Magnum Force (1973)

What's the opposite of magnum…

by Adam Miller


I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but there are fans and critics alike who consider MAGNUM FORCE to be the best of the DIRTY HARRY film series. I haven’t seen every film in the series and won’t venture to say what the best is, but let it suffice that if the best is MAGNUM FORCE then “best” a very relative term.

MAGNUM FORCE is arguably a response to critics of the original film, DIRTY HARRY, who called Clint Eastwood’s character “fascist” in his use of firepower to enforce justice when the legal system failed to keep a serial killer behind bars. MAGNUM FORCE essentially says: If you think Harry Callahan is fascist, check out the bad guys in this film! The bad guys referred to are a band of traffic cops who execute a seemingly boundless number of mob bosses in San Francisco using magnums. I take the title of the movie to thus refer to the police officers… they’re not the police force, they’re the “magnum” force… get it? Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Much of the film plays out as a mystery as to just who these vigilantes are. Meanwhile, mob bosses and their naked, busty girlfriends are getting shot in scene after scene of titillation violence. And what’s Harry doing all this time? Well, for one completely random scene he’s getting a sandwich at an airport diner when there just happens to be a plane hijacking. Harry saunters over to the scene and takes care of business, magnum style. The scene exists, I guess, only to inform viewers who hadn’t seen the first DIRTY HARRY film just how badass Harry is. For the rest of us… huh?

It’s not the film’s only peculiarity. There’s also the random seduction of Harry by his Asian neighbor who bluntly asks: “What does a girl have to do to get in bed with you?” To which Harry replies: “Knock on the door?” To be sure, the film distinguishes itself from James Bond but it just feels awkward.

What I found most amusing (SPOILER WARNING) is the role of Lieutenant Briggs. The film works early to establish a Clouseau-Dreyfus relationship between Harry and Briggs. In the aforementioned plane jacking scene Briggs gets a phone call informing him Harry is on the scene taking care of business. We cut to Briggs randomly driving a car and shouting “CALLAHAN!” into his radio. Hilarious! But the cliché relationship is turned on its head once it’s revealed that Briggs is actually the ringleader of the vigilante cops. So not only is he an asshole boss, he’s an actual asshole! Yikes! Of course, what makes less sense is the fact that Briggs wouldn’t want to recruit Harry—a known vigilante cop—into his group of cop vigilantes, but whatever…

MAGNUM FORCE is a silly film that wishes it were a response to the early critics of DIRTY HARRY, but instead provides only more material ripe for filmic, if not ideological, nitpicking.

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