Magnum Force (1973) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, nudity, sexuality and language
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Felton Perry, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Mitch Ryan, Kip Niven, Robert Urich, Suzanne Somers (cameo)
Director: Ted Post
Screenplay: John Milius, Michael Cimino
Review published August 22, 2006
As long as you aren't expecting this follow-up to Dirty Harry to live up to the style, influence, and thematic resonance of its predecessor, Magnum Force delivers the goods to action movie junkies, as well as Eastwood's myriad of fans. In a backlash to the several critics that maligned Harry Callahan as a fascist, the writers, John Milius and Michael Cimino, offer up what it would be like to have a real fascist cop on the force, and what Callahan's reaction would be to police that regularly crossed the line in his pursuit of the criminals. Harry doesn't like it.
The premise of Magnum Force is that criminals that have been able to beat the legal system are being murdered for reasons that are initially unknown. In all cases, no witnesses are present. While the cops are stymied by the lack of concrete evidence in the case, San Francisco homicide detective Harry Callahan (Eastwood, Joe Kidd) begins to suspect that the culprit is one of their own, perhaps a renegade traffic cop exacting his own brand of vigilante justice.
Those that have already seen Magnum Force will recognize that my plotline above isn't altogether complete, but since Magnum Force plays out as a mystery of sorts, I feel I shouldn't spoil the film for those unaware. Not that it's very hard to figure it out, but there are still a few surprises along the way for the uninitiated to the Dirty Harry series.
It's hard to watch Magnum Force right after seeing Dirty Harry without thinking that a good part of what made that first film so cool is mostly missing here. The gritty cinematography, the keen sense of style, and seeing "Dirty" Harry kicking ass -- they're mostly absent here. However, once you get past the fact that Ted Post, who directed Eastwood in the spaghetti Western wanna-be Hang Em High, has chosen to mostly ignore the first film's visual appearance, it's easy to enjoy Magnum Force as a straight-forward action vehicle, with a tongue-in-cheek premise of the dirtiest cop on the force coming to terms with his own feelings as far as seeing known criminals get away with murder. Reportedly, Eastwood played a major hand in directing several scenes in the film, although not credited.
Magnum Force sports impressive writing credits with the screenplay by John Milius (Apocalypse now, Conan the Barbarian) and Michael Cimino (Silent Running, The Deer Hunter), both of whom do a solid job in giving us an interesting twist to the Dirty Harry saga, while fleshing out his character and making him a bit easier to understand in the process. Along with the funkified score by Lalo Schifrin, as well as Eastwood's formidable presence, there are enough talented people around to ensure that, even if Don Siegel is out as director, an efficient, competent movie would still be made.
Perhaps the only legitimate gripe I can make about Magnum Force is its excessive length. It's not that a police action vehicle should never be 124 minutes, it's just that this particular one is sometimes drawn out a bit too long in certain respects, including several scenes that don't really add much to the core story (such as Harry's tryst with his downstairs neighbor), while the climactic finale could have been trimmed and come away more exciting. I think that, even with the extra padding, it works, but a good 124-minute thriller could have been a fantastic 105-minute one with some shrewder editing.
No, it isn't as good as Dirty Harry, but this sequel is still exciting, entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking, only really missing Siegel's inspired eye for the look of San Francisco and his solid approach to adding momentum and energy to make this on par with its predecessor. However, Harry's still Harry, Clint is still Clint, and the bad guy brutal kill count exceedingly high -- what action fan couldn't love that?
-- Followed in the series by The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool.
©2006 Vince Leo