Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 22, 1976
Directed by James Fargo
Written by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Reisner
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, John Mitchum, DeVeren Bookwalter, John Crawford, Samantha Doane, Bob Hoy, Michael Cavanaugh, Jocelyn Jones, Albert Popwell, George Cheung, Joe Spano
Being a die-hard Clint Eastwood fan as a kid in the early 1970s, it was a momentous occasion when I finally got to see my first Eastwood film on the big screen, his Western classic The Outlaw Josey Wales. Up to that point, I’d only watched Eastwood movies on television, chopped up and edited to my obvious dismay. Then half a year later, I saw my first Dirty Harry film at the theater, and of course that was The Enforcer, the second sequel to the original Dirty Harry and the third time Eastwood played the now-iconic character of SFPD homicide inspector ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan.
In this installment, Callahan must stop a militant group who have not only stolen a cache of weapons from a warehouse, a stash which includes several crates of portable anti-tank missiles, but has killed yet another one of his partners, an act that doesn’t sit well with Harry. When their threats and ransom demands aren’t met, the group—known as the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force—then kidnap the mayor of San Francisco, holding him hostage with a new and much higher ransom amount. With a rookie female partner in tow, Callahan goes after the kidnappers, both to prevent their potential terrorist threat to the city and to avenge his partner’s death.
Needless to say, I had a blast with this one when I was thirteen, and I still had a blast with it a few nights ago, when I watched it for the umpteenth since its release over forty years ago. After some checking on-line, I was shocked to find that The Enforcer wasn’t nearly as appreciated as I thought it would be; in fact, some reviewers ranked it last on their lists of favorite Dirty Harry titles, which baffled me to no end. Lower than Sudden Impact, for chrissake? No way! To me, this was definitely an improvement over Magnum Force, and infinitely more watchable than its two follow-ups.
And as far as the direction, story, and overall look and tone of the film went, all were a major improvement over anything that Magnum Force had to offer, and I thought first-time director James Fargo did a top-notch job staging and composing his scenes; he obviously took some time and effort to create many imaginative shots and angles, which in turn made for some nice cinematic visuals. And the screenplay not only returned to a story concept that focused on a clear-cut definition of good guys and bad guys, but it also supplied Eastwood with smart and believable dialogue and one-liners, and a storyline chock-full of superb—and best of all, fun—Callahan moments.
Even Eastwood seemed more in-tune with the story this time around, returning to his Dirty Harry form that again saw his character display a tough, no-nonsense demeanor, a dry sense of humor, and after his partner is murdered, a vengeful hostility centered squarely on the film’s unlucky antagonists (and at times, the SFPD brass). And I liked his interactions with his new partner, played by Tyne Daly, who was hired on as part of a department-wide affirmative action program, and at first was treated with contempt by Callahan. Soon, however, he grew to respect her skills and tenacity as a fellow homicide inspector, and appreciate her as a partner as well as a friend.
And then there were the many small touches and instances of continuity that I love to see in movies and their sequels, and which The Enforcer was just loaded with. John Mitchum co-starred for a third time as Harry’s part-time inspector partner DiGiorgio, and Harry Guardino made a welcome return as Lieutenant Bressler…but I wish they’d somehow secured John Vernon for a second term as the Mayor. At one point, Kate mentions the names Fanducci and Smith, both ex-partners of Callahan’s and both killed on the job; the former had also been referenced in the first film, while Smith appeared as Harry’s partner in the second. And how about that scene at Candlestick Park, shot during an actual game between the Reds and Giants, where I can plainly see Reds catcher Johnny Bench behind the plate?
So why am I such a fan of The Enforcer, when apparently no one else is? Maybe it’s the memory of that first trip to see it at the theater, and the paperback tie-in and awesome movie poster (a version of which hangs on my wall today) that I picked up after that first screening. Or maybe it’s the visit I made to Alcatraz during a school trip to San Francisco the following summer, where I asked the tour guide where “the guard tower Clint Eastwood blew up in The Enforcer” was. Or perhaps it’s something as simple as this: I think The Enforcer is a pretty damn cool movie, that maybe doesn’t match Dirty Harry for greatness, but closely follows its stellar blueprint, and finishes a strong second. (8/10)