a vigilante himself. The film itself received a mixed reaction from critics but audiences flocked to see the return of Dirty Harry with US takings in excess of $44 million.
What's it about?
Mobster Carmine Ricca is driven away from court through an angry crowd of protesters after being cleared on a technicality. But on their way back, a rider with the San Francisco's motorcycle police pulls them over before quickly executing Ricca and his entourage with a .357 Magnum. Inspector Callahan and his partner Earlington "Early" Smith are assigned by their superior, Lt. Neil Briggs, to investigate. Before long, more victims turn up - a notorious pimp is found dead in his Cadillac while a gangster's pool party is also interrupted by yet another motorcycle officer.
Callahan and Early soon suspect that cops may be involved and Callahan thinks he knows who - his old friend Charlie McCoy who has grown disillusioned with the force and suicidal after his wife leaves him. But he doesn't reckon with four young officers at the gun range, all of whom seem to idolize Harry's methods while matching his skill with his trademark sidearm. Can Harry stop them before things get out of hand?
SFPD Inspector Harry Callahan
SFPD Lt. Neil Briggs
SFPD Traffic Officer John Davis
SFPD Traffic Officer Phil Sweet
SFPD Traffic Officer Alan "Red" Astrachan
SFPD Traffic Officer Mike Grimes
SFPD Inspector Earlington "Early" Smith
John Milius & Michael Cimino *
Release Date (UK)
22nd February, 1974
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
As memorable as the character was in Dirty Harry, it didn't exactly make it easy to root for him. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Magnum Force which is both an exciting and well-paced action thriller. The stunt-work is fabulous as Eastwood throws himself onto cars and blows away anyone who even looks at him funny, to be frank. It feels more kinetic than the first film which only featured action in small doses. The amount of perps Callahan gets through in a single day, I'd be unable to work out whether the morgue or the prisons were fuller.
The film also benefits from a solid supporting cast led by Soul and Halbrook as Callahan's fellow officers as well as a punchy soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin. Instead of feeling grim and very dark, this is a much more palatable offering. Of course, Callahan's character isn't exactly what you'd call heroic but he displays a more human side this time, making him more interesting. What I particularly enjoyed was seeing Callahan's philosophy turned against him by taking it to its logical extreme. He isn't the fascist supercop he was in the first movie and is shaken by the attitudes of his fellow officers who apparently idolize him. It was a clever ploy by the screenplay to take criticism of the character and literally turn it against him.
- Two other stars of the future who appeared in the film are Carl Weathers who appeared as one of the protesters at the beginning of the film while Suzanne Somers appeared as the topless girl at the pool party.
- At 124 minutes, this is the longest movie in the Dirty Harry series. It also has the highest on-screen body count with 30 confirmed kills.
- The film received a degree of notoriety when two robbers held up a Hi-Fi store in Utah and made the hostages drink Draino, mimicking the same scene in this film when the pimp murders one of his girls via the same way. Miraculously, two of the hostages survived in what would be known as the Hi-Fi Murders.
What's not to like?
You don't really get the sense of this watching it but Magnum Force seems deliberately designed to simply address criticisms of the first film. Such is the change in Callahan's character that I found myself whether he'd found God or something else between the two films. He even has a fairly cheesy romantic sub-plot with his Asian neighbour played by Adele Yoshioka which feels unnecessary and tacked on.
I also would have liked a little more investigation instead of Callahan simply following one of his hunches or accidentally finding himself in a dangerous situation like a plane hijacking. But generally speaking, I didn't have too much of an issue with this film. Yes, it's obviously dated in places and the mystery of the killers' identity is about as well disguised as it is on an episode of Scooby Doo! but it's a marked improvement over the first film. It's brave enough to ask questions about our law enforcement methods and how far it's permissible to go in order to see justice served.
Should I watch it?
It might lack a little of the polish seen in the action cop thrillers of the Eighties but Magnum Force is an impressive old-school effort, bringing Eastwood's iconic cop back to earth. The action sequences are excellent for the time and the story offers plenty of twists and turns for audiences to enjoy. This film is more entertaining and gripping than the first film while still keeping people like me hungry for more.
Great For: action fans, gun nuts, Seventies revivalists, fans of Dirty Harry
Not So Great For: bikers, San Francisco's tourism industry, the reputation of the police
What else should I watch?
Compared to this, Dirty Harry is a depressing and violent introduction to the world of cinema's most vengeful police officer. It may deliver the catchphrases you associate with Harry Callahan but the film's bleak story of a deranged sniper holding the city hostage doesn't engage you in the same way that this film does. But Eastwood's performance is magnetic and it's no surprise that the film has become one of his most popular. The other films in the series - The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool - never quite managed to achieve the same levels of success as the first two films, though they clearly still thought that they could.
Of course, Eastwood also managed to spend time in San Francisco without having to holster his trademark Magnum. Escape From Alcatraz is yet another classic Eastwood picture featuring the big man attempting an audacious escape from the famous island prison. Speaking of which, modern action fans will get a kick from The Rock which features Nicholas Cage and a suspiciously Bond-ish Sean Connery attempting to break into Alcatraz to stop renegade US Marines launching chemical weapons.
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© 2016 Benjamin Cox