Warner Bros. // 1976 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // June 3rd, 2008
"She wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have learn to handle her end of the log." -- Inspector Harry Callahan
The Enforcer, the third chapter in the Dirty Harry series, helps right the ship somewhat after the crude and bloated Magnum Force. While the plot of The Enforcer is kind of silly, this second sequel is notable for teaming Insp. Callahan (Clint Eastwood) up with a female partner, Insp. Kate Moore (Tyne Daly, Cagney and Lacey). Warner Home Video has reissued the film (along with the rest of the franchise) in a deluxe edition that provides some nice bonuses for fans of the film.
A militant group called the People's Revolutionary Strike Force is wreaking havoc on San Francisco. Having made off with a cache of weapons, the group demands a ransom from the city. Experienced Homicide Insp. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) wants in on the case, but he's just been busted down to Personnel for handling a liquor store standoff in a rather unorthodox manner. To make things worse for the detective, he is given a new partner, Insp. Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), who has to work extra hard to earn the respect of the chauvinistic Harry.
The Enforcer is my second favorite Dirty Harry movie (after Dirty Harry itself). As opposed to its predecessor, Magnum Force, and its successor, Sudden Impact, The Enforcer is a lean (clocking in at 97 minutes compared to Force's 124 and Impact's 117), efficient cop movie, one that deftly provides scenes of action as well as ones of character development.
The Enforcer more than fulfills the need for action in a Dirty Harry movie, even if the action is not on the level of the ultraviolent Magnum Force (which is fine by me). The film is more or less bookended by two memorable sequences. In the beginning of the film, Harry and his partner Frank (John Mitchum) respond to a liquor store standoff. When one of the thieves angrily demands a car, Harry obliges -- by driving it right into the store. At the end of the movie, there's a shootout between Harry, Kate, and the People's Revolutionary Strike Force at Alcatraz (where Eastwood would return with Don Siegel for 1979's Escape From Alcatraz). In between, there's also an extended foot chase that gives the viewer the added bonus of seeing plenty of scenic 1970s San Francisco. While none of these sequences is staged in a particularly noteworthy way visually, they're still fun to watch.
In addition to the action scenes, first-time director James Fargo and writers Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner (working from a story by Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr) also give the viewer some nice interplay between Harry and Kate. Harry is less than thrilled at the prospect of a female partner, and he makes no secret of it around Kate. For her part, Kate makes it clear to Harry that she will not be ignored or given different treatment because of her sex. Gradually, by showing her abilities as a cop and proving that she can hold her own with her tough-talking, .44 Magnum-packing partner, Kate earns Harry's respect in a way that is more or less believable. Harry's partners are generally little more than cannon fodder without much additional significance to the plot, so it's nice to see a change in that department with The Enforcer.
It's helpful that both Eastwood and Daly are excellent in their scenes together. Eastwood had already played Harry in two movies by this point, and he's settled into a nice groove during this third go-round. It helps that The Enforcer is chockfull of great Harry one-liners such as the line used above for "The Charge" and "It's getting so you can't even go to the can in peace." Daly is more than up to the challenge of handling "her end of the log" in scenes with her co-star, even when her character is given bizarre things to say to him. (A conversation where she makes awkward sexual innuendos springs to mind.)
Warner Home Video's Deluxe Edition of The Enforcer looks and sounds very good. The image of this 32-year-old film has faded somewhat, which is more noticeable in some scenes than others, but overall, the transfer is solid. For extras, the only ones ported over from the original 2001 DVD release of The Enforcer are the short promotional featurette "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films" and the film's trailer, which is included in a gallery of trailers from all of the Dirty Harry films. The first new feature is a commentary track with director James Fargo. While there are certainly pauses in the track, Fargo is generally pretty interesting to listen to, doling out stories of the film's preproduction (as well as how he was hired to make the film), how the film was shot, his philosophy on working with actors and so on. The other new featurette is "The Business End: Violence in Cinema," a half hour documentary where a large number of talking heads -- Joe Carnahan, John Milius, Eastwood, Daly, David Ayer and Shane Black among them -- engage in the old does-violence-in-movies-have-an-effect-on-society debate. While it doesn't probe very deeply (at 30 minutes that's not a surprise), it's still interesting to hear what these people have to say on the subject. This featurette alone wouldn't make or break making the upgrade on this DVD for me, so fans should probably base their decision on how much they want to hear that commentary track, and whether they want this new transfer. (The packaging is mum on the subject, but the Internet ads for the series boast of restoration and remastering.)
While Silliphant and Riesner's script provides some nice (albeit at times dated *) interplay between Eastwood and Daly and also allows for solid action sequences, the central story itself, while perhaps topical at the time of the film's release, is hard to watch without chuckling today. In terms of adversaries, the Dirty Harry series basically went from a mad killer loosely based on the Zodiac murderer in Dirty Harry to vigilante traffic cops in Magnum Force to...angry hippies? As many problems as I have with Magnum Force, at least that film (and Dirty Harry before it) had solid antagonists that posed more of a challenge to Harry than the People's Revolutionary Strike Force do in this movie.
*That's not the only part of the movie that's dated. In addition to aspects of Kate's character, there's a portion where Harry labels the minority community of San Francisco as "hoods."
In retired Judge Nicholas Sylvain's original review of The Enforcer, he lamented the absence of composing talent Lalo Schifrin on this film. Having watched Magnum Force and The Enforcer back-to-back, I have to agree with Judge Sylvain. While Jerry Fielding's music is certainly adequate for the film, Schifrin's music is a key ingredient of the series, and his absence (This is the only Dirty Harry film Schifrin did not score) is noticeable.
While time may not have been kind to The Enforcer in some ways, its blend of action, character development and humor (both intentional and otherwise) still make it a strong entry in the Dirty Harry series, and Warner Home Video have added a couple of nice new extras to boot.
Not guilty. See this movie, punk, or Harry will give you a seven-point suppository.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ben Saylor; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Feature commentary with director James Fargo
* Featurette "The Business End: Violence in Cinema"
* Featurette "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films"
* Dirty Harry Movies Trailer Gallery
* Original DVD Verdict Review