Movie review: ‘Magnum Force’

Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” debuted to the delight of his fans and the law-and-order crowd but it took a generation for it to be recognized as having been seminal in the world of cinema. “Dirty Harry’s” sequel is “Magnum Force” and it is almost as good as the original and certainly better than the other three that followed. “Magnum Force” turns introspective about too much of a police state and is in some ways as relevant today as it was the day of its release.

‘Magnum Force’
(1973; 124 minutes; rated R; directed by Ted Post and starring Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook and Mitchell Ryan)

‘DIRTY HARRY’ DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE IN FAVOR OF COPS

Clint Eastwood rolled right along after his hit “Dirty Harry” in 1971 with two westerns in the next two years (“Joe Kidd” – click here for my review – and “High Plains Drifter”) and at then at the end of 1973 he came out with the “Dirty Harry” sequel “Magnum Force” with what would become his customary Christmas Day opening.

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It would be one of the top grossing films of the year and “Magnum Force” is nearly the equal of the original – and that’s saying something when the benchmark is set as high as with “Dirty Harry.” The rest of the “Dirty Harry” franchise isn’t as good as the first two, but they’re still better than most.

In “Magnum Force,” Eastwood reprises his role as “’Dirty’ Harry Callahan,” who is off the homicide squad at the beginning because of an ongoing feud with his by-the-book, straight-laced boss Hal Holbrook, who plays “Lt. Neil Briggs.” He’s soon back on because someone’s killing criminals across San Francisco and no one can figure it out and the victims are tough guys from the top of the mob right down to street pimps.

Of course Eastwood soon comes across the real answer: it’s a cop bent on revenge against the criminals destroying society. However, he first believes it’s a friend of his (Mitchell Ryan playing “Patrolman Charles ‘Charlie’ McCoy”) but comes to find it’s a band of rookie motorcycle cops led by a shadowy command-level officer. He then has to take care of things himself.

Eastwood remains Eastwood here: stoic, heroic and with little patience for the brass and regulations. It’s Eastwood at his best since he’s doing what comes natural. My favorite Eastwood film is “Kelly’s Heroes” (click here for my review) and not far behind is “Where Eagles Dare” (click here for my review) and my final favorite Eastwood flick and his best western is “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (click here for my review).

However, Eastwood’s iconic character also evolves when you see him have a relationship (the casting of an Asian woman for this role came from fan letters sent to Eastwood by Asian women, according to IMDb.com), struggle with helping Ryan who’s dealing with his own demons and finally an expansion of his personal philosophy about police work and society (yes, “Dirty Harry” has a philosophy).

Holbrook as “Briggs” is actually the big bad guy here and controls the killer cops. He does a good role with his accent making his snide or commanding comments even more effective and he’s very good in the showdown talk with Eastwood. Holbrook’s career doesn’t have one style of character since he’s been on everything from TV’s “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade” to films such as “Wall Street.” He had two TV appearances in 2013 and voiced a character in a Disney animation effort this year. He’s 89 and will turn 90 in February.

Ryan’s “Charlie McCoy” is a cop having come apart and is falling deeper and deeper into despair and angry frustration. He’s lost his family and ultimately dies at the hands of one of the bad cops. Ryan’s short screen time is punctuated with high-tension and his frustration oozes out of him like smoke of dry ice. A good job here and he’s also been in “Lethal Weapon” and my second-favorite of his (after “Magnum Force”): “Grosse Point Blank” with John Cusack and Minnie Driver (click here for my review).

The four young motorcycle officers who are the new-wave crime busters are very good and early in their careers. They are:

  • David Soul, who plays “Officer John Davis,” is the cold, cool sharpshooter who bests Eastwood on the gun range (but there’s a reason for this – Eastwood wants a slug from Soul’s gun for comparison to the killer’s). Soul does good work here and he’s also been on TV’s “Starsky and Hutch” as well as the very scary TV movie “Salem’s Lot” about vampires.
  • Tim Matheson plays “Officer Phillip Sweet” and is the one “sacrificed” in a raid on mobsters. Matheson, who would make his mark five years later as “Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton” in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” does a good, purposeful job here. His worst role came in a stinker of a film called “Up the Creek” (click here for my review) but one of his most fun after “Animal House” was in “A Very Brady Sequel.”
  • Robert Urich plays “Officer Michael Grimes” and, like his fellow supporting actors, does a solid job but nothing really remarkable. Urich was also in TV’s “Vega$” as well as a career mostly on TV (including “The Love Boat”) and a most wonderful turn in the little-remembered (but exceptionally great) “Turk 182!
  • Kip Niven plays “Officer Red Astrachan” and is the least noticed of all the bad guys. It’s difficult to get a handle on his ability here because his is the smallest of a group of small roles. Niven (no, not related to David Niven) is best known for his role on TV’s “Alice” and has also been mostly on TV but in films, too, such as “Damnation Alley.”

In addition to the evolution of the main character, “Magnum Force” is also interesting because at the time “Dirty Harry” had energized the law-and-order set with a cop brutally combating crime. Here, Eastwood takes on the bad guys as well as the good guys convinced they’re doing right by doing bad things – namely murder. He has a great showdown talk with the young guys in the parking garage of his apartment building (during filming, according to IMDb.com, as the cyclists pulled out they each crashed in turn outside of camera range and Eastwood didn’t even blink).

The film also has nice conventional action and those scenes are punctuated with drama instead of special effects, especially in the aircraft carrier scene at the end where two of the bad guys search for Eastwood.

Magnum Force” was the sixth ranked film at the U.S. box office for films from 1973 (it was released on Dec. 25 of that year and part of the total came from sales in 1974) with $39.6 million in ticket sales, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “The Sting” with $156 million.

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Suzanne Somers appears uncredited here as “pool girl.” It’s one of if not the earliest nude scenes by Somers as she takes off her top in the pool. “Magnum Force” is her first film after being the blonde in the T-Bird in “American Graffiti.” She was also on a variety of TV shows and is most famous as “Chrissy Snow” on TV’s “Three’s Company.”
  • Albert Popwell, who plays the pimp killed by one of the cops, has been both a good guy and bad guy in “Dirty Harry” flicks. He was in all the “Dirty Harry” movies except “The Dead Pool” and has also been in “The Buddy Holly Story” as a record company executive.
  • Felton Perry plays Eastwood’s partner, “Det. Early Smith,” and is solid as he just follows in his partner’s wake. His is a doomed character (as are many here) and he’s also been in “Dumb and Dumber” and “RoboCop.”
  • Blink and you’ll miss Carl Weathers here as he’s in a crowd scene as a “demonstrator.” Weathers would get much bigger parts, of course, in the “Rocky” franchise as well as “Predator” (click here for my review) with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus he was “Chubbs” in Adam Sandler’s hysterial “Happy Gilmore” (click here for my review).
  • Magnum Force” has the highest body count of any of the “Dirty Harry” films with 30 racked up.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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