April 22, 2010

Magnum Force (1973)

I HAVE A SOFT SPOT for Magnum Force. It was one of, if not the first, R-rated movies my dad let my brother and I watch on HBO as kids.

Of course, based on the circumstances (I’m a kid watching a violent R-rated film), I thought the movie was awesome. Still, I recently wondered: If I revisited Magnum Force 30 years later, would it still be as awesome as I remembered it?

In this second installment of the Dirty Harry series, San Francisco police inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must bring down a group of young vigilante cops (led by a pre-Starsky and Hutch David Soul) who are gunning down criminals that the justice system can’t put away.


Some critics have said that Ted Post directs Magnum Force much like many of the TV shows he’s helmed – that the film feels like it was made the small screen. Frankly, I don’t see it. Sure, it’s a cop drama, and cop shows were plentiful in the ‘70s when Magnum Force was made, but the similarity ends there. And there’s simply no way a movie this violent could ever be made for TV. (Ever catch the edited version of Magnum Force on AMC or Pax? I rest my case.)

Regarding the violence: 30 people are killed in Magnum Force, the highest body count of any of the five Dirty Harry films. In fact, there’s so much gun violence, bloodshed, and nudity that at times the film feels like an exploitation flick with a budget, rather than a mainstream Hollywood film. But that’s not to say Magnum Force isn’t fun to watch; it’s as entertaining as it is gratuitous.

Eastwood doesn’t really bring anything new to the Callahan character (which is fine), though he is given a love interest (Adele Yoshioka) and forced to work with a new partner (Felton Perry) while trying to figure out who’s bumping off the bad guys. However, it’s interesting to see Eastwood balance the dichotomy of Callahan: a lone-wolf misanthrope who makes his own rules in the name of justice, but draws the line at becoming a vigilante.

That being said, it can be easy to get behind the young cops who are carrying out the killings. There’s no doubt the criminals they’re targeting are, essentially, scum: Drug dealers, mob hitmen, pimps…but when these vengeful boys in blue start turning their slanted form of righteousness on their fellow officers, it’s just as easy to ask, “Where does it end?”

A couple cons: At 124 minutes, the film’s a bit long for a Dirty Harry action flick – it probably could’ve been cut by 15 minutes if sequences of Callahan walking and long shots of cars driving were trimmed. And the great Hal Holbrook is a bit underused as Callahan’s clichéd, by-the-numbers lieutenant.

All in all, Magnum Force is good, trashy fun (though not quite trashy enough for Trashterpiece Theatre). It was definitely worthwhile revisiting it.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Even though I got to see Magnum Force as a kid (hey, it was the ‘70s), I would have to say “uh-uh” for kids today: adult language, drug use, male and female nudity (including a cameo of a topless Suzanne Somers), scores of bloody shootings, a shot woman falls to her death from a penthouse, and a pimp kills one of his hookers by pouring Drano down her throat.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many female fans of the Dirty Harry series, let alone this overly violent entry. Save Magnum Force for when everybody else in your house is away or asleep.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy…especially on my eyes.

Magnum Force
* Director: Ted Post
* Screenwriters: John Milius, Michael Cimino
* Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Felton Perry, Mitchell Ryan, Adele Yoshioka, Albert Popwell
* MPAA Rating: R (adult language, graphic violence, nudity, drug use)

Buy Magnum Force from Half.com (DVD) >>
Buy Dirty Harry/Magnum Force from Half.com (Blu-ray) >>

Rent Magnum Force from Netflix >>


Jeff Allard said...

This is one of my all-time favorites - definitely the best of the Dirty Harry sequels, in my opinion!

Magnum Force Movie said...

Whenever I compared the film "Magnum Force" with "Dirty Harry". I sometimes wonder if "Magnum Force" is a better movie than "Dirty Harry." What do you think about both movies ??


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