Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Enforcer

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: Clint Eastwood / In category: 9 of 10 / Overall: 35 of 100

Thinking about the ‘Dirty Harry’ sequels, two things strike me: (i) none of them quite hit the high marks of the original – and at least one of them doesn’t even try*; and (ii) they tread a fine line between well-produced mainstream entertainment and unpretentious exploitation fare. Which, let’s face it, is true of the original.

Hence the vigilantism of ‘Magnum Force’, the rape-revenge theme of ‘Sudden Impact’ and the celebrity serial killer shenanigans of ‘The Dead Pool’.

Then we have the film currently under consideration (and chosen by dint of it being on British TV a couple of nights ago): ‘The Enforcer’. The second of the sequels, it starts with Harry Callahan – yeah, I took one look at the credits and groaned that I’d typed it as “Callaghan” in just about every frickin’ sentence of my ‘Dirty Harry’ review – and his old-timer partner DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) at the scene of a liquor store robbery gone wrong. Hostages have been taken. A woman is being held at gunpoint as the leader of the jittery quartet of cheap hoods makes his demands to the cops. Callahan plays negotiator. The hoods make the mistake of calling him a fucking pig and spitting on him. They demand immediate withdrawal of all police on the scene. They demand Callahan bring them a car. Which he does – driving it straight through the plate glass window. Then he blows the four of them away, coolly walking out of the now demolished store as DiGiorgio pumps a gas grenade into the place.

Next scene, Callahan’s up before pencil-neck office cop Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) who berates him for landing the department with a $14,000 repair bill (1976 prices) and impending lawsuits from the traumatised hostages. A very pissed off and decidedly unappreciated Callahan finds himself transferred to Personnel, an assignment which occasions the following exchange:

Callahan: Personnel? That’s for assholes!
McKay: I was in Personnel for ten years.
Callahan: Yeah.

His first duty in this least onerous of positions is assisting Lieutenant Dobbs (Will MacMillan) to invigilate interviews for an Inspector’s post. The interviews are being overseen by Mrs Grey (Jan Stratton), a prim ‘n’ proper type from the Mayor’s office keen to ascertain that equal opportunities are being adhered to during the screening process. When Callahan behaves confrontationally towards rookie applicant Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), Mrs Grey accuses him of sexism. Cue the following:

Dobbs: Are you finished with the questioning, Callahan?
Callahan (to Moore): Hypothetical situation: I’m standing on the street corner and Mrs Grey comes up and propositions me. She says if I come home with her, for five dollars she’ll put on an exhibition with a Shetland pony –
Mrs Grey: If this is your idea of humor, Inspector ...
Dobbs: All right, what are you trying to do here, Callahan?
Callahan: I’m just trying to find out if anybody in this room knows what the hell law is being broken, besides cruelty to animals.

‘The Enforcer’ is kind of the ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ of ‘Dirty Harry’ movies. The script’s ropey in terms of structure, riddled with stereotypes and doesn’t do anything you haven’t already seen done in a couple of dozen other movies, but it’s quotable as hell and often scurrilously funny, such as when Callahan, suspended by McKay, suggests the captain use his badge as “a seven-point suppository”, or – in a scene that would have today’s demographically-aware and simperingly PC executives shrieking in horror and lunging for the nearest editing machine – he informs a begrudgingly co-operative black militant “that’s mighty white of you”. Ouch!

The actual story gets underway somewhere around the half-hour mark and involves the least politically defined terrorist group in the history of cinema. They call themselves The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force and occasionally declare that what they do is (hey, the clue’s in the title) “for the people”. Beyond that, their politics seem curiously ill-defined. That’s “curiously ill-defined” as in “non-existent”. And for all that they heist weapons, shoot innocent bystanders, shoot each other, blow shit up and kidnap the mayor, they spend most of the movie looking more fey than fearsome, more girlie than guerrilla. Imagine a Peter, Paul and Mary tribute band made up of Baader-Meinhof rejects and you’ll get the picture.

It’s during their weapons heist that DiGiorgio gets caught in the crossfire. Callahan is transferred back to Homicide, partnered up with the newly promoted Inspector Moore and basically let off the leash. I guess the idea was to temper the revenge-thriller elements with some mismatched buddy comedy. Which might have worked had scripters Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner conjured any lines for Tyne Daly that matched the acerbic dialogue they wrought for Clint. As a result, Daly (six years before debuting in her defining role as Detective Mary Beth Lacey in ‘Cagney and Lacey’) gamely suffers through any number of painfully unamusing scenes playing the fall guy to Eastwood’s straight man until she’s finally allowed to cut loose with the weaponry and play with the big boys during the Alcatraz-set finale.

Director James Fargo orchestrates this sequence quite effectively, and makes good use of the location. Three films and three years later, Eastwood would be back there. This time with Don Siegel and the result, an often sombre mood piece, would be worlds removed from the loud, flashy, slam-bang pyrotechnics of Inspector Callahan’s third outing.

*Mentioning no names, ‘The Dead Pool’.


Bryce Wilson said...

Excellent write up. Had me laughing out loud a number of times.

I have to admit The Enforcer is probably the Harry picture I like best after the original. Magnum Force and Sudden Impact are both more ambitious films, and Magnum has one hell of a pedigree, but this just has a jazzy loose feel I really respond to.

Plus I think it arguably shoots San Francisco best out of the non Siegel pictures.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks, Bryce. I'd agree with that. 'Magnum Force' is a belter, but the "Harry Callahan goes up against rogue cops" plot has a slight tinge of double-standards about it. 'Sudden Impact' sidelines Callahan a little bit, but otherwise it's an interesting and sometimes challenging entry in the series.

One thing I forgot to mention about 'The Enforcer': the hilariously over the top score, particularly during the big chase scene where the music seems to vacillate between lounge jazz and big band, as if the studio orchestra had just decided to have a jam session and not take a blind bit of notice of what was playing out on the screen.

Keith said...

Hey there. Thanks for the comment on my blog. I appreciate it. Great post here. I enjoy checking out your blog. Hope you've had a wonderful week. Enjoy the upcoming weekend.

Erich Kuersten said...

I haven't seen this since it was on TV in the 1970s and I never saw the end cuz it passed my bedtime.

This post is hilarious and makes me want to see it!

Neil Fulwood said...

Keith - thanks for dropping by. Glad you're enjoying the posts. Hope your weekend's a good one, too.

Erich - I'd definitely recommended staying up late next time it's on: the end bit's the best bit.