Having suffered the cloying sweetness of ‘The Holiday’, I was in the mood for something a little different and today’s LoveFilm delivery ‘Magnum Force’ certainly fitted the bill on that score. The sequel to Don Siegel’s excellent ‘Dirty Harry’ this film makes it clear that the old adage of ‘why change a winning formula’ was at the forefront of the minds of everyone involved. The entire opening credits are played out over a close-up of a Magnum .44 and close with the gun pointing towards the screen and Harry’s iconic “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech from the first film is replayed to get the audience in the mood. Already you’re aware that there’s not intended to be a lot of subtlety over the following couple of hours. They may as well have put up a banner reading “turn off your brains and enjoy the action”. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but what made the original so compelling was the playing with the audience’s preconceptions and expectations- the movie’s intelligence, if you will. The lowering of the audience’s expectations is a little disheartening. Director Ted Post is no Don Siegel and knows it, he doesn’t even try.
Incidentally, the “do you feel lucky, punk?” speech was made after Harry was interrupted while eating a hot-dog from a stand opposite a bank to deal with an armed robbery that occurred across the road. About three scenes into Magnum Force Harry is interrupted from eating a burger from a stand in an airport (for no plausible reason) to deal with a plane hijacking happening in that terminal. My advice is that if you ever see Clint eating fast-food in public, get the hell away from him.
Okay, so the movie opens with a Union leader being found not guilty of a felony due to the ‘lack of admissible evidence’. This is shorthand for he’s guilty AND corrupt. His car is pulled over by a motorcycle cop- whose face isn’t shown- and the Union boss, his lawyer, his driver and his bodyguard are all shot dead at the roadside. The next victims of the (still unmasked) vigilante cop are a swimming pool full of party guests- who he throws a bomb at and then shoots before the bomb explodes- and a pimp who appears to have stepped straight off the set of ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka‘. By the way, at the editing stage they appear to have completely cut out the storyline that explains who the people at the party were. Let’s assume they were gangsters.
At this point Harry and his new partner are recalled to the case. Within about thirty seconds, he’s figured out that it was a traffic cop doing the killings. His rationale is that two of the killings were done through the opened window of a parked car from point blank range and that the victims (who would hardly be the types to not pull a gun quickly in most circumstances) had their driving licences out. No-one else in the SFPD had figured this out- they should all be demoted. When we next see the vigilante in action again he revealed as ‘Silver Lady’ crooner David ‘Hutch’ Soul one of four rookie cops who are all about as good with a weapon as seven-time consecutive police marksman champion Dirty Harry. Imagine that!
I have a theory about Harry Callaghan. Coming three years after Peter Yates’ groundbreaking ‘Bullitt’, ‘Dirty Harry’ can be seen as an extension of the earlier film. Where Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt was a good San Francisco cop who was tough and uncompromising, Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan is the same but of a more extreme nature. Bullitt was driven by the desire to catch the bad guys but had a stable and happy relationship. Callaghan is newly-bereaved, his methods questionable- torturing a suspect to find the location of a kidnapped girl- and his motivation (at least in the first movie) unclear. In ‘Magnum Force’, the vigilante cops confront Harry once he’d deduced it was them (not that they could have known he had) and say “you’re either for or against us”. He makes it clear he’s no vigilante- and so the ambiguity of the first film is sacrificed to a straight good guy/bad guys battle. A real shame.
From here on in, it’s formulaic. Harry’s partner is killed (you’d be safer drumming for Spinal Tap than partnering Harry), then the cops and their leader- Harry’s corrupt boss (Hal Holbrook)- are brought to justice, that is to say, killed one-by-one by Harry. The last one is left floating away just like Scorpio was too.
It is fitting, then, that Lalo Schifrin contributes a dull and unimaginative version of his ‘Dirty Harry’ score to this dull and unimaginative version of ‘Dirty Harry’. Being a competent, formulaic cop sequel is one thing, but cheapening the magnificent original rather than even attempting to outdo it is awful. That turns a 5/10 film into a 2/10 film.
I’ve spent four hours of my day watching Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in crap movies. I should’ve watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and treated myself to an extra hour in bed! Pah!