Wednesday, July 14, 2010

REVIEW: Magnum Force

Magnum Force
Director: Ted Post
Year 1973

Magnum Force is the superb follow up to the 1971 hit film Dirty Harry. The story continues with a new baffling case that legendary Harry Callahan has to crack before the end credits roll, but before cracking the case, he has to crack a few skulls. Just like in the first film, Harry takes his hardcore policing to the streets of San Francisco and leaves no thug unscathed. Clint Eastwood reprises the role of Harry Callahan, the same role that made him a pop culture icon and led to a countless number of copy cat films since. This time, director Don Siegel hands over the reigns to a new director, Ted Post, who doesn't necessarily have the impeccable skills and visual flare that Siegel brought to the table, but he still manages to make a more then worthy addition to the Dirty Harry series.

Harry in his too cool for school shades.

Harry's problems start out when a slew of unsolved crimes begin to crop up in the city. All of the victims are the lowest of the low, like a mob boss who has just manipulated the justice system having been acquitted of all charges and the pimp who loves to smack his hoes up and steal all of their money. These two fine upstanding shit stains are just the tip of the iceberg, as many more criminals begin to be bumped off one by one. The premise of having a vigilante running around the city taking out crooks is a rather genius concept to throw into the world of Dirty Harry. It's a nice touch to see Harry kind of shrug off the idea of criminals being killed by saying, "Couldn't of happened to a nicer bunch of guys." He agrees with the demise of these despicable men, yet he still knows he has to do his duty and capture the perpetrator who is committing these seemingly random murders.  

You make me sick.

It's also an intriguing concept, because Harry is often thought of as the main suspect. Who else but Harry would be riding around town dealing out his own special brand of justice? To make matters worse, the audience is shown in the very beginning of the film, that the unnamed killer is in fact dressed up in a patrolmen's uniform while riding a police motorcycle. The stakes seem raised against Harry in that he will come out of this one clean, but sure as shit, we know he will find a way.

Let Harry show you punks how it's done.

We are also introduced to a new brand of policeman in the form of the four new recruits, who happen to be a crack shot with a gun. These young police officers are fresh out of the academy and represent the coming of a new age at the precinct. Tim Matheson plays Officer Phil Sweet, Robert Urich plays Officer Mike Grimes, David Soul plays Officer John Davis, and Kip Niven plays Officer Red Astrachan, rounding out the imposing group of elite cops that share a unique kinship to Harry Callahan's work on the streets. As the film progresses, we find that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not the sorts that Harry approves of. The idea of bringing this group of opposing rookies into the story is a genius one that sets a fire to a rather intense story of paranoia and mistrust among the police force.

That's one hell of a pool party you got there man.

The way the mysterious killer takes out his target is reminiscent of James Cameron's Terminator, as he coldly and collectively terminates anyone who is a collective target. The man draped in police gear, cooly walks up to his intended prey and fills them full of lead. It's creepy in that nonchalant manner, where a person can just extinguish a life and not bat an eye. The numerous scenes that display the killer at work are astonishingly effect in there representation of a man without a conscious or soul. The addition of making the killer fit in more with the horror archetype of a slasher killer is a great twist on the crime genre and one that gives this story a little bit of an edge over typical cat and mouse games.

Harry as he shoots squirrels in his
backyard as they try to steal his bird seed.

Another great addition to the cast is Hal Holbrook as the assholeish boss from hell, Lt. Neil Briggs. As soon as the film starts, he has it out for Harry and he never lets up throughout the entire runtime of the film. Hal does a spectacular job, as he usually does, in making us believe he has a chip on his shoulder courtesy of Dirty Harry. Holbrook has been in so many classic films that it's hard to list them all, but my favorites have to be John Carpenter's atmospheric 1980 masterpiece The Fog, the ever entertaining 1982  horror anthology Creepshow, and one of my personal favorite roles, his turn at Hamilton Johnson in Chevy Chase's excellent comedy sequel Fletch Lives. He's a stupendous actor and one that nails his part in Magnum Force with an expertly crass delivery for his crotchety Lt. Briggs role.

Hal Holbrook at the Manchester Morgue.

The action set pieces are up to par on what we now expect from a Dirty Harry film and their delightful in their diversity and unabashed mayhem inducing qualities. There's a sequence where Harry and the rest of the police force are raiding a mob boss' hangout, only to have the bad guys be tipped off by an unknown source. The baddies lay in wait and then finally take it to the cops, firing with all they have. At the end of the sequence, the main boss tries to escape in his car only to have Harry jump onto his hood and cling on for dear life. The stunt work is phenomenal and Harry's character gets whipped around like a ragdoll as he holds on amid the chaos. Finally he is flung from the car to land in a heap of boxes in a lavish and drama filled spectacle. Needless to say the action is full force and comes on strong.

Damn it! Every time I go into the country I end
up getting an Eastwood on my windshield!

There's also a large dose of drama set in this narrative. Harry is up against more then just an unnamed killer who likes to dress up as a policeman as he maims the cities undesirable residents. He's also contending with the suspisions of others, as he most fits the bill as the one making all of the killings. The killer even likes to use the same model gun that Harry is so fond of, the .357 Magnum. It seems that someone is pointing all of the fingers at Harry and through the use of these plot devices, the director is able to create a very real sense of paranoia and frenzied mistrust. It's a great way to continue Harry's storyline, by creating a sequel that really ups the anti in throwing something original and rather deep at our main character.

Now you put the bullets in this round circle looking thing, right?

The choice of the visuals for Magnum Force are quite different from what we were presented with in Dirty Harry. In this film, we are given a brighter color palate that is mostly set during the day, making even more disturbing that all of these violent acts are occurring in broad daylight. Was San Francisco really this dangerous during this time period? Who cares, it's a Dirty Harry film and I'm glad that they upped the stakes and went a different route with the action taking place during a cloudless sunshine filled day. It's a great contrast to Dirty Harry's darkened San Francisco underbelly that so prevalently is displayed during those dark covered nights.

Harry's leisurely Sunday morning drive takes a drastic turn.

There's also an entertaining change in Harry's personal life. He actually has women throwing themselves at him in this flick. I'm not being a smart ass here, they are actually throwing themselves at him. Harry runs into an old police buddy of his and finds that he isn't doing so well, so he decides to visit the man's wife and children to see what the story is. He finds out that his relationship is strained and that he has fallen into a depression, but instead of the wife being all distraught over this situation, she finds it the perfect opportunity to proposition old Harry for a roll in the hay. It's pretty funny to see the hardened cop that is Harry, have to sort of fend off the advances of a housewife, but the end result seems to fit to Harry's character as he gently finds a way out of it. There's even a neighbor of Harry's that asks right out, "What does a girl have to do to go to bed with you?" This simple line just proves the point that Harry is indeed the MAN.

Dirty Harry is Hell on Wheels!

Just like in the first film, there is a slew of comedic scenes that intertwine themselves within the action set pieces. Harry's expert and sarcastically driven wit is on hand and in true form. These witty remarks work wonders as Harry battles words with Hal Holbrook's Lt. Briggs. There's some classic lines that the two characters come up with and the conflicts between the two really add to the rivalry that they share. Another great moment comes when Harry finds a bomb in his mailbox. One of his neighbors annoyingly asks what he is doing and threatens to call the police on Harry for destroying a mailbox, as Harry desperately tries to dismantle the box. Harry turns and shows the bomb to the man saying, "If you'd bothered me any more, we'd all be stuck to the ceiling now. Here.... would you like to hold it?" The neighbor runs up the stairs saying that he doesn't want to be involved. The comedic timing of this scene is just spot on and I caught myself laughing out loud at this whole scene. Pure genius and pure Dirty Harry.

Dirty Harry, you are one smug bastard.

The comedy is spot on for a Dirty Harry film, and the same can be said for the satisfying ending of Magnum Force. All of the Dirty Harry films seem to be able to wrap everything up and serve the audience with a satisfying demise to the films central bad guy, giving him his just desserts and leaving Harry as the undisputed bad ass of film. Magnum Force is no exception and there's enough twists and turns in the old formula to really churn out something special in this effort. I won't give it away, but it's quite explosive. Yeah that was cheesy, but it felt so right.

Harry walks off into the sunset,
which is now replaced by a burning car.

Magnum Force is an amazingly cohesive effort that delivers a worthy sequel that has all the things that we have come to love in the original Dirty Harry film, yet manages to expand on the ever violent universe that director Don Siegel set up. The addition of adding a killer that mimics Harry's style of policing with the combination of a moral decision that Harry is presented with in the near closing segments of the film, really add to the already stellar qualities that make Harry such an intriguing character and explosive icon of action cinema. Magnum Force is highly recommended to anyone who loved Dirty Harry and want to see him kick more ass and take more names.

4 out of 5 stars               A Great Dirty Harry Sequel!


  1. Just saw this recently back-to-back with Eastwood's THE GAUNTLET (another good action flick worth reviewing) and it really kicked ass, like most good action films I've seen from the early '70's.It's also a reminder that you can make a film that comments on corruption in society that also a good action film. It was funny seeing both these films after Eastwood made that off-the-wall speech at the RNC a week and a half ago---dude sounded like he had a few screws loose, but,hell, he's 82 years old! Of course, he got the crowd to say, "Make my day," only because he was asked to!

  2. Yeah Magnum Force and Gauntlet, like most of his movies that showcased how badass Clint is, are amazing. I pretty much tackled The Gauntlet right after I viewed Magnum Force, like you, and I loved every minute of it. That RNC speech was something else, almost like watching your crazy uncle bitch about politics at the dinner table, only it was on a nation stage. Still the guy is a legend and at 82 years old and after making so many iconic films, the man can do and say whatever he wants. Haha! Oh yeah, and the "Make my day" crowd response was funny as hell.

  3. Awesome review of my favorite of the Dirty Harry sequels. I had such a massive crush on Hal Holbrook when I was a teen in the 70s (yes he was old enough to be my dad, but hey I wasn't your typical teenage girl...I had his autographed photo on my wall whereas my friends preferred Donny Osmond)! Hal was just perfect as Lt. Briggs. Albert Popwell was great as the pimp but special mention must go to that hilarious car he drove - pink with the furry seats and pipes on the side.

  4. Hal Holbrook is the man! Loved his crazy role in Fletch Lives, plus his horror efforts like The Fog and Creepshow. The guys legendary and I'm glad to see that he's still putting in some stellar work. Oh and the pimp mobile in this flick.... sublime! Hahaha! Thanks for checking out the review and having impeccable taste.

  5. Great review of Dirty Harry: Magnum Force! If you love Dirty Harry you might be interested in viewing my promo videos for my screenplay Dirty Harry: End Game on youtube. It is meant to be the final sequel for the franchise. Read up on my movie pitch if you like. Maybe someday you will be reviewing it when it is made into a movie.