Saturday, July 08, 2017
Directed by Ted Post and screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino from a story by Milius with ideas from Terrence Malick, Magnum Force is the second film in the Dirty Harry series that has Harry Callahan dealing with renegade cops who have taken the law into their own hands seeing his own ideas become distorted. The film is an exploration of vigilante justice and its fallacies as Clint Eastwood reprises his role as Dirty Harry Callahan as someone who has his own methods of justice is trying to make sure it’s done for the right reasons. Also starring Hal Holbrook, Robert Ulrich, David Soul, Mitchell Ryan, Felton Perry, and Tim Matheson. Magnum Force is a thrilling yet eerie film from Ted Post.
Following the death of a mob leader after he was acquitted for a crime he did commit, the film revolves around Harry Callahan trying to investigate these murders as he believes that it’s not in the hand of criminals but rather people in the San Francisco Police Department. Notably as they’ve taken on the idea of vigilante justice which makes Callahan uneasy though others believe the murders are in the hands of rival mobsters and such which is something Callahan doesn’t think is true. The film’s screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino doesn’t just explore this wave of vigilante justice that is causing trouble but also Callahan’s own reaction to it as some believe that he started it. Callahan doesn’t get involved in the investigation due to having to work another assignment as he takes a closer look at these killings where he finds himself having to spar with his new superior in Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook).
With his new partner Earlington “Early” Smith (Felton Perry) helping him, Callahan doesn’t just try to do his job and take down criminals but he is someone that is aware of his limitations. One of the themes in the film is limitations as the line “man’s got to know his limitations” is something Callahan would often say as it would also refer to Lt. Briggs who tries to maintain some control. The script also play into Callahan’s personal life as he does live alone while also helps out the wife of a fellow officer in Charlie McCoy (Mitchell Ryan) who is becoming unhinged through alcoholism. McCoy is initially a suspect since the script reveals that the killer is a traffic cop often riding a motorcycle but Callahan doesn’t think it’s him as he catches the eye of four new traffic cops who would compete with him in a shootout contest.
Ted Post’s direction does have some elements of style as it starts off with a sequence at San Francisco’s City Hall where a trial had just finished where he uses hand-held cameras to get through the crowd and then follow into this sequence of a mobster in his car with his attorney and two associates as they’re stopped by a traffic cop who kills them. Shot on location in San Francisco and areas nearby, Post’s direction would have him use a lot of wide shots for some of the locations but also in scenes that play into the suspense such as an attack on a pool party or a hit from a penthouse with the cops watching from a building across the street. Yet, he favors more intimate shots in close-ups and medium shots while putting in bits of style such as the low-camera angle shots or high angle shots for some scenes as it relates to the investigation.
The close-ups are a big deal for some of the violence such as the first kill and other kills as it help obscure the identity of the killers. The moments of violence are far more intense as it relate to what the killers are doing in comparison to what Callahan does when he has to deal with criminals. The third act isn’t just about the reveal of who are the vigilante cops but also their ideas of justice which doesn’t sit well with Callahan as it reveal what kind of man he is and why he will always do what is right no matter how much he can disagree with the ideas of the law. Overall, Post creates a chilling yet engaging film about a police investigator dealing with the idea of vigilante justice.
Cinematographer Frank Stanley does excellent work with the film’s colorful cinematography with the look of the daytime exterior scenes as well as the usage of low-key lights for some of the interiors in the day and night. Editor Ferris Webster does some nice work with the editing as it is quite straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for some of the suspense. Art director Jack T. Collis and set decorator John Lamphear do fantastic work with the look of the offices of the police as well as the apartment home of Callahan. The sound work of James R. Alexander is terrific for the way gunfire sounds as well as some of the intense action that is presented. The film’s music by Lalo Schifrin is amazing for its jazz-driven score that help play into the suspense as well as some of the film’s action scenes.
The casting by Nessa Hyams is superb as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Suzanne Somers as a topless pool girl killed in a massacre, Adele Yoshioka as a neighbor of Callahan who flirts with him, Richard Devon as a mob leader who is acquitted and then killed early in the film, Tony Giorgio as a mob leader who is suspected for all of the killings, Christine White as McCoy’s wife, Bob McClurg as a cab driver befriending a hooker who is later confronted by her pimp, Margaret Avery as the hooker, Albert Popwell as the pimp, John Mitchum as Callahan’s fellow inspector Frank “Fatso” DiGiorgio who would stakeout one of the mob targets who would be assassinated, and Mitchell Ryan as Callahan’s troubled traffic cop friend Charlie McCoy who is unraveling through his alcoholism as he becomes a suspect because he’s a motorcycle cop.
The quartet that consists of Kip Nevin, Robert Ulrich, Tim Matheson, and David Soul are fantastic as rookie traffic cops that intrigue Callahan as Soul’s character John Davis is the big standout as someone who is very good with a gun. Felton Perry is excellent as Callahan’s new partner Early Smith as a man who is new to the world of homicide as he is also quite resourceful in getting the job done and handle things under pressure as he is one of the few who sticks with Callahan’s views on what is really going on. Hal Holbrook is brilliant as Lt. Neil Briggs as Callahan’s new superior who tries to instill his own ideas of enforcement where he makes Callahan uneasy but is willing to listen to what Callahan is thinking about. Finally, there’s Clint Eastwood in an incredible performance as Harry Callahan as the no-nonsense investigator whose weapon is a .44 Magnum as he is aware of what is happening but also uses his instincts to know something is off as he believes that the killer or killers aren’t hitmen but rather someone in the police force as it’s Eastwood at his best.
Magnum Force is a sensational from Ted Post that features an iconic Clint Eastwood in one of his defining roles. Along with its strong ensemble cast, a gripping screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino, and top-notch action. It’s a film that explore the ideas of justice and how it can be distorted for some forcing Dirty Harry to set things right. In the end, Magnum Force is a remarkable film from Ted Post.
Dirty Harry Films: Dirty Harry - The Enforcer – Sudden Impact – The Dead Pool
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