Director: Ted Post
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Felton Perry, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Mitchell Ryan
Plot: A traffic cop starts going around San Francisco exacting his own brand of justice, forcing Dirty Harry (Eastwood) to go out of his jurisdiction to bring him down.
Dirty Harry was always going to be getting a sequel. Out of all of the old-fashioned cop flicks, this is one of the most powerful. Lethal Weapon might be a bigger crowd-pleaser, but when it comes to atmosphere and a lead character, you could do no better than Harry Callahan. Magnum Force is the first in a long line of sequels to follow the character. Sadly, it is lacking that punch and cult status that the first movie managed. This is mainly down to a lack of finesse that the last director, Don Siegel, had. A few moments in and you do miss the precise and magnificent framing of Siegel’s cinematography. It must also be said that there are a lack of cult moments in Magnum Force. There is nothing as memorable as the ‘Do you feel luck, punk?’ speech, in this or any of the sequels. In fact, it is hard to escape the fact that Magnum Force does the job of being yet another cop movie in the 70s but little else. It even seems to be following a checklist of things you have to do in a cop movie. Grumpy police inspector, black pimp sub-villain, a shoot-out in the docks… Magnum Force does come across as a movie that has run out of ideas, not promising for the first sequel of a long line of many.
But what Ted Post does understand is tone. This is still a Dirty Harry movie and a bloody good one at that. Clint Eastwood doesn’t miss a beat, as the stoic lead hero. It is an under-stated performance, Post asking Eastwood to play it straight-faced, even when a major twist is dropped or a beloved character bites the dust. However, there are finer sides to the role, like Eastwood looking out for the family of an ageing and mentally unstable cop. The writers also have an interesting story up their sleeve for Callahan to take on. The central theme of the first movie was that Harry was being pushed out of the police force, because his idea of being a cop was becoming out-dated. The system was holding him back from doing his job properly. Magnum Force’s main debate follows on from that – the villains this time are police officers who follow Harry’s code. They spend their free time, tracking down the nasty criminals who escaped the system and murdering them in cold blood. As Harry tracks them down, you cannot help but draw comparisons between the bad guy’s tactics and how Harry took out Scorpio in the last movie. Where is the line drawn and is there a correct way of doing it? The movie touches upon this theme, but for the most part, the story works as a slow-burning mystery thriller that ticks away in the background, biding time for the impressive finale in an abandoned boat. Post squeezes in a cat-and-mouse gun fight, a car chase and a dangerous motorcycle battle between Eastwood and the last man standing. It makes for a good watch and means that when it comes to entertainment, you can do a lot worse than good old Dirty Harry.
Final Verdict: A bit more routine than last time, but Ted Post makes up for it with style and atmosphere. Eastwood is still the master of the cop genre.