Magnum Force ★★★★½

JMN's Fuzzball Marathon:
Day #8 - Magnum Force (1973)

"A man's got to know his limitations."

Case report: Throughout San Francisco, criminals who have eluded prosecution are being killed by unknown assassins, leading Inspector Harry Callahan to suspect that these killers are vigilante cops.

Exhibit A: the trailer.

Arresting officers: Clint Eastwood returns as "Dirty Harry" Callahan, recently transferred from SFPD's Homicide division to Stakeout. His partner in Magnum Force is Inspector Earlington "Early" Smith, played by Felton Perry.

Verdict: After the relative disappointment of Electra Glide in Blue, it's great to see a film that plays around with the iconography of patrolmen and motor officers, while having more than one action set piece. Just saying.

Putting that aside, Magnum Force is an excellent sequel to Dirty Harry: Ted Post's direction is more than decent (though Clint Eastwood claims he "ghost directed" portions of the film with Buddy Van Horn, who later directed The Dead Pool); Lalo Schifrin's score is as fantastically funky as ever; and the script, written by John Milius and Michael Cimino (famous directors in their own right) is as hard-boiled and entertaining as you would expect. Plus, it has one of the coolest (and simplest) opening title sequences ever seen onscreen.

Exhibit B: the opening titles.

The cast of Magnum Force is equally fantastic: Eastwood is as magnetic as ever, and is allowed to make the character more charming than he was in the first Dirty Harry (Harry even has time for a love interest this time around, in the form of a sexy Asian woman called Sunny); Hal Holbrook also shines as Callahan's smug superior Lieutenant Briggs; future RoboCop supporting actor Felton Perry plays Early Smith, one of Harry's more likeable partners; Electra Glide in Blue star Mitchell Ryan makes a welcome appearance as motor officer Charlie McCoy; and a bunch of then-fresh new faces (David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, and Robert Urich) are solid as the suspicious rookie patrolmen.

The most ingenious aspect of Magnum Force's plot is the decision to pit Harry against vigilante officers, forcing Harry to defend the system he hates (a plot element that came from Terrence Malick's draft of the original film). This obviously serves to make him look more heroic, but it also illustrates how tame his actions in the first movie were by comparison. Harry may have been violating Scorpio's Miranda rights, but at least he didn't shoot him in the face.

When compared to Dirty Harry, Magnum Force does lack the intense direction of Don Siegel, and the excellent structure of the original's screenplay. Nevertheless, I feel it holds up as a worthy successor to the first film, and as a great cop movie in its own right.

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