Should I Watch..? 'The Enforcer' (1976)
What's the big deal?
The Enforcer is an action thriller film released in 1976 and marks the third film to feature Clint Eastwood as unorthodox cop "Dirty" Harry Callahan. Directed by Eastwood's long-time assistant director James Fargo in his feature-film debut, the film sees Harry tangle with a terrorist group in San Francisco while working alongside a new female partner, something Harry isn't too happy about. The film also stars Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, DeVeren Bookwalter and Albert Popwell. The film divided critics upon release, many of who disapproved of the film's levels of violence as well as Eastwood's performance. However, Daly's portrayal of a rookie homicide detective was widely praised and the film still performed well at the box office with earnings over $46 million in the US alone. The film's financial success, coupled with the continued popularity of the character, meant that although this was intended to be the last Dirty Harry film, it would be followed by Sudden Impact in 1983 and The Dead Pool in 1988.
What's it about?
The film opens with the brutal murder of two gas company workers in the hills surrounding San Francisco, a city increasingly plagued by violent crime. Inspector Harry Callahan, recently demoted after using excessive force to end a hostage crisis, instead finds himself on an interview panel for new inspectors and is disgusted to find that three of the new recruits will be women regardless of their experience. After interviewing long-serving but inexperienced officer Kate Moore, Callahan is reinstated to Homicide after a tragic turn of events.
A group calling themselves the People's Revolutionary Strike Force (PRSF) steal a cache of weapons from a warehouse, killing Callahan's partner Frank DiGiorgio and others in the process. Grimly resolved to track the group down, Callahan is aghast that his new partner is none other than Moore who fights hard to try and prove her worth against Callahan's old-school misogyny. But while the pair conduct their own investigation, the PRSF aren't finished conducting their campaign of terror against the people of San Francisco...
Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan
Inspector Kate Moore
Lieutenant Al Bressler
Captain Jerome McKay
"Big" Ed Mustapha
Inspector Frank DiGiorgio
Stirling Silliphant & Dean Riesner*
Release Date (UK)
26th December, 1976
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Well, Harry's back. Fans of cinema's most overly zealous law enforcement officer will be delighted to see that the film's action scenes have not been toned down in the intervening years. From explosive shoot-outs on the streets to rooftop chases, the film's only really missing a car chase to complete the San Francisco Action Scenes book of cliché. But the action is well-shot and certainly exciting - few things can grab your attention as well as Harry's enormous Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, the character's signature hand-cannon.
The film's true star is Daly, though, who delivers a thorough performance as Moore, Harry's new partner who thinks she's ready to take on Homicide. In truth, she's poorly served by a screenplay that spends a lot of time undermining her character, either by reducing her to a bothersome woman who wouldn't understand men's things or by turning her into comic relief. But Daly works hard to turn her into a likeable person, certainly more so than Harry who comes across as arguably the biggest jerk in the SFPD. I also enjoyed Popwell's appearance as the black militant Mustapha and Crawford's slimy mayor but other than this, the film hasn't much to offer.
- When Harry meets Mustapha for the first time, he asks where he knows him from. This is an in-joke - Popwell appeared in every Dirty Harry film except The Dead Pool, playing a different character every time. He is most famous as the bank robber who hears Harry's "Do I feel lucky?" monologue in Dirty Harry.
- Daly turned down the role three times before accepting, although she asked for a planned romance between her character and Callahan to be dropped. Eastwood agreed and all trace of the subplot was removed from the script.
- The boat that takes Callahan and Moore to Alcatraz is called Phoenix and is part of the San Francisco Fire Department, still in operation to this day.
What's not to like?
From a narrative point of view, the film is a step back from the gripping tales found in Dirty Harry and Magnum Force. Until the sudden appearance of ever-growing ransom demands, we don't fully understand the motives of the PRSF or their wide-eyed leader Maxwell. The film lurches from one scene to the next without much to explain why things are happening. This makes the film much less satisfying to watch than the two previous films and without context, the action scenes suffer as a result.
But by far the most unpalatable aspect of the film is the treatment of Daly's character, constantly suffering at the hands of sexist imbeciles like Callahan who can barely look at her and others who won't give her a fair crack of the whip. In this #MeToo society we're now living in, it looks horrifically old-fashioned and outdated and turns Callahan from a hero into a jackass. What's worse is that the film seems happy to go along with it, as if the script writers were supporting Callahan's old-fashioned sexism. The only time Callahan seems to have respect for her is when she goes against their superiors and starts gunning bad guys down with the same sort of zeal that he does, despite him knowing that she probably won't last long following the same path he does. The Enforcer is an uncomfortable watch, not because of its violence, racist language or bloodshed but because it is about as cutting edge as a campfire.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the character won't care about the social commentary the film tries to make because The Enforcer is essentially a remake of the original, a cop thriller with enough action and shoot-outs to please long-time fans. But for more casual viewers, this film is probably one to avoid. It has dated about as well as a portrait of Dorian Gray - Callahan is not a hero one can admire, despite his obvious thirst of justice, because he seems unable to adapt to modern life around him. Frankly, it feels as though he should be in jail himself.
Great For: fans of the series, Republicans, wife-beating misogynists
Not So Great For: modern viewers, female audience members, Eastwood's political ambitions
What else should I watch?
The Enforcer seemed to mark the start of the series' decline. Sudden Impact was felt to be a disappointment as Eastwood finally took over the director's chair but delivered a dull dud. However, the final nail in the coffin was The Dead Pool which saw an increasingly haggard-looking Eastwood track down another serial killer in San Francisco, although even Eastwood is unable to disguise how old both he and the material are. My personal favourite is Magnum Force, which tones down the fascist themes of the original and delivered a better story, better action scenes and I think a better performance from Eastwood.
There are no end to cop films emerging from Hollywood although few of them are worth repeat viewings. Steve McQueen's legendary Bullitt features arguably the greatest car chase in the history of cinema while Eddie Murphy's fast-talking style of comedy is utilised brilliantly in Beverly Hills Cop. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence blow things up in Bad Boys, things take a satirical sci-fi twist in Paul Verhoeven's classic RoboCop while nobody can forget Leslie Nielsen's timeless appearance as the incompetent Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, probably the very antithesis of Harry Callahan but certainly worth watching if you fancy having a good belly laugh.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox