Magnum Force (1973)
Release Date: December 25th, 1973 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ted Post Actors: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, Robert Urich, Felton Perry, Maurice Argent, Margaret Avery, Christine White, Adele Yoshioka
fter the acquittal of Mr. Carmine Ricca (Richard Devon) in the murder case of labor reformer Anthony Scarza and his family, gangs of protestors and supporters clash at the courthouse. The district attorney doesn’t seem too shocked at the outcome, though the failed prosecution was due to a technicality – not obvious innocence. As Ricca and his men drive away down the highway, a San Francisco PD motorcycle cop stops them, asks for a driver’s license and registration, then proceeds to shoot all of them, execution-style – with a magnum.
Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook) is called in to investigate, but Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) beats him to the crime scene – even though the bad-reputation detective is on loan to the stakeout squad (taken off Homicide) and has been ordered not to go anywhere near high-profile, publicly-oriented cases (it’s also never explained why Harry is still in law enforcement, considering the unforgettable events of the first film and the way in which it ended). Harry’s new partner, Early Smith (Felton Perry), isn’t too thrilled to be involved in this latest incident either – especially since Callahan has a habit of losing his partners. But it’s only a matter of time – and a number of corpses collecting at the morgue – before California’s hardest officer is asked to take the lead.
Just as in the previous film, “Magnum Force” allocates time for side missions to re-prove how formidable Harry is in every situation. He even improvises the foiling of a hijacking on a Sovereign Airways flight – with no preparation and a harebrained scheme that is so reckless, it should have gotten someone killed. But, of course, it doesn’t. And he goes to a shooting range to show off his skills, alongside former Airborne Rangers Special Forces members, who add to the pool of suspects that might be behind the steadily increasing string of vigilante killings in the city. On top of that, Harry deals with a suicidal old friend (Mitchell Ryan) and his horny wife (Christine White), as well as a grocery store holdup. And this all takes place before he’s recruited to help out with the serial killer slayings at the heart of the plot.
Even though the screenplay was penned by John Milius and Michael Cimino, two very prolific filmmakers, it’s evident that they didn’t quite know what to do with the tough-as-nails cop, made into a household name just two years prior. They’ve written in a sex scene for Callahan, police procedural routines, smatterings of graphic violence, and condescending superiors making all the wrong decisions. But the roundabout manner in which Callahan must eventually identify and stop the culprit simply moves too slowly. The time isn’t spent building characters or delving into the steely-eyed enforcer’s past, but reiterating his hardiness and giving him busywork to either resemble a cop or provide a touch of comic relief.
With a villain who remains a mystery for the majority of the picture, victims who deserve to die, and inconsequential supporting characters, there’s little suspense or concern; the whole film feels like one long stakeout. It’s particularly ironic that a pair of detectives would have the following exchange: “Damn, I wish something would happen.” “Take it easy – that’s what stakeouts are all about.” Toward the conclusion, Harry does get to do some clever sleuthing and symbolic shooting, but it’s too late – a strong penultimate shootout/stunt sequence can’t redeem the drawn-out, dawdling start.
– Mike Massie