There’s something different in the air and there’s something different about MAGNUM FORCE in that it kind of serves as a light reprimand of DIRTY HARRY. This 1973 sequel is directed by Ted Post and features a lot of the same bits and pieces from Don Siegel’s original, which makes sense because it features a screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino. Milius handled the uncredited draft of DIRTY HARRY.
For what it’s worth, Milius wasn’t a big fan of MAGNUM FORCE and found the changes made to his screenplay “cheap and distasteful.” But this isn’t a bad outing at all, sticking Clint Eastwood back in the Harry Callahan role and taking his philosophy of justice to logical limits.
San Francisco cop Callahan (Eastwood) and his partner Early (Felton Perry) are supposed to be on stakeout duty when Harry pops by for a peek at a crime scene. A mobster’s been whacked, but something’s fishy. After clashing with that stupid Lieutenant Neil Briggs (Hal Holbrook), the cops get back to work.
But there are vigilantes on the loose and, what’s worse, they seem to be motorcycle cops. Harry is eventually dispatched to crack the case and bodies are piling up. The victims are all bad dudes in the traditional sense of it, but vigilante justice is no way to run a city. Or is it?
Limitations are the order of the day in MAGNUM FORCE, giving Harry his recurring motto about a man knowing what they are. He mostly directs it at that stupid Briggs, but you can tell he’s running up against the morality of justice himself. He crosses less lines, but he’s no less adept with the Magnum. We even get to see him in a shooting competition.
MAGNUM FORCE is less lean than DIRTY HARRY. There’s a “romantic” element that feels about as forced as you can get. A woman (Adele Yoshioka) literally shows up on Harry’s doorstep asking to go to bed with him and the insouciance of their relationship is pretty hilarious.
And much of MAGNUM FORCE walks the same path, setting a routine for Callahan. There’s a scene in which his lunch is disturbed by a crime. This time, instead of chomping a hot dog and asking a punk if he feels lucky, Harry thwarts a hijacking mid-burger. It’s a totally superfluous but entirely amusing sequence.
MAGNUM FORCE is less iconic than DIRTY HARRY, but it’s not without charm. The villains are interesting and Post’s smoother approach doesn’t downplay the San Francisco treat, especially when it comes to a pimp pouring Drano down a woman’s throat. These pieces, however unnecessary, push right up against Callahan’s limitations and force our hero to new levels of self-reflection.