The Greatest Conservative Films: The Enforcer (1976)
“Look, she wants to play lumberjack, she’s gonna have to learn to handle her end of the log…!”
Sadly, screenwriter John Millius had moved on from the Dirty Harry flicks after Magnum Force. However, the show must go on—and go on it did. And with or without Millius, the Conservatism of the franchise remained…and the third entry in the franchise helped established a new star, to boot, who’d continue in a “girl cop” role in one of the classic shows of the 1980s.
But maybe I’m a little ahead of myself. Ladies and gentlemen, Dirty Harry 3: The Enforcer.
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
With Magnum Force setting the record straight on Harry’s methods as a cop—establishing exactly where the line’s drawn between actual police-state “strongman” stuff and just getting the job done…the issue was: Where would the franchise go, from here—if anywhere? The questions of crime and due process settled, how could the studio keep the franchise alive, without just coming across as retreading old ground…or worse, just forcing things?
Well…why not focus on some other issues plaguing the police of real life? And in the 1970s, there was actually some nice new material coming in—something that’d have to be tackled by someone known to be unshackled by the now-growing trend of Political Correctness, and ask the hard questions that needed to be asked….
Someone like…Harry Callahan, perhaps?
“Feminism Was Established…”
Second-Wave Feminism was on the rise. The million-dollar question: “Women want the exact same workforce opportunities as men…so, how does the workforce approach it?”
Does it dismiss those desires? Clearly not—Second-Wavers weren’t going anywhere, and if there was one thing you could guarantee about Women’s Lib…it—was—vocal.
Clearly, these women weren’t going to rest until they “break the glass ceiling”. The issue, however, was which ceilings were just made of glass. In this case…should a woman be allowed on the police force, on armed patrol—facing bank robberies and homicides? Could she be trusted to keep her cool under fire just as well as a guy, and be an asset—not a liability?
It’s the sort of debate that would have to be settled honestly—taking nothing for granted. After all, even most Second-Wavers found they had to admit that, yes, there are in fact inherent differences between men and women.
Especially if “men are pigs”…unless they were going to say women are, too….
Of course, not all Second-Wavers were/are man-hating militants. Even leaving aside Christina Hoff “Based Mom” Sommers and the great Camille Paglia, many understood (at least verbally) the need to come across as “the good gals”. Whether they succeeded or not is another matter. After all, the stereotype of the stiff, rigid, prudish matron with a chip on her shoulder the size of Montana exists for a reason. But I digress.
All that aside, the idea quickly arose that in order to appease the Second-Wavers, society’s institutions would have to set up effective affirmative-action boards—setting up effective quotas for women to fill.
And as always turns out to be the case with quotas…the question arises, “But are they good at this job?”
Or it would arise, if the boards would let them.
“Her End Of The Log”:
After a rather…messy handling of a hostage situation, Harry finds himself transferred to Personnel, on notice. There, he comes face-to-face with the double-standards of gender quotas.
Even before Harry shows up, we see the board—looking for eight promotions to inspector—grilling a male applicant, putting pressure on him to make a snap decision, now. And yet…with the quotas and all, it soon becomes clear, to Harry’s chagrin, that said board isn’t exactly up to holding the female applicants to the same sort of standard…due in no small part to the Second-Waver seated there to “monitor”. And yes…she checks all the boxes above—down to the snobbish sort of prudery, and the “you think women should stay in the kitchen” strawman-dropping.
This is also where we’re introduced to then-Officer Kate Moore. Note carefully how the scene proceeds:
Notice how Harry reacts in the end? After being the only one willing to hold Moore to the exact standards as the guy they’d just dismissed…he noticeably double-takes when Moore keeps her cool and delivers a dang good answer. She’s won his respect…in part, at least.
And to her credit, once she’s assigned as his new partner, Moore quickly notes that she doesn’t expect or want any special consideration.
She proves to be quite green, but eager and a good learner. When they’re in hot pursuit of a suspect, who tosses a briefcase in a dumpster, Moore makes it a point to grab it while Callahan runs past it to focus on the man. They’re a great team, before they even know it.
Still, the film makes sure to call attention to some important little details—particularly Moore’s physical skills…or lack thereof.
In the “board” scene, Harry asks for Kate’s marathon record. Later on, she tells him, and Harry notes he wasn’t just picking on her.
The exchange is frankly even more meaningful today, with the current debate still raging about women in combat.
