Magnum Force

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A Manís Got to Know His Limitations: Magnum Force

Jun 10, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:
  • Suspense:

Pros:Story, Direction, Eastwood, Supporting Cast, Big Magnum, Car Chases

Cons:Listless Lalo Schifrin Score

The Bottom Line: Magnum Force is the best of the Dirty Harry series. Great Story, Cast, Thrilling Stunts, and Dialog. Must see!


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

”This is the most powerful handgun in the world: the 44 Magnum. It can blow your head clean off.” Inspector Harry Callahan

Clint Eastwood reached the stratospheric heights of superstardom with his maverick cop series based on the character Dirty Harry created by Harry Julian Fink.

Eastwood had earlier transitioned from his laconic cowboy persona, developed with Sergio Leone in his Dollars series, culminating with the smash hit The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly with Coogan’s Bluff, the story of a maverick cowboy cop sent to the big city.

The original Dirty Harry part was offered to aging superstar John Wayne, who turned it down, leaving an opening for Eastwood to portray the cop whose time had come. Dirty Harry was Eastwood’s breakthrough performance. The character of Harry Callahan resonated with an audience fed up with liberal coddling of criminals, LBJ’s Great Society, Charles Manson, hippies, and the Vietnam War on the nightly news at 6 and 11.

Following the huge success of Dirty Harry, Magnum Force (1973) and other sequels were sure to follow. The four sequels followed the recipe established in Dirty Harry:

∑ There is a wacko/wackos in the City of San Francisco
∑ Detective Callahan is in trouble with his superiors
∑ Harry gets a new minority/female partner to replace the one shot/disabled in the previous film
∑ The killer has a personal thing about Harry
∑ Harry gets his man

Add to this framework a few from the following list:
∑ Visit to strip bar/cat house
∑ Encounter with Albert Popwell
∑ Car chase/car wreck
∑ Harry stops a crime with his big magnum while eating lunch
∑ Harry’s picture appears on page 1 of newspaper
∑ Close encounters with desirable chicks

The studio followed this “shake n bake” approach and made five films, each a moneymaker, but in this case Magnum Force came out just right. It is the best of the Dirty Harry series.

The screenplay was written by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Jaws, The Wind and the Lion) and Michael Cimino (The Deerhunter) and has a distinctively better quality than the average Dirty Harry story. Milius has a great ear for dialog and he gave us a couple of Dirty Harry sound bites for the ages:

”A man’s got to know his limitations.” and ”Go ahead, make my day!” as well as the quote I started this piece out with.

The story concerns a series of unsolved murders of high profile criminals who seem outside the justice system. The viewer already knows who is responsible, but Harry has to first be pulled off the *%$# detail he has been assigned to for insubordination, then to contend with the politically correct brass (Hal Holbrook) in order to solve the case. A similar story was used in the smash hit LA Confidential.

Warner Bros. obtained the services of Clint’s old Rawhide director, Ted Post to do the honors in Magnum Force. Post also directed Eastwood in his American film debut, Hang Em High. Post is a great action and dramatic director having roots in theater and early television series like Combat!, The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman, and so on.

The casting is inspired with Hal Holbrook as a sanctimonious *&%%#$@ lieutenant with a secret, and four rookie motorcycle cops played by up and coming David Soul (Starsky & Hutch), Tim Matheson (Animal House), Robert Urich (Vegas), and Kip Niven, as well as Eastwood regulars John Mitchum (DiGiorgio) and Albert Popwell (usually a thug). Suzanne Sommers appears topless, uncredited. All actors do great service with Eastwood looking his most relaxed and natural. Eastwood also gets propositioned by two, count em, two desirable ladies, so all the plot elements are right in there.

There is a much better car chase in Magnum Force than in any other Dirty Harry vehicle, it rivals the best as seen in Bullitt or The French Connection. The camera work and stunts are the best in the Dirty Harry series. Lalo Schifrin, as usual, contributes a serviceable but lackluster score to the effort.

The Warner Bros. DVD is presented in 2.35:1 theatrical format, contains subtitles in several languages and a documentary entitled The Hero Cop Yesterday and Today. This is the best Dirty Harry film and will appeal to more than just fans.

Other Clint Eastwood films for your consideration include:

Dirty Harry

The Enforcer

The Dead Pool

Blood Work


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening

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