Magnum Force (1973) – Ted Post

Clint Eastwood returned as Detective ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan for a second outing in 1973’s Magnum Force, despite the fact that he seemed to be quitting at the close of the original film. This time out the gritty, and occasional racist and misogynistic film sees Harry hard at work in his beloved San Francisco, when a series of high profile murders take place – someone is taking out high profile criminals who have, to date, escaped justice.

Harry has a very strict moral code, he knows right and wrong, though he doesn’t always follow the law – as they are sometimes at odds with one another, and while he’s not overly upset that these people are getting killed it still bothers him enough to know he’s going to be the investigative officer on the case, despite clashes with the leading Homicide lieutenant played by Hal Holbrook.

Harry, with new partner, Early Smith (Felton Perry), gets caught up in crime and adventure around the city, from a airplane hijacking to a store robbery even as he begins putting pieces together… pieces that indicate that perhaps a motorcycle cop is the one committing these killings.

And that’s where the rest of the cast gets rounded out, we are introduced to a slew of bike cops, including an old friend of Harry’s played by Mitchell Ryan who becomes his chief suspect, but there are other possibilities as well, played by David Soul, Tim Matheson and Robert Urich.

The film has a moment where it seems to devolve into an exploitation film with the unnecessary depiction of a prostitute, being assaulted and murdered by her pimp, all so they can set up his murder in the next scene. A point that is made moments later when Harry is informed of who he is and what he’s done – it didn’t need to be there – and it’s a rough scene that doesn’t throw the viewer out of the movie, but it makes for a tough watch.

Harry’s character gets lucky this time around. In fact two women throw themselves at him, one of them a friend’s ex-wife, and we get a quick look and reminder that Harry was married once, and still misses his late wife. Even in his tiny, tiny apartment.

It fills out his character a little more, given him a little bit of depth, even as he heads after the baddies with his fire arm blasting holes in everything. And when his instincts are proven right, and the baddies are actually cops, nothing is going to stop Dirty Harry Callahan from taking them down, because the only cop who should be able to ignore the law in pursuit of justice should be him – at least he never murders criminals in cold blood, they just usually end up dead anyway.

Harry’s style resonated with the film going public of the seventies, and the character kept coming back for more, embracing his police brutality as he delivers a form of justice in San Francisco. It’s very much like an updated western where Harry is the only real sheriff in town.

Next time he’s The Enforcer.

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