Magnum Force (1973 USA)

Just in case the viewer gets carried away, or the protagonists on the screen, Harry earnestly repeats throughout Magnum Force that “a man’s got to know his limitations” and “there’s nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot.” So bullets in bare breasts are acceptable, because the topless ladies in a swimming pool or nudes stoned at “$900 an ounce,” reinforce the morality: people who take off their clothes may have been asking for it. There’s also a gratuitous murder of a prostitute, climaxed with a shot of her killer’s face grinning through her spread legs. If that’s not offensive enough, in a dvd extra from the copy I have, shady-looking script writer, John Milius, suggests that Italians are not real Americans.

I wouldn’t say that Magnum Force is a disappointing film in its own right, but as a follow-up to the absolutely brilliant “Dirty Harry” I would say that it’s a disappointing sequel. The original was a fairly ground-breaking cop thriller in terms of violence, but it had great characterization, clever dialogue and genuine tension too. Magnum Force is really just about the violence. The characterization is cartoonish, the dialogue contrived…. and the moments of tension are sporadic to say the least. There’s something uncomfortable and tasteless about watching Harry coolly dispose of a couple of plane hijackers. Or a black cop being told to suck the barrel of a shotgun by a liquor store gunman who looks like a hippy folk musician. Or naked sunbathers being gunned down by a renegade machine gun-toting motorcycle cop.

     (One of the LOL moments. An economic dispute between employee and employer!)

There are some humanizing touches around Harry’s persona, although these stereotypically show him to be irresistible to women whilst friendly and caring toward his young black sidekick. So nothing new is revealed about what makes him tick, despite this softening up of his character. There is also something condescending about the treatment of these supporting characters, especially the portrayal of Callahan’s young Oriental neighbour – who, despite hardly seeing him around, seems desperate to jump into bed with him. She is so on heat its disgusting. Overall then, this first sequel to Dirty Harry feels like it’s a little padded and the climax lacks the punch of the first or third films. It also feels like they threw in some things to soften Harry’s image, (now he’s willing to work within the system, even though he knows the system is flawed) potentially to make the series more accessible to a wider audience.

Perhaps Magnum Force is trying just a bit too hard to be controversial. Eastwood seems to be on auto-pilot in this one, trading off his tough persona rather than giving a performance of any real depth and feeling. The only performances that seem to carry any acting “weight” are given by Hal Holbrook and Felton Perry. Lalo Schifrin provides a sensational ’70s score (perhaps the best thing about the film), but in most aspects the film is relatively lacklustre. Ted Post directs in a very workman-like manner, never really sensing the opportunities to make this anything more than a standard police actioner. The plot, which has a potentially explosive moral question about whether it is right or wrong to release known criminals simply because of insubstantial evidence (and whether the vigilante cop/s are right to assassinate such lowlifes without the support of the law), remains sadly under-developed.

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