[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]
Don Siegel he’s not, but in this sequel to Dirty Harry Ted Post has directed his first middlin’-good feature film. A Gunsmoke–Have Gun, Will Travel regular in the half-hour heyday of those series, Post has done less-than-promising work for the big screen: Hang ‘Em High, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Harrad Experiment. Someone—not necessarily Post—has been attentive to those critics of Harry who cried “Fascism!” and has programmatically set out to do a film with Clint Eastwood/Harry Callahan against some avowed fascists—or perhaps we must say superfascists since Harry himself still casually avows “There’s nothing wrong with shooting—just so the right people get shot.” And indeed, Eastwood’s own integrity as an actor and as a mythic figure remains untarnished: Magnum Force is the first non-Leone, non-Siegel, non-Eastwood picture in which he manifests some real style instead of sleepwalking into place to pose for the one-sheets.
The story idea is that a vigilante cop, perhaps a whole slew of vigilante cops, have taken it upon themselves to do the job “the courts” prevent the minions of the law from carrying out: the punishment—which is to say, the extermination—of those career felons “everybody knows” are guilty, in fact if not in the legal sense. Magnum Force lacks—or denies itself—the courage of Dirty Harry‘s convictions. In Siegel’s film we and Harry, San Francisco’s most lethally and anarchically effective police detective, were forced to concentrate on one absolutely inhuman, amoral agent of destruction, Scorpio; Siegel unleashed his full arsenal of paranoia-inducing, catharsis-demanding stylistic tactics and forced us to confront an elemental loathsomeness; and, as usual, he also scrupulously demonstrated the essential likeness, the mutual implication, of Scorpio and Harry Callahan. Magnum Force is either undecided, unserious, or sloppy—probably all three.
It takes Harry as a given (understandably enough, in a sequel) and it plays fast and loose with the idea of deserved deaths. The killer cop’s (cops’) first chief victim is introduced as he leaves the courtroom where he’s been freed on a technicality; a mob of angry citizens serve to certify that he shoulda oughta got what was coming to him. And he dies. The next instance of vigilante violence involves the messy bombing and machine-gunning of a whole swimming pool full of people; the incidental dead at the first killing were shyster lawyers and slimy gunsels, but the only evidence of society-endangering immorality in this scene is a blonde who’s just gone pneumatically topless. Then the narrative shifts entirely, we find ourselves watching a black prostitute and her pimp for some five minutes, the pimp kills the prostitute for holding out on him (she was), and shortly thereafter an angel of death on a chopper does for him. All right, what’s going on here? Just who is trying to prove just what to whom? The honest-to-gosh answer is that no one is really trying to prove anything—they’re just trying to make a thriller. And thrill it does, comparatively much more satisfactorily than most recent cop epics. Even on this level Post doesn’t make it to the finish line; the last quarter-hour features Harry in one of those hither-and-yon chases that makes little sense and can scarcely supply even un-significant excitement since Post simply fails to deliver that basic information about relative positions, distances, and trajectories. But after a season of Badge 373s and Michael Winner films, Magnum Force isn’t hard to take.
Direction: Ted Post. Screenplay: John Milius, Michael Cimino, after a story by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink. Cinematography: Frank Stanley. Music: Lalo Schifrin.
The Players: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Felton Perry, David Soul, Mitchell Ryan, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Kip Niven, Christine White, Adele Yoshioka, Suzanne Somers.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson