1970s, 2.5/4, Action, Dirty Harry, James Fargo, Review

The Enforcer

#3 in my ranking of the Dirty Harry franchise.

The script for the third outing of Inspector Harry Callahan feels like several scripts smooshed together with just enough connecting tissue conjured up out of thin air to keep the thing afloat for its relatively brief running time. There are ideas about women in the police force, the continued degradation of San Francisco, and militant revolutionary groups akin to the Weather Underground, but instead of digging into anything or coming to any kind of conclusions, everything just kind of peters out until an action-packed finale that doesn’t quite have the impact it seems to want. Still, it’s a step up from Magnum Force with some basic ability to build tension while actually keeping the main character involved for the whole thing.

Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) has been partnered up with Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) and is patrolling the streets of San Francisco with orders to clean up as much of the hoods causing problems as possible. When Callahan comes up with a unique solution to a liquor store kidnapping and robbery that involves driving his car through the storefront, he gets reassigned from homicide to personnel where he sits in on interviews for eight new inspector positions, three of which, according to orders from the mayor (John Crawford), must be women. We get just enough time to watch Callahan’s experience in this interview process for him to question Kate Moore (Tyne Daly). Callahan’s problem with Moore isn’t that she’s a woman, it’s that she’s never made a felony or even misdemeanor arrest, and that it’s all obviously a political effort without any concern for how to run a police department. An inspector position is no place for a desk jockey.

At the same time, a small revolutionary group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, led by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter) has killed a pair of gas company employees, stolen their truck, and used it to steal into a firearms warehouse where they stole weapons, most importantly one-use bazookas, and left DiGiorgio fighting for his life when he came upon them. This series of events brings Callahan back into homicide right quick to match up with his new partner (surprise!) newly minted Inspector Kate Moore.

The one part of this film that got the most care and attention was Moore and her relationship with Callahan. It’s obvious from the start that Moore is out of her depth in certain ways. There’s a demonstration with the bazooka to demonstrate its destructive power, and Callahan has to pull Moore out of the way to avoid the blowback from the weapon’s firing. After a bombing in a government building, Callahan gets into a chase with the suspect (that Moore finds), and Moore cannot keep up physically. The fact that she ends up at the end of the chase at all is because of blind luck (losing the pair completely and then happening to see them running along a rooftop just as she turns a corner). Her first exposure to a dead body is at the morgue during an autopsy, and she can’t take it. She’s trying, though, and Callahan ends up appreciating that.

Callahan’s search takes him to the headquarters of a black militant group led by Mustapha (Albert Popwell). It becomes obvious that they’re not part of it, though one of their wayward members is, and before Callahan can act on the information, his superiors rush in and arrest everyone. It’s the continuation of the one consistent idea in this series that politics gets in the way of police work. The mayor wanted a quick resolution, and Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman), politically ambitious himself, was happy to oblige, even if the result wasn’t going to actually lead to a headline. Callahan is enraged by all of this and ends up suspended (guess how long that suspension actually lasts…).

One of the larger failures around this film is really Bobby Maxwell and his group. They’re introduced in an interesting way, but the focus of the film ends up so much on Kate and Harry, that Maxwell just kind of falls to the wayside for so long that there’s no time to give them any specific characters after a certain point. He’s a Vietnam veteran who has accumulated a small cadre of loyalists, including prostitutes, to make revolutionary action against…stuff in favor of the people. Scorpio’s blind hatred and insanity was much more detailed in the first film than this, and Maxwell and his group end up just kind of generic. There’s even an interesting wrinkle involving a Catholic priest on their side that ends up feeling like an afterthought.

The whole thing ends up getting resolved at Alcatraz after the group kidnaps the mayor. There’s a fun irony in how the city is willing to simply give the group everything they want while Callahan, the rogue, is the only one concerned with bringing the group to justice (it’s a warmed over idea from the first film that gets an extra ironic and comedic moment in the film’s final shot). There are shootouts and explosions, and Harry’s partner meets the end of the rest of his partners.

The film has a lightly comic tone (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it comedic) that helps it all, I think. It’s less deathly serious as the first two films, and as a largely warmed-over set of ideas that have already played out in the series, it’s nice to see the third entry take itself less seriously. It takes its characters, in particular Callahan and Moore, seriously, but it allows for fun like in the extended foot chase (the jazzy score by Jerry Fielding is a marked contrast to the more atonal and jarring scores that Lalo Schifrin managed through the rest of the series). Eastwood continues to just pretty much play his standard growl for the film while Daly does everything she can with Moore, giving her secondary character a solid sense of life amid the proceedings.

Is it good? I wouldn’t quite go that far. The noncommittal approach to all of its actual ideas combined with the generic nature of its antagonist holds it back enough, but that comic tone and solid foundation of Harry and Kate works well enough.

Rating: 2.5/4

4 thoughts on “The Enforcer”

  1. I think this is good, frankly I think the first 3 Dirty Harry all have things to recommend them. It is frankly a revolutionary act to show this movie today, as it dares to say women make inferior police officers. Yes, Kate does try, she tries hard. She earns Harry’s…tolerance. But in the end, yeah, she isn’t strong enough, experienced enough and ends up dead, letting her partner down. This is played as strong drama and it frankly works but…it also reinforces Harry’s objection to her appointment to begin with.

    It’s also good because it spreads the message again that you simply cannot trust politicians or institutions. You can only trust the moral sense of a righteous individual. This is all my jam.

    Yeah, the bad guys are lame. They are trying to make them communists without actually making them communists, I don’t know why they soft soap it. Maybe one of the FOUR screenwriters were sympathetic to Comintern.

    We are seeing some familiar names below the line too. Clint is assembling a group of collaborators that he will work on for decades, in some cases….and shaking some off his boots eventually too. Cream rises, sometimes.

    I’d like to say this is more of an action movie but that’s not really true. It does have a mix of drama as well, mostly focused around Kate. So even though the antagonist doesn’t help the movie rise (your good guy is only as good as enemy), it’s a good balance. Bad guy gets shot with a LAW rocket and that’s just good clean fun.

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    1. I think most of my problems through most of the series (until the last one, at least) are largely mechanical in nature. They’re the simpler types of errors with construction that could get easily fixed in scripting, if not editing.

      Like her essentially accidentally keeping up with the rooftop chase? Have her end up following shouts, or a trail of knocked over flower pots, or anything along those lines instead of just accidentally coming across the chase a few blocks over…it’s just weird.

      But yeah, Kate is a surprisingly good bedrock to build the film on. Harry almost feels like he’s playing second-fiddle to his supporting partner of his own sequel.

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