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That's three salty-lookin' dudes...
on 30 December 2008
With a posse of maverick traffic cops dishing out vigilante justice on the streets of San Francisco, Inspector Harry Callahan, previously not adverse to the `direct' approach, is transferred from a stakeout squad back to the Homicide division, and sets about tracking down those responsible...
Obviously conceived as a purely commercial proposition, designed to capitalise on the box-office success of the original Dirty Harry (1971), the first sequel to Don Siegel's seminal crime flick, 1973's Magnum Force, is less a plain follow-up, and more of a deconstruction and comment on both the character of .44 Magnum-packing super-cop Harry Callahan, and the perceived `fascist' attitude of the original movie. However, this doesn't alter the unfortunate fact that as an action thriller, the film is a curiously muddled and flabby affair.
With the original movie accused of `fascism' by many critics, Eastwood and his collaborators (most notably screenwriters John Milius and Michael Cimino) here set out to show the naysayers exactly what true vigilante justice is all about, and how the character of Harry Callahan could not be tarred with the same brush as the killers. Unfortunately, to do this, the filmmakers have had to `soften' the character of Callahan to such an extent that he is clearly not the same granite-faced, borderline psychopath of the first film. Working far more easily with his new black partner than he managed with the Mexican one the first time around, sufficiently recovered from the death of his wife to engage in casual sex with a female neighbour (an Asian one, at that), and enjoying a cosy dinner with the family of a co-worker, Callahan is a much less anti-social being, and a more recognisably `normal' cop. The various action scenes, too, show a much less ambivalent attitude towards Callahan's crime-fighting methods; whereas in the first film, his disturbingly sadistic `I know what you're thinking...' speech had more liberal viewers squirming in their seats, here he takes no such perverse pleasure in punishing wrong-doers. Of course, it doesn't help that the opening plane hi-jack sequence is a pale shadow of the bank robbery scene that kicked off the first film; it's a hopelessly contrived, semi-comic vignette that makes Callahan out to be a reckless cowboy who unhesitatingly opens fire on a villain in a plane packed with innocent civilians, and it's also unnecessary padding in a film that runs a swollen 124 minutes.
However, despite the somewhat mediocre direction by Ted Post (no Siegel, that's for sure) and unfocused editing (a full hour has passed before Harry even starts investigating the murders), the film is still the best of the Dirty Harry sequels by a considerable distance. Many writers have asked exactly why Callahan is back on the job after chucking his badge away at the end of the first movie, as we are given no clue; but does it matter? Nobody ever asks why 'Popeye' Doyle is still after Charnier in French Connection II, despite the caption at the end of the first film telling us he was `transferred out of narcotics and reassigned'.
True, the plot doesn't always make a great deal of sense (if the Albert Popwell character is `just a pimp' as the Chief of Detectives says, then why did the vigilantes even bother wiping him out? Everyone else they execute are big-league organised crime figures), but it's a decent 1970s cop movie; with a more focused director than Post, it could have equalled the original. And is that an unbilled James Woods as the getaway driver in the convenience store hold-up scene?