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MAGNUM FORCE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, David Soul, Felton Perry, Robert Urich, Tim Matheson
Director:  Ted Post
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date: 
June 3, 2008

“We were lucky enough to have one of your men here.  He’s on board now.  An Inspector Callahan.”

“CALLAHAN?!”

Film **1/2

So, what exactly happened between the end of Dirty Harry in 1971, when Inspector Callahan tossed away his badge and the beginning of the inevitable sequel Magnum Force in 1973, when he’s back on duty with the San Francisco Police Department?

We may never know.  Suffice to say, Harry came back to action…possibly because he had nothing else in his life apart from being a cop, but mostly because audiences clamored for more of the Magnum-toting vigilante cop with the best kiss-off lines in the business.

Despite being penned by two good writers and future directors John Milius and Michael Cimino, Magnum Force doesn’t quite deliver the punch of the original.  There are some good ideas at play, but ultimately, the film’s a bit too long, the violence a bit too gratuitous (almost cartoonish compared to the original), and even more so, there is a curious ambiguity to Harry’s character that just wasn’t what we were used to.

Clint Eastwood is back and in top form as the troublesome cop (“Every time you pull out that gun, my paperwork backs up for three years”, a superior tells him).  He’s out of homicide and doing stakeout work for the police, when he finds himself in the middle of a bizarre series of murders.  It turns out, a young group of four rookie motorcycle cops have taken it upon themselves to rid the city of some of its worst and most dangerous criminals…mainly those who slipped through the cracks of the judicial system for one reason or another.

And why not?  After all, Harry broke all the rules in ridding the city of Scorpio in the original film.  The strange and almost unbuyable twist here is that Harry finds himself in the role of the system’s protector.  He protests at the idea of cops being judge, jury and executioner…needless to say, his younger comrades don’t quite get that idea coming from a man with Harry’s reputation.

Along the way, there are some smaller throwaway action vignettes, including Harry’s rather daring and stupid disruption of an attempted hijacking (stupid because he could have gotten everyone killed, but didn’t seem to care), and even an amusing romantic interlude with a flower child neighbor. 

The finale is a good one, with a chase that goes from cars to foot to motorcycles.  Harry may be outnumbered, but he’s never outgunned…or outsmarted.

Three of the young biker cops are recognizable…David Soul, Tim Matheson and Robert Urich all went on to bigger and better things…which is good, because they spend most of their time in this film behind dark helmet visors.

Director Ted Post just doesn’t have the same knack as Don Siegel for long winding tension.  Magnum Force has entertaining moments, but simply lacks the overall intensity of the first one.  We wait for Harry’s next move instead of being wrapped up in the story.  For me, the picture was simply badly timed…the story might have served better as a later sequel.  Let Harry grow older before he starts re-evaluating the value of the system.

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer from Warner is simply mind-blowing.  It’s a perfectly rendered image from start to finish, no matter whether the pictures are bright or dark.  The print is supremely clean…I never noticed any dirt, scars or specks.  What I DID notice was how good the coloring was…bright, vivid and natural all the way, with no bleeding or distortion.  Images are sharp and crystal clear all the way, with strong definition and no evidence of grain or artificial enhancement.  This can be considered a benchmark DVD for presentation of 1970s films!

Audio ***1/2

Like the first movie, this disc offers a terrific 5.1 soundtrack.  It’s lively and dynamic, with plenty of action crossing and panning across the front and rear stages, and the .1 channel giving extra kick to the most explosive sequences.  Dialogue and music are both perfectly presented, too.  Near reference quality!

Features ***

The disc contains a commentary by co-writer John Milius, an eight minute documentary “The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today”, with some historical footage and some behind-the-scenes shots of Magnum Force in action.  There is also a look at the politics of Harry.

Summary:

Magnum Force is a suitable diversion for Dirty Harry’s biggest fans, but like most sequels, suffer in comparison to its original.  There was simply no way to completely duplicate the punch of the first film.  Seeing Harry again was a welcome sight (especially with this tremendous looking and sounding disc), but the Inspector deserved a little better follow up adventure.

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