It’s no secret that men in the military are held to higher physical standards than women. To anyone other than a Third-Waver, the reasons are obvious: As a rule, men are just inherently stronger and faster than women. That’s a simple, biological fact. Mind you, there are especially weak men, and especially strong women—but we’re talking averages, here. Mean, median, and mode. There’s a reason that letting transgender folks in women’s sports has invariably resulted in said folks dominating—because of clear…simple…biology. And as the great Ben Shapiro (“Thug Life™!”) tells us: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
The problem, then, arises when you start talking about women on the front lines—in the battlefield, or out on the street as a cop. And the lesson is clear: If you want our girls to go through the exact same wartime scenarios as our boys out there…they had better be held to the exact same physical standards as our boys. Simple as that.
She’s got to carry the same loads—she’s got to be able to pull wounded comrades out of danger, no problem. She has to take everything her average male counterpart can. Otherwise, she’s as much a liability as any man who can’t.
Besides…isn’t feminism supposed to be about, well…equality, or something?
At any rate, we see over the course of the film Inspector Moore earning Callahan’s respect—not so much as a woman cop…but as a good cop, period.
As an equal.
Populist Frauds Of The Left:
The villains in this movie are an interesting bunch. They’re called The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force—already we got two go-to terms for Lefties, “People’s” and “Revolutionary”. One of the members is a hippie chick with a headband and everything.
Early on, in fact as they prepare for a weapons heist, we hear:
“All right, you guys—now, this is for the people.”
“Right on!—for the people!”
The leader Bobby Maxwell, however, just grumbles at this, “Spare me….” The rank-and-file may be True Believers…but as far as he’s concerned, it’s just for the money. Story of the Modern Left….
“Power to the people.”
In the meantime, there’s another organization Harry’s superiors want checked out—Uhuru, a black militant group somewhat modeled after the Panthers. (Nothing to do with Star Trek—pure coincidence; it’s the Swahili word for “freedom”.) The leader, Mustapha, soon develops a curious chemistry with Harry—over a mutual contempt for the established order that’s dismissed them both.
Despite moments of racism among the members, Mustapha’s clearly shown as worthy of respect—certainly more so than the real villains of the piece. If nothing else, he’s an honest man. And here, that’s enough.
Mustapha’s crew is quickly rounded up over nothing more than Capt. McKay’s suspicions…and the ambitious captain tells the mayor he wants the credit to go to Callahan and Moore—for no other reason than to publically proclaim the success of the “women in the force” policy. It’s nonsense. It’s virtue signaling. And Harry wants no part of it—especially after the deal Harry had settled with Mustapha. Further, as Harry notes, amid all this nonsense, the real terrorists are still out there!
Kate doesn’t like it either—and when she makes clear to Harry her support, it’s clear she’s solidified his respect.
For Bonus Points:
Callahan’s told that “the minority community has just about had it with this kind of police work. Harry’s response: “By ‘minority community’, I suppose you’re talking about the hoods, huh?”
Harry reacts to the verbal racism of the Uhuru members with amusement—making a point to troll them when they offer hospitality for Kate:
“Well that’s mighty white of you.”
Bobby Maxwell’s revealed to have been in Vietnam…but unlike the typical Evil Vietnam Vet, it’s emphasized that his villainy’s not out of PTSD. Really, he was so rotten he was dishonorably discharged. The military experience is clearly just to explain his skills with advanced weaponry.
Finally, Harry arguably does become a vigilante in the last act of the film—mainly because he’s forced to turn in his badge by Capt. McKay, for refusing to play ball over the Mustapha arrest. Harry doesn’t exactly have much of a choice, after that.
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
The Enforcer is essentially the “middle child” of the Dirty Harry films. Most people remember the first one and the fourth, Sudden Impact—the latter, often just for that classic line “Go ahead. Make my day.” Sometimes, they’ll remember Magnum Force—and the last one, The Dead Pool, for little else than being a less-than-ideal end to the franchise. But The Enforcer’s often pretty much forgotten about.
Shame, because that makes it highly underrated.
There are many great moments in this one. A beautiful example involves the wife of a dying cop, noting to Harry, “It’s a war, isn’t it? I guess I never really understood that….”
With Millius gone, though, it doesn’t quite have the hard edge of the first two films. It’s stylistically “lighter”—not that that’s a bad thing. To the contrary, it’s frankly for the best the filmmakers didn’t try to keep to the “same old, same old”.
We can partly thank Stirling Silliphant for that—veteran screenwriter, known for his sparkling dialogue and well-aimed wit, especially in the Route 66 series and In The Heat Of The Night. That’s right: You can thank him for Sidney Poitier’s most immortal line, the “patiently” deliberate and fed-up “They call me ‘Mister Tibbs’!”
As was the case with Millius, Silliphant wasn’t the sole screenwriter…but it’s his style. While the other writers focused on tightening the plot and playing up the action, he fleshed out the characterization—particularly the dynamic between Callahan and Moore.
