MAGNUM FORCE
U.S.A. | 1973
Directed by Ted Post
Starring
Clint Eastwood
Hal Holbrook
David Soul
Color
| 124 Minutes | R
Format: DVD
(R1 - NTSC)
Warner Home Video
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8
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Guest Review by Troy Howarth
Detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) matches wits with a group of renegade cops who have decided to take justice into their own hands...
    It's hard not to read Magnum Force as something of an apology for the perceived "fascist" politics of Dirty Harry (1971). The story, written by the combined talents of John Milius (Conan the Barbarian) and Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), takes its protagonist out of vigilante mode and pits him against a group of well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided young cops who are determined to act as judge, jury and executioner in other words, it's almost as if Harry is confronting himself in the first film. In effectively turning the tables and offering a different side of Harry's conscience, the film managed to win over critics puts off by the tone of the first film.
    As a motion picture, Magnum Force is almost as accomplished as Don Siegel's 1971 original. All it's lacking is, well... Don Siegel. Apparently unwilling to helm a sequel to his most controversial, yet profitable, thriller, Siegel stayed clear of the project. Clint Eastwood suggested Ted Post, a veteran TV journeyman who directed numerous episodes of Eastwood's series Rawhide, to take over the reins. While Post does a credible job, he nevertheless lacks the élan and sense of urgency that Siegel brought to the first film. The action scenes are staged with considerable punch, but much of the narrative unfolds in a fairly uninspired manner. A better director would surely have brought out more in the screenplay, but lest we be too hard on Post it must be noted that the finished product is still extremely entertaining and puts the next installment in the franchise, The Enforcer (1976), to shame.
    Star Clint Eastwood is, of course, cool personified as Callahan. The film allows the character a bit more humanity than in the original, though he still comes across as a callous man of action. The subplot involving a young woman in his boarding house who basically throws herself at him could have been needless filler, but Eastwood clearly relishes the opportunity to show that even Harry has his more basic needs. The supporting cast is strong, with Hal Holbrook (Creepshow) stealing his scenes as Harry's by-the-book commanding officer. The vigilantes have a few familiar faces among them, too, including David Soul (Salem's Lot), Robert Urich (Spenser: For Hire) and a very young Tim Matheson (National Lampoon's Animal House).
    Despite lacking the sure, steady hand of Don Siegel at the helm, Magnum Force is an outstanding thriller and one of the most memorable films of its type in the 1970s, a decade noted for hard-edged urban thrillers. None of the subsequent installments in the Dirty Harry franchise would come close to equaling its impact itself already distilled from the raw energy of the original though Eastwood's sole directorial crack at the series, 1983's Sudden Impact, would at least restore some of the luster.

Warner Home Video's new "Deluxe Edition" of Magnum Force hasn't received as many brickbats as the original among the Internet fan community. While the original film was chastised by some for having different color values than older editions, Magnum Force seems to have been welcomed with more-or-less open arms. The 2.35/16x9 transfer is very handsome. The cinematography is a bit slicker than the cinema verité style favored by Siegel, and color and detail are satisfactory throughout; there are no discernible authoring defects on display. The 5.1 audio mix is very strong, though one regrets that the original mono track has not been included. Even so, Lalo Schifrin's funk/jazz score sounds very good here, and dialogue is never buried in the mix.
    The extras department is where this new release really outdoes the original, comparatively bare-bones edition. First up is a commentary by über-macho scriptwriter John Milius. In between puffing on his trademark cigar, Milius offers ample insight into the genesis of the film and the way in which his script was subsequently altered by Cimino. It's an informative and entertaining track. Next up is the featurette A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry, which allows various famous fans of the series to examine the moral underpinnings of the franchise. After that there's the vintage featurette The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today, which compares Harry to the renegade cop figures of films from older films. Lastly, there's a Dirty Harry trailer gallery. (NOTE: The Deluxe Edition of Magnum Force is also available as part of the 7-disc Dirty Harry Ultimate Edition collector's set.) 7/28/08

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