Following the worldwide success of Dirty Harry (1971), Clint Eastwood returned to wield his .44 Magnum - lest we forget, “the most powerful handgun in the world” - against another array of miscreants and scumbags. Except this time it seems “Dirty” Harry Callaghan has some competition. A mysterious kill squad, disguised as traffic cops, are brutally eliminating criminals across San Francisco, including a big-time racketeer, a violent pimp (Albert Popwell - who pops up in different guises throughout the Dirty Harry series), and a gangster whose pool party ends with thirty guests machine-gunned to bits. Partnered with afro-crowned rookie, Early Smith (Felton Perry) and hindered by oily boss Lieutenant Briggs (Hal Holbrook), Harry investigates and shockingly discovers these murderers may be real cops.
Arguably the best of the Dirty Harry sequels, Magnum Force carries a funky exploitation vibe that never fails to entertain. This is the one where a bisexual orgy climaxes with a naked man hurled out the window; a liquor store hold-up turns into a shooting gallery; and a sexy Japanese chick (Adele Yoshioka) asks Harry, “What’s a girl gotta do to sleep with you?” (His reply: “Just knock.”) and provides full-frontal nudity. While the high sleaze content made this a bete-noire for critics like Pauline Kael, as scripted by John Milius (who penned the iconic “Do ya feel lucky, punk?” speech in the original movie) and Michael Cimino (whom Eastwood subsequently recruited to write and direct Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (1974)) it’s a surprisingly breezy affair.
Clint’s old Hang ’em High (1967) compadre, Ted Post takes the helm this time. Post’s movies range from grindingly mundane (Good Guys Wear Black (1978), Nightkill (1980)) to surprisingly surreal (Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1969), The Baby (1973)), but while no Don Siegel, he keeps the action zipping along with unbridled energy. Amongst the exciting set-pieces: Harry’s idiosyncratic approach to recovering a hijacked passenger jet; a drugstore robbery that turns into a shooting gallery; and the climactic dockside motorcycle chase. Save for the last, most of these have little to do with the main plot, since the first 15-20 minutes of any Dirty Harry sequel are always a series of encounters where Harry either harasses or blows away some random wrongdoer. Still, they’re often the most enjoyable scenes in these movies.
While some consider the original Dirty Harry a right wing tract, it actually tapped a lot of anxieties in America at the time (specifically surrounding the Zodiac killer) and suggested people could fight against the rising tide of crime. The subtext of Magnum Force is rather more muddled, as we’re told one reckless, maverick cop is okay but four represents a fascist order. Best to overlook the message and relish the thrills, plus early roles for stars Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and David Soul. Here’s your chance to see Harry Callaghan kick Hutch’s ass!