The Greatest Conservative Films: Magnum Force (1973)
“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
I’ll try my best to keep any spoilers vague. For this film, part of the effect lies in the mystery of exactly who these vigilantes are. Every single one of them.
So, without further ado—Dirty Harry 2: Magnum Force.
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
As is often the case, it’s pretty important to look at why this film—Magnum Force, the sequel to the original Dirty Harry—was made in the first place.
Basically, positive as the audience response was to the first film, there was at the same time an outcry—most notoriously expressed by Pauline Kael. Mind you, the late Kael was one of the greats, a monumental icon of film criticism…whenever she refrained from getting political.
When she did go political, well…
Put it this way: Kael was the one who famously said she couldn’t believe how Nixon could’ve possibly won in 1968, because no one she knew had voted for him.
Anyway, Ms. Kael belongs on that nauseatingly long list of Lefties over the years who’ve presumed to throw around the word “Fascist” at basically anything they just don’t like. Particularly nauseating, because many of those people are otherwise quite respectable. For example, Robert McKee put in Story, his quintessential guidebook on screenwriting, a pathetic and unexplained remark about how Blazing Saddles “exposed the [Western genre’s] fascist heart”. Never mind how Mel Brook’s classic comedy has absolutely nothing to do with Fascism. Certainly not as it’s actually defined.
So let’s get this out of the way—
In Search Of “Fascism!”
I sincerely doubt Keith Olbermann and the AntiFa types will ever give this a fair hearing, but just to be clear: Fascism is an economic system—where private industry exists, but answers fully to the central government. Think Hitler telling Volkswagen what cars to make—environmental standards and everything.
It differs from Socialism only in that Socialism cuts out the middleman, the government owning the means of production directly. Fascism tries to have it both ways—yes, there’s business and profits and so on…but the government can, at any time, step in and tell the companies what to do and how to do it.
Basically defined, it’s essentially the midpoint between Capitalism and Socialism. Yes, folks…you’ve been lied to. To all who glorify “the Center”…Fascism IS the Center! It is not—nor has it ever been—“the far/extreme Right”.
(At least, not in the economic Left/Right scale we use in America. The European scale basically doesn’t have true-blue, free-market Capitalism on its scale—Thatcher was more-or-less an anomaly. Besides, the only “science” behind that scale concerns seating arrangements in European parliaments, or…something.)
Regardless…the Left doesn’t dare allow the dictionary meaning of “Fascist” to ever enter the conversation—after all…doesn’t the above description pretty much invoke the dreams of the average Democrat politician, right about now? At least, those who don’t cross the line into full-blown Socialism?
And so, the Left’s long pushed its alternative definition of: “Police state”—government doing whatever the heck it wants in the name of “security”.
Just to be clear, Fascism kinda needs a police state in order to enforce government policy over industry. But that’s far from the be-all, end-all. Alas, that’s the go-to definition everyone tends to think about. And it’s what Pauline Kael meant, when she lashed out at Dirty Harry.
So How About “The Police State”?
As I noted, as brilliant as Kael could be when discussing cinema as cinema, she could get pretty…unsound, whenever politics entered the equation. In this case, she missed a vitally important detail—one I (and Andrew Price before me—see The Conservative Guide To Films, again) pointed out last time:
Inspector Harry Callahan never violates the law in that film (with one exception—which, remember, had bad consequences). In the end, he violates his orders from the mayor—but his actions are within the law. He does not presume to set himself up as a “strongman” who supersedes checks and balances and burns up the Bill of Rights. He works the grey areas…but he doesn’t cross the line.
Alas, some people missed that. And so, the great John Millius went to work again, writing up a sequel that would dramatically clear up the confusion, once and for all.
Here, Harry Callahan goes up against an enemy that does put itself above the bounds of the law—crossing the line into “vigilante with a badge”, gunning down criminals without any regard to due process.
Think that Harry’s modus operandi?
“I’m afraid you’ve misjudged me.”
Besides, we quickly see where this “above the law” mindset leads. We see them initially taking out a mobster and his legal team. Later, it’s a massacre of a pool party—innocent party girls included. Then a pimp—“fair game”, except again it’s outside the law. Back and forth, the film is sure to toy with our sympathies: We’ve just seen the pimp do something terrible. He “had it coming”, like the mobster did…. But what about those girls back at the pool party? “Collateral damage”?
And then…a cop, and then maybe anyone else in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, amid the condemnation of the vigilantes, the problems of the then-current justice system still get pointed out—and called out. Rather like in Fight Club, the rogues use the wrong means against a very valid problem.
Harry’s old friend and colleague, Charlie, goes off against the injustice in his introduction scene, clearly ready to snap:
“These days, a cop kills a hoodlum on the street, he might as well just dump the body someplace! Because those SNOT-nosed young b———s down at the D.A.’s office will crucify them one way or another. A hood can kill a cop, but let a cop kill a hood?! Am I right?”
