Magnum Force ★★★

70s Crime Month II

So it turns out that Harry Callahan (or Calahan as it's spelled in the closing credits) didn't actually quit in disgust at the criminal justice system after he had disposed of Scorpio. Maybe he was just skipping stones.

And in a further revelation, we discover that far from being the hardcore vigilante type that we all thought he was, he's actually a bit of a bleeding heart liberal, at least when compared to a group of new recruits to the force.

What is happening here is that someone, clear a police officer, is taking the law into their own hands and seeing that justice is served when the system lets society down. The first 'victim' is a union leader who was implicated in the murder of a family but got off on a technicality, the second is a whole group of people who are enjoying a pool party when they are all gunned down, the third a pimp who murders one of his girls, and so on.

The problem from a story telling point of view is that these executions are carried out with apparent impunity, the union boss is stopped on the street in the middle of the day and he and his cronies are all shot without anyone paying any attention to the goings on. The same is true of the pool party, there's even an explosion before the machine gunning begins, and again the perpetrator is allowed to just ride off unchallenged. As for the pimp, well, he's killed before anyone's hardly had time to report the crime, let alone having had the opportunity to escape justice.

And not only so these executions come thick and fast, often without any explanation of the wrong-doer's crimes, but presumably innocent individuals also lose their lives. Or perhaps the movie is saying that if you consort with criminals you are guilty by association and automatically deserve to die.

Where then is Harry in all of this? Well he, it seems is a changed man, appalled by this vigilantism (or perhaps that someone is muscling in on his territory) and not even hinting playfully at his supposed misanthropic/racist tendencies, even though he's given a black partner this time around. He's half the man he was in Dirty Harry, trying to restore law and order, or at least reassert himself as the ultimate arbiter and declaring that he's prepared to work with the system until something better comes along.

It's an interesting idea to put him up against people who are even more reactionary than him, but it diminishes him or at least sees him diminished because here is a line which even he will not cross, but how different is that from what we already know he is capable of?

Of course all this is going to end in a showdown in which Harry asserts himself as the head honcho, in no uncertain terms and while an abandoned, stripped out aircraft carrier sounds like a good idea, just how likely is it that any and everyone would be able to walk or indeed ride onto it?

When you see John Milius' name on the credits you will think (even if you find his politics questionable) that he and Harry are a match made in heaven, but it's clear that his script was tinkered with and he was less than happy with the final product. And I agree. It's a pity we don't have the opportunity to see the film as he wrote it.

Bloody good title, though.

Paul liked this review