Warner Bros. // 1976 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // December 5th, 2001
"As I remember, the last time we played as a team, I got the cue stuck in my ass."
"It's getting so you can't even go to the can in peace."
With the continued cool excellence of Clint Eastwood and the plucky steel of Tyne Daly, The Enforcer is a decent entry in the "Dirty Harry" franchise, even though it does not measure up to the preceding films. Brought to disc by Warner Brothers, the technical presentation again far exceeds the quality and quantity of extra content.
Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) likes to work alone, and likes eliminating dangerous criminals even more. However, his methods are not to the tastes of his superiors. One expensive incident finds Callahan taken out of Homicide and behind a desk in Personnel, charged with conducting oral interviews of candidates for the rank of inspector. Officer Kate Moore (Tyne Daly) gets both barrels from a cranky Callahan at her interview, but survives the encounter. Meanwhile, a group of leftist radicals, calling themselves the People's Revolutionary Strike Force, is on a crime spree of murder and robbery, arming themselves with automatic weapons, explosives, and rockets.
Naturally, Callahan can't be kept off the streets with such danger about, so he's back working Homicide, but this time, he's saddled with a partner, the newly minted Inspector Kate Moore. Their partnership begins with a bang as they begin to track down the members of the terrorist group, a hunt made even more urgent when the Mayor (John Crawford) is kidnapped by the so-called People's Revolutionary Strike Force and held for ransom. The hard work, gunfire, and persuasive interrogation are thick and furious as our hero and his partner battle to defeat their enemies and rescue the Mayor.
Harry Callahan (and to some minds, Clint Eastwood) is a Cro-Magnon throwback, misanthrope to the world, equal opportunity hater of minorities of every kind, as well as the liberated woman of the 1970s. Right? Well, no. The Dirty Harry persona and cultural reputation may have conditioned many to respond in such a fashion, but a review of the films, including The Enforcer, belies the myth.
"Dirty Harry" is a libertarian, lone-wolf sort of person, especially after a drunk driver killed his wife prior to Dirty Harry. The focus of his life is his never-ending hunt for the evildoers of society, leaving little room for a private life. In his professional life, Callahan's standards are exacting. Focus on justice, on getting the job done, and you are in good standing with him. Play politics or put trendy social concerns above the bottom line, and you will be in his crosshairs. Gay or straight, male or female, he doesn't care, he just wants police officers who can shoot straight ("If the rest of you could shoot like them, I wouldn't care if the whole damn department was queer!" -- Magnum Force) and handle the stress of the job ("If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to handle her end of the log." -- The Enforcer).
His diverse partners, including Mexican, college-educated Chico (Dirty Harry); relaxed but nervous African-American Early Smith (Magnum Force); bemused Italian cop DiGeorgio (John Mitchum) (The Enforcer); determined Kate Moore (The Enforcer); cool African-American Horace King (Sudden Impact), and earnest, nervous Al Quan (The Dead Pool), all are subjected to varying degrees of his un-PC banter, but he is never cruel, contemptuous or personal. Callahan maintains his persona for his own purposes, but in the end he has only professional respect for his partners. In their own way, they earn every bit of that regard, usually by having enough guts to stand beside Harry Callahan and give him the respect he returns to them. Eastwood, whose influence in the whole of the series is clear even without director or producer credits, also made sure that meaningful roles were written for leading ladies, such as tortured vigilante Jennifer Spencer (Sandra Locke in Sudden Impact) and intelligent, driven news anchor Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson in The Dead Pool).
Emmy-winner Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey, Judging Amy) is the prime recipient of that largess in The Enforcer. Nearly unknown to theatrical audiences, as her career has been devoted almost exclusively to television, Tyne Daly is solid, earnest, and genuine. Her reactions, tone and body language speak loudly, telling us how uncomfortable Kate feels in her not entirely earned position, and yet how determined she is to earn that respect and keep her hard-won gains. More so than any of Callahan's other partners, Kate wins our affection and our respect by her loyalty and sheer grit, thanks to Tyne Daly.
The Enforcer, while a capable entry in the franchise, never reaches the same heights as Dirty Harry or Magnum Force. Somewhere between the script and first-time director Jim Fargo (Every Which Way But Loose), The Enforcer loses the tension and sense of danger of the earlier films. The assorted members of the "People's Revolutionary Strike Force" (modeled after the real-life Symbionese Liberation Army) never seems very menacing, despite their murderous ways, and the buffoonery of the Mayor strikes a discordant note.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Enforcer is good, but just below the quality found in Magnum Force. This slightly grainy film also has an older, softer look to it, though with a higher occurrence of edge enhancement and colors that are not as pretty and saturated as in the previous film. Maybe the print for The Enforcer was not as well cared for in general, as the occasional blips, flecks, and usual distractions make plain. Still, not too bad for a twenty five year old film with a new digital transfer, and I was happy to see The Enforcer in widescreen for the first time.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is adequate to the task. Unlike the full use of 5.1 channels in Magnum Force, the sound here is more akin to the usual mono to 5.1 remix I have heard on other older films (like Dirty Harry or Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory). Most of the action and dialogue takes place in the center channel, though the remix does enhance the front soundstage with action and add subwoofer punch for the numerous explosions and gunfights. The '70s soundtrack is energetic though not as rich or bright as you may wish but it is an improvement over the original mono. Dated but okay, I still prefer Lalo Schifrin (who at 80 is still working, lately on Rush Hour 2) for true "Dirty Harry" sound.
As I lamented in my review of Magnum Force, the limited extra content of The Enforcer is disappointing. While the box set of the "Dirty Harry" films is presented with good technical presentations, the only substantive content on the film series is found on Dirty Harry itself, leaving Magnum Force and The Enforcer with their respective original promotional featurette and not too much else, and then Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool without even the featurette.
On The Enforcer, "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films" is the six-minute original promotional featurette. This one is a fairly straightforward promotional fluff, entirely composed of "behind the scenes" shots. Note to Warner: a documentary is a half-hour or longer in-depth look at a subject. This is not a documentary, and barely a featurette. If you are interested, there are a few bits of production and location notes, with the ubiquitous theatrical trailer completing the extra content.
Like with James Bond films, there is no such thing as a bad "Dirty Harry" movie, just good ones and great ones. The Enforcer falls in the former category, but I would recommend it for rental for anyone on Tyne Daly's performance alone, or for the usual "Dirty Harry" action pieces, quips and atmosphere. Fans of the series don't need me to tell them to pick it up ($20 list, or as part of the "Dirty Harry Collection"), though they will be disappointed at the limited extra content.
Coffee may not be psychic, but my psychic powers tell me that this is a "Dirty Harry" film that has no business being in my courtroom. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2001 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 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)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films" Featurette
* Production Notes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Clint Eastwood.net