From the beginning, it’s pretty clear the public doesn’t like it, either. And so, it’s complicated. These rogue cops aren’t full-blown black-hats. They’ve merely crossed the line, in a way that Harry never could:
“A hundred years ago in this city, people did the same thing. History justified the vigilantes; we’re no different. Anyone who threatens the security of the people will be executed. Evil for evil, Harry. Retribution.”
“That’s just fine. But how does murder fit in? Y’know, when police start becoming their own executioners, where’s it gonna end, huh…? Pretty soon, you start executing people for jaywalking. And executing people for traffic violations. Then you end up executing your own neighbor because his dog pisses on your lawn. …I hate the g——n system. But until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it!”
See, that’s the difference. Harry Callahan is never conceited enough to try and go above the law. After all, as he repeatedly notes…
For Bonus Points:
The mobster who gets off on a technicality at the start of the film is described as a labor leader/organizer, who had a reformer whacked.
Harry’s new partner, Smith—established in dialogue as the immediate successor of Gonzales from the first film—is a black man. Harry notes Gonzales is teaching college, now.
Finally, I’m sure when Harry, flooring it against the rogues, knocks a Volkswagen Bus off the road, it’s purely a terribly coincidental accident….
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
John Millius brings his talent once more to this sequel. And this time, it’s something of a murder mystery—for Harry, and to an arguably greater extent, for the audience. And until we hear his voice, we may wonder if the vigilante cop whose face we don’t see—who guns down the mobster—is Dirty Harry. Even after we realize it isn’t, we may still wonder if Harry will find himself supporting these guys…maybe even join them, assuming he hasn’t already.
Especially if we missed the “orders vs. law” subtlety of the first film.
At any rate, after looking over the initial killings, we do see Harry “in action”—taking down plane hijackers via a clever sting operation showcasing some classic Clint Eastwood playfulness (WARNING: Language):
At any rate, the sequence makes it clear—unorthodox and “cowboy” as Callahan may be…he does it straight and narrow.
And so, the mystery is on: Who is, or are, the rogue/rogues? Are they even cops—is it possibly an impersonator?
Is it Charlie McCoy—Harry’s old friend, clearly on edge and ranting about the all-too-real injustices cops face?
Or what about the rookies Harry meets at the gun range, who admire him and establish a nice chemistry with him over their love of Magnums? Harry’s eager to take them under his wing, especially when he gets back on Homicide. Still, he can’t help wondering…
To the film’s considerable credit, there’s enough of a variety of dramatic possibilities to keep you guessing until all is revealed.
Clint Eastwood As Inspector Harry Callahan:
Callahan’s still got it—a steady hand with his gun, and a ready smile with the ladies, like a certain Asian lass who lives downstairs from him:
“Try knocking on the door?”
And amid this, some nice moments of vulnerability, reminiscing about his late wife…and struggling with concerns over his old friend, and how far Charlie might’ve gone.
But of course, there’s also the cool intensity we know and love Clint for…particularly as Callahan, with Smith and a forensics expert, piece together the possibility that it was either a cop or a darned good mimic.
The Rest Of The Cast:
Felton Perry plays Det. Early Smith, Harry’s partner—a rookie, straight-and-narrow…and a bit green and wet behind the ears at first, which Harry teases him about. But he proves his worth when they take down some racist punks holding up a market. Afterwards, he’s clearly freer about himself—establishing his own humor and banter with Harry.
Mitch Ryan plays Charlie—bringing a sympathetic quality to the man, who’s nonetheless clearly unhinged and this close to snapping, if he isn’t careful.
David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, and Robert Urich play the four rookies—eager, tough, charming…and cold, when they have to be.
That magnificently crusty and gravel-voiced Hal Holbrook plays Lt. Briggs—Harry’s foil, introduced as an implied distant-chaperone to our hero, having demoted Harry to stakeout duties. Even now he’s warning him about stirring up public outcries of “police brutality”. And even when Harry’s allowed back on Homicide, investigating the killings, there’s still a tension bordering on hostility, over exactly how to approach the case.
Mr. By-The-Book and No More Controversies. Ironic, isn’t it?
By The Way…
Like an idiot, I forgot this little tidbit when talking about the first movie, but…the original “ideal” choice by the filmmakers to play Harry Callahan was…John Wayne. Needless to say, The Duke turned it down, feeling he was getting a bit too old for such an unrelentingly action-filled role. Mind you, awesome as it would’ve been…I somehow doubt we’d have gotten much of a series, considering how much longer Wayne had to live….
Once again, the series seemingly links itself musically to the Blaxploitation movement, with a somewhat “funky” score, with bongos.
People often misquote the original Dirty Harry “feel lucky” speech, saying “Do you feel lucky?” The “you” version actually comes from the end of the opening credits of this movie.
Buy the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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