Third in the Dirty Harry series, by which stage the movies were coming close to self-parody. We open on a scantily-clad cutie (Jocelyn Jones) in tight hot-pants who lures two gas company men to isolated spot. They’re promptly murdered by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeran Bookwalter), leader of the so-called People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, who use the gas men’s uniforms and vehicles in a violent heist. Meanwhile, as in every Dirty Harry movie, the first fifteen minutes are a series of random encounters wherein Inspector Harry Callaghan (Clint Eastwood) seemingly wanders the crime-infested streets of San Francisco, looking for scumbags to kick in or blow their asses to kingdom come with his .44 Magnum (lest you forget, punk: “the most powerful handgun in the world”).
After Harry and his partner (uh-oh!) Frank DiGeorgio (Harry Guardino) - returning from the first two movies - intervene in a liquor store robbery with predictably bullet-strewn results, Callaghan is reprimanded for “excessive use of force” and temporarily reassigned from the Homicide Unit to Personnel. “Personnel is for assholes”, growls Harry. Whereupon his superior, Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman, who plays a differently named yet virtually identical role in Sudden Impact (1983)) declares he worked in personnel for several years. Oops. Harry subsequently aids in interviewing new inspectors for the Homicide Unit and is less than impressed they include Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), one of three women taking new positions despite having no experience in homicide, no arrests or involvement in violent situations. To his surprise - if not ours - Kate becomes Harry’s new partner (uh-oh!) after DiGeorgio is murdered (told you so!) while intervening in the PRSF’s theft from a U.S. Army storage facility. Hell bent on foiling these militants, Harry and Kate embark on a series of violent episodes climaxing with the kidnapping of the Mayor (John Crawford) and an explosive finale at Alcatraz Island.
As directed by James Fargo, The Enforcer could pass for an especially violent episode of Kojak or The Streets of San Francisco. While watching Clint do his thing retains its thrill-factor, the action is distinctly by-the-numbers. Where Don Siegel’s original Dirty Harry (1971) was partly a reaction to the activities of the Zodiac Killer and Magnum Force (1973) tackled vigilantism, The Enforcer tries to retain this topicality by referencing the wave of militant groups that sprang up during the Seventies, including the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army responsible for the kidnap of heiress Patty Hearst. Yet it clearly has no idea how to explore these facets. Bookwalter’s terrorist leader is just another gurning psycho. Jocelyn Jones’ leggy sidekick is far from complicated, merely an illustration of that strange way movies like this and the Death Wish (1974) series are simultaneously sexually aroused and repulsed by transgressive figures. If you want to get Freudian about it there’s all that phallic weaponry going bang with sexy ladies dying sudden deaths, but maybe that’s going too far.
As if acknowledging the urban terrorist angle isn’t up to much, screenwriters Sterling Silliphant (who penned the equally muddled The Eiger Sanction (1975) for Eastwood) and Dean Reisner add a subplot involving Harry’s first female partner, with Tyne Daly doing a dry-run for her stint on Cagney & Lacey. Daly engages in the role, but all her character does is remind you how long ago the Seventies were. Kate Moore merely confirms Harry’s worst suspicions, rather than challenging them, belittled and humiliated in a way that now seems wholly unfair. At one point she is literally cornered by a group of angry African-American revolutionaries (led by Albert Popwell, who plays a different role in every Dirty Harry movie save The Dead Pool (1988)), before Harry hauls her to safety - something he does too frequently for it to suggest anything other than that the filmmakers are making a sexist point. Kate comes good in the end of course, shortly before a downbeat finale that was beginning to seem pretty rote.
All of which makes The Enforcer (not to be confused with the superb Humphrey Bogart thriller from 1951, which Eastwood claimed inspired the title-change from Moving Target) sound like a chore to sit through. It isn’t. Star power, sly humour and a winning chemistry between Eastwood and Daly put up a valiant fight against the lazy script, but though this was the series’ biggest earner in the Seventies, it remains the weakest. Music by Jerry Fielding, making this the only Dirty Harry movie Lalo Schifrin did not score.