Clint Eastwood, Third Time Around:
There isn’t much else to add about Clint’s Harry Callahan, is there? Well…there’s the sadness in his eyes over losing another partner. There’s the twinkle as he develops a chemistry with Moore. The chuckles he shares with Mustapha. The cool head he keeps amid the righteous fury he clearly feels.
Clint’s clearly as comfortable in this role as the finest actors—inhabiting Harry Callahan, making him feel real. There’s never a false moment—everything he does makes us believe, “Yeah…Harry would do/say that.”
Tyne Daly as Kate Moore:
Ms. Daly’s role in this film almost certainly paved the way for her most famous role. For those who don’t remember, she went on to be the second name in that iconic two-girl cop team, Cagney & Lacey.
Here, she gives Inspector Moore a wet-behind-the-ears eagerness to do her job—and a professional’s motivation to do it well, and not just get by on the quota thing. Kate’s green as all get-out…but her enthusiasm charms us—and her ability to prove very helpful to Harry, in the moments that count, impress us.
It’s a shame, really. It would’ve been great to see her continuing in the later films, growing into her position as Harry’s partner…. Regardless, she does “handle her end of the log”—and saves Harry’s life…twice.
By The Way…
Stirling Silliphant actually wrote a treatment of a proposed Atlas Shrugged miniseries—heartily approved by Ayn Rand herself, who was a big fan of Silliphant’s work. Alas…new management at NBC axed the production.
Supposedly, Clint himself was keen on getting involved—most likely as Hank Rearden.
The Enforcer was intended to be the final Dirty Harry, making a trilogy. However, popular demand brought him back in the ‘80s, for Sudden Impact.
WHAT’S NOT ON THE LIST:
Sadly, once again I can’t just list the whole series—for different reasons, for each of the remaining Dirty Harrys….
Sudden Impact (1983):
Sudden Impact is a pretty good film—and again, it’s the source of the quintessential Clint Eastwood line (aside from “Yeah…” of course). Nice trivia note: The female lead, Sondra Locke, was Clint Eastwood’s long-time girlfriend, before a very…complicated breakup. Also, the film’s actually directed by Clint.
Alas, it isn’t particularly political—at least not overtly; it concerns Harry confronting a civilian avenging herself on her rapists.
Now…as you may remember from my Inglourious Basterds article, I’ve long entertained a theory that “revenge/vigilante” films are inherently libertarian—not “fascistic”, as they’re sometimes laughably branded. (Okay, let me get this straight: An individual citizen rejecting the authority of the government and solving her problems herself—that’s somehow “fascist”? Really?) They’re centered on the premise that you can’t rely on the government to solve your problems for you—you have to take up arms and do it yourself. The gal and Harry even have a nice conversation to this effect.
Still, it’s just a theory. And if I were to accept it as sole grounds to include a film on the list, it’d get real bloated real fast. And then I’d start getting the same “That’s a stretch!” outcries I’ve been trying to avoid. So, in the absence of any set links to political issues, I have to pass…much as I’d love to talk about Kill Bill, for example.
Mind you, early on in the film, a case Harry was on is thrown out of court for inadmissible evidence…but it’s vague as to exactly why. The movie came out four years before Arizona v. Hicks solidified the “plain view” doctrine, and that’s likely the issue—but again, it’d be against my policy to just assume, on that.
The Dead Pool (1988):
Well…fairly obvious, right?
Actually, The Dead Poll isn’t that bad, per se. It’s highly entertaining—to the point of Harry’s Chinese partner doing some Kung Fu moves…and a very unique sort of car chase you just have to see to believe!
I’m just not particularly aware of anyone calling The Dead Pool a “great” film. It’s generally regarded as the weakest in the series—and I don’t see much of a reason to disagree. Even if it does feature Jim Carrey (at his super-hammy best) and the great Liam Neeson in very early roles.
For a finale, the series could’ve done a whole lot better. Alas, Clint’s noted that he doesn’t exactly intend to make an “old Dirty Harry” film, even just to properly send him off. As he noted, Harry’s kinda…old for “one last mission”.
As for the politics…it does touch on issues about the dark side-effects of the power of the press. Still, in the end, it’s got nothing to do with political bias.
It is worth noting, though, that at this point in the series, Harry’s getting the respect he deserves from the city—and as the movie begins, a man he’s arrested is convicted, this time.
Also, the film has a nice line about the system’s failures in properly screening the mentally unsound—along with hints at a commentary on violence in cinema, and whether it can “influence” people.
By the way…the film takes a rather sadistic shot at Pauline Kael, with a caricature of her being one of the murder victims. Oh, and you guessed it—The Dead Pool was the direct inspiration for the name of a certain Merc With A Mouth….
Buy The Enforcer here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
The Series So Far:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
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.