Saturday, July 24, 2010
"Magnum Force" and meeting the burdens of manly obligations
Title: Magnum Force
Genre: Cop versus cop
Notable for: First of one too many "Dirty Harry" sequels
Coolest thing Clint does: Girl: "What does a girl have to do to go to bed with you?" Clint: "Try knocking on the door."
Right in the middle of watching the return of Dirty Harry Callahan in "Magnum Force," we were struck by a crisis of masculine obligations.
Candace, Brad's wife and Andrew's mother, came home, walked in the door and said, "Help."
The manly code says we are obligated to assist a woman who asks for help. But, for God's sake, Dirty Harry was on a rampage. Brad looked up from the screen. "Did you say help?" he asked. "Yes," she said, "there's something wrong with my car!"
Damn. Car trouble. The final holdover of what used to be called man stuff. Brad ran to the garage but Andrew kept watching "Magnum Force." He did not even hit the pause button out of courtesy. He knows the code well. You have to assist a woman in need, but not if someone else does first.
Less than two minutes passed before Brad returned, having fulfilled the age-old obligation of opening the hood and peering inside. "Your serpentine belt came off," he told Candace. "Did I miss any killings or boobs?" he asked Andrew.
Thus all laws of gender relations were fulfilled. Sometimes it's hard to be a man.
"Magnum Force" features the return of Dirty Harry without bothering to mention how Harry is a cop again. Clint threw his badge into a pond at the end of the first movie, before anyone realized a spree of sequels was coming.
Oh, well. Clint's fans didn't care and we don't either. "Magnum Force" is, again, a fast-paced series of unlikely action sequences but with a higher body count and more gratuitous nudity than the original. One walk-on homicide victim is a bimbo who takes off her bikini top at a pool party moments before she is blown away by the bad guys. Nice screenwriting there.
The story is pretty simple. A bunch of gangsters and lowlifes are blown away by motorcycle cops, and Clint uncovers a death squad of young hot-shots operating within the San Francisco Police Department. The only real surprise is his that Hal Holbrook, Clint's by-the-book superior officer, turns out to be the ring-leader.
The cast is full of future semi-stars including Robert Urich (Spenser: For Hire), David Soul (Hutch), and Tim Matheson. No matter how well Matheson played a killer cop, we could not look at him without seeing Otter from "Animal House," a movie made five years later. Toga!
Early in the original "Dirty Harry," Clint thwarts a bank robbery while eating a hot dog. In "Magnum Force," he thwarts an airplane hijacking while eating a hamburger. Both movies climax with a chase-slash-showdown in some sort of mining facility. "Magnum Force" also appears to try giving Clint a cool catch phrase. "A man's got to know his limitations" lacks the charm of "Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?"
Despite that, "Magnum Force" clearly was intended to be different than the original. It tried, somewhat awkwardly, to put to rest the criticism that "Dirty Harry" was a fascist.
A death squad within the police department, as any fool can see, now those are some real fascists. And Harry fought them to the death. He turns down an invitation to join the death squad. "I am afraid you've misjudged me," Clint says to the bad guy on screen and to movie critics in the audience.
This stuff eventually produces what may be the longest and most ham-handed line Dirty Harry ever utters.
"I hate the goddam system," Clint tells Hal Holbrook. "But until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick with it."
It seems silly that Clint felt the need to make sure everyone knows Dirty Harry is a true-blue American. But we guess he had his own manly obligations. When people call a guy a fascist, he must to do something to shut them up.
Next up: "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."