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By Brad Laidman | January 3, 2001

“I didn’t shoot at anyone who didn’t start shooting at me first.”
Man, there must have been a ton of crime in San Francisco in the ’70s. This is a movie that anticipated the narrowing of the attention span. Forget for a moment that there are four traffic cops blowing away every mob boss and pink Cadillac-driving pimp in town. Harry Callahan even blows away a couple of airplane hijackers here over lunch, while never once pausing a moment to set down his hamburger. How can you resist a movie that doesn’t stop at naked female shooting victims, but hurls some them out of penthouse windows for your amusement?
“Magnum Force” does a reasonably interesting job of fleshing out Inspector Harry Callahan. How right-wing is our favorite magnum carrying Constitutionally disgusted police officer? The four traffic cops in Magnum Force probably watched Dirty Harry a hundred times. They most likely have the whole movie memorized and not just the “do you feel lucky punk?” scene like everybody else. You’d think Harry would be thrilled to have some compadres? Indeed, the first time Harry sees the quartet taking late night shooting practice he seems ten times more turned on than he is when a hot Asian neighbor stows away naked in his bed and introduces him to the wonders of the free love era. He even acknowledges that if the four are gay, he’d trade the whole force for a whole batch of men just like them.
So why isn’t Harry happy when he finds out that the four rookies have formed their own vigilante death squad? Why does he tell the boys that they have misjudged him? Near as I can tell, the reason he doesn’t join up with the boys is as follows.
[ 1) Harry works alone. ] Sure he has his minority partners that seem to always die or get hurt, but Harry seems to believe that he’s the only guy who can be trusted to blow away criminals without their Miranda rights.
[ 2) Harry can’t stand their leader, Hal Holbrook. ] Holbrook’s Briggs is always on Callahan’s a*s. This makes sense to us because that’s what Harry’s boss is supposed to do, but who knew that he was bumping off criminals with some young Air Force Ranger types in his spare time. Why didn’t he start by recruiting Harry instead of continually biting at his tail? “Magnum Force” doesn’t really have time to deal with that.
[ 3) They killed one of his cop buddies. ] Sure, the guy was so wacked that even Harry thought he was dangerous, but as far as we know he was an innocent. Harry doesn’t like it when you kill his friends.
This is a wonderful, action-crammed gritty bit of nonsense. In “Superman II,” Christopher Reeve had to fight three villains with powers equivalent to his own. Here Clint Eastwood goes up against four Junior Harrys and a Lieutenant before everything is said and done. Unfortunately, Harry never really is forced to question his own motives. He has some innate notion that vigilante death squads are wrong and as a result that seems to mean that while he will go out of his jurisdiction to harass a mobster, he for some reason doesn’t approve of just walking up to them and blowing them away. I guess it’s just not sporting.
Personally, I would have loved to see this movie get out there and really go for it. Have Harry join the junior quartet. Have the whole frustrated police force go Doctor Doom and attempt to take over the city. Let’s really test the system and see what happens. “Magnum Force” tries to embarrass fans of Dirty Harry by showing them the logical extension of their hero, but it doesn’t have the guts to take down Harry with them.
Oh well.
I have always been of the belief that the best way to get things done would be to have some benevolent dictator running things. The problem is always finding the right sage magician for the job. Harry Callahan probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but he sure is entertaining when he shoots people. You have to like a guy who’s willing to keep working during his lunch break.

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