MAGNUM FORCE showed that Det.Harry Callahan’s tossing away of his badge in 1971 at the end of Dirty Harry was just momentary pique: he knew there would come another time to ask a punk “one question“. That he’d have help asking it in 1973 from a squad of motorcycle cops whose dedication left San Francisco with more casualties than the 1906 earthquake would make it bloodily clear that “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Someone is cutting Bay Area lawyers out of a lot of over-billing: the homicide rate zooms when gangsters, drug dealers and the stray pimp develop sudden lead poisoning in broad daylight. Veteran inspector, crack shot and ace insult spewer Callahan (Clint Eastwood) knows something’s odd, and tells acerbic ‘Lt.Briggs’ (Hal Holbook) he thinks the hood-culling spree is the work of veteran officer ‘Charlie McCoy’ (Mitch Ryan), who appears to be cracking up. Meanwhile, as Harry and his partner (Felton Perry) engage in their own gunfights with scumbags, he’s impressed with the shooting skills of four new men in the department. Since they’re young, clean-cut and friendly, alarm bells should be ringing. *
Blunt and brutal, functional but not nearly as stylish as the first movie, it’s action-packed and effective, crude and mean, exciting and overdone; the story and script toying with audience manipulation over how far law enforcement should be allowed to go in dealing with society’s worst criminals. After allowing Harry to blow away several creeps with justification (including a few trying to hijack a plane: a needless sequence) it then grants him the relative ethical high ground when confronted with extent of the cold-blooded organized vigilantism that stirs the plot. Gun-fancier John Milius came up with the story and partial script, then Michael Cimino pitched in on the screenplay, as did director Ted Post. Your search for sensitivity ends with the opening credits.
Critics gave it a hard time; big surprise. The public made it the year’s 9th most popular movie, shelling out at least $44,200,000. **
BRIGGS: “Suppose they panic and start shooting?” HARRY: “Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot.”
Lalo Schifrin scores the music again. The sharpshooting squad: David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Kip Niven. With Adelle Yoshioka (conveniently making herself available for Harry), Christine White (plaintively offering herself to Harry), Margaret Avery (the ill-fated hooker; Ms.Avery was later to nab a Supporting Actress nomination for The Color Purple), Albert Popwell (‘Callahan’ trivians will note he was the dude wounded by Clint in Dirty Harry and taunted with “Do you feel lucky?”), Richard Devon, Tony Giorgio (‘Palancio’), John Mitchum, Will Hutchins (former star of his own series, Sugarfoot, back in 1957-61), and an unbilled Suzanne Somers (one of the gangster toylettes zapped at the pool party: that same year she was the T-bird fox in American Graffiti). 124 minutes.
* Those four civic-minded street cleaners—-Tim Matheson had been working in the business since he was 13, back in 1961. David Soul had been at it from 1966 when he was 22. Robert Urich, 26, was the newcomer; this was his feature debut. Kip Niven also made his feature debut; he’d been doing TV work for five years. Niven drew the Brad Dexter ‘Magnificent Seven‘ card of the group. As of 2019, he’s kept at it, but for whatever reason Kip did not achieve the fame of the other three.
** Shell-shocked—the figure cited above is the domestic take as given by Cogerson. “The Numbers” raises that by another $400,000 , while “Box Office Mojo” puts it almost four million less. On the other hand, Eastwood biographer Patrick McGilligan has it $58,100,000, and we can’t track down the foreign take, doubtless considerable. !@#$%^&*! Anyway, adjusted for inflation, Magnum Force was the most financially successful of the five ‘Dirty Harry’ flicks.