Friday, March 3, 2023

Unclean Harry Returns

Clint Eastwood was honored last August in Summer Under the Stars, and among the movies they aired was Magnum Force. It being among the movies I hadn't posted about before, I decided to record it so I could watch and do a post on it eventually.

Magnum Force is a sequel to Dirty Harry, bring back Eastwood's character of Harry Callahan. Now, in the orignal Harry was a vigilante cop, but here he's somewhat less of a vigilante as we get to see somebody else play that part. The movie starts off with the trial of a mobster, or at least the verdict in that trial, as the mobster is found not guilty on what most people would consider a technicality. The mobster and his henchmen get to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after... except that the ever after isn't very long. Somebody acting like a traffic cop -- or perhaps it's a real traffic cop -- pulls over the car in which the men are travelling. So far, so good, except that the cop then pulls his gun and shoots everybody in ther very much dead!

Harry, being a San Francisco police detective himself, knows a thing or two about vigilante justice and acting outside of proper channels. The mobster may have been a bad guy, and a lot of people would be cheering his demise, but doing it like this is bit of a problem. Callahan investigates, to the costernation of his boss, Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook), because Harry and his partner are supposed to be on a stakeout, not investigating this crime.

Of course, it's not the only crime to have this modus operandi. A motorcycle cop -- perhaps the same one -- approaches a pool party and kills the bad guys in attendance at that party, along with some innocent people. And then, after a pimp kills one of his prostitutes in a rather shocking scene involving forcing drain cleaner down the woman's throat, another cop shoots the pimp dead. Perahaps the city has a serial killer on its hands.

It's actually rather worse than that. Harry keeps investigating, and gets the idea that there are multiple cops involved, since it seems that the pimp was killed by a patrolman instead of a motorcycle cop. This means that the police are colluding to kill people, even if again those are people that many would be happy so see dead. And these police have to have the protection of somebody higher up in the department. Investigating will definitely put Harry's life in danger.

Even if you haven't seen Dirty Harry or any of the films following Magnum Force in the series, Magnum Force holds up pretty well on its own. The movie came out at a time when America was beginning to learn that the police weren't the Dragnet-style good guys that Jack Webb would have had you believe. I'm not certain whether the movie precedes Serpico the movie, but in any case the real-life Serpico's exposé of the New York police department had already come out.

Clint Eastwood is generally good in both westerns and in action-type movies, and that holds for Magnum Force. There's a cast of young stars who would go on the slightly bigger things playing the young cops who may or may not be part of the group of vigilantes; among them are David Soul (later in Starsky and Hutch) and Robert Urich (later in Vegas). Hal Holbrook also does well, although this is definitely Eastwood's movie all the way.

Magnum Force is definitely worth watching, even if you do find it to be firmly rooted in the 1970s.

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