Thursday, June 26, 2008
An Itemized Account
One good thing about the new DIRTY HARRY DVD box set is that it gave me the chance to finally see THE ENFORCER, the third film in the series. I don’t know why I’d never seen it, but I liked the fact that in not seeing it I somehow still had a Dirty Harry film to look forward to. So that’s been taken care of now. I wasn’t expecting greatness from it but I was hoping for some seventies action so it's safe to say that it was exactly what I expected.
Like its immediate predecessor MAGNUM FORCE the 1976 THE ENFORCER, directed by James Fargo, doesn’t feel like a sequel as much as it resembles a two-part episode of a Dirty Harry tv show, albeit one that still stars Clint, is rated R and shot in Panavision. The plot has Harry Callahan going up against an SLA-type group called The People’s Revolutionary Strike Force who are engaged in a crime spree to---well, it’s never very clear what their plan is besides “blowing things up” and the fact that there’s a wikipedia page devoted to the group indicates that somebody out there has given more thought to them than the movie ever does. There’s a mention of at least the ringleader being a Vietnam vet discarged on a section eight but the movie never seems to bother trying to have an interesting take on them. They’re certainly the least sociologically interesting villains of the run of the series (I’ll make sure to write about THE DEAD POOL soon enough).
The genuinely interesting aspect of the movie might also be its most dated: Harry’s partner this time around is a woman, played by Tyne Daly. (Harry’s told he has a new partner. Cue the door being opened to reveal her. Harry: “Oh, shit.”) Even if this strands the politics of the movie back in the seventies, it does provide Eastwood with one of his numerous female co-stars designed to challenge him and thereby make his own screen persona more interesting. Actresses like Daly probably weren’t given lead roles in movies like this very much even back in the seventies and she’s very good. She has to be—aside from the interplay between Clint and her there’s not much else to the movie. It’s enjoyable in its seventies way, but Clint’s THE GAUNTLET from the next year is a lot more fun even if it is much more outlandish. The action highlight here is a foot chase that comes at about the midpoint—it’s not great and doesn’t seem to pay much attention to geography but it is fun and scored by Jerry Fielding like a full, funked-out jazz piece. I’d have loved to have seen this performed live as it was being recorded for the movie. By a certain point the chase seems to be going on to allow this music to continue, like it’s existing purely for its own sake. At one point the music is interrupted when the bad guy crashes through a skylight and lands right in the middle of a porn shoot. Which proves that sometimes the seventies really were more fun. This was the only entry in the series not scored by Lalo Schifrin and maybe some of it is more up tempo than he would have allowed but some of it’s so fun that I have no complaints.
Surprisingly, considering how many familiar faces turned up in MAGNUM FORCE in early roles, the cast of THE ENFORCER is pretty nondescript in comparison. Harry Guardino, the Lieutenant in the first film, appears again this time and Bradford Dillman plays the obligatory prick superior who has to spend multiple scenes yelling at Harry about whatever sort of messes he’s getting into. John Crawford plays the Mayor so we unfortunately don’t get to see John Vernon make a return appearance. Albert Popwell, the “Do you feel lucky?” robber from the first film, plays the head of a black militant organization. The villains don’t make much of an impression but familiar character actor Michael Cavanaugh who plays Lalo (maybe in tribute to the absent Schifrin) also turned up in THE GAUNTLET the following year. Supposedly Rob Reiner is an extra who gets bumped into during the chase scene, but after looking at it I’m unconvinced. If anyone out there knows Rob Reiner, feel free to ask.
The climax is set on Alcatraz, not that you’d really notice it. Without getting into spoilers, the film winds up more interested in the plot than in staging an elaborate action scene but I suppose Clint would more than make up for it when he starred in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ for Don Siegel. That it seems to pass up the chance at such a memorable climax underscores how THE ENFORCER is efficient and provides some of what you want from Clint in the mid-70s, but doesn’t exert itself too much otherwise. The fact that there are four credited writers indicates that the movie was stitched together from various story parts so while it cruises along it never tries to do much more than that. There is some enjoyable dialogue here and there (“Personnel? That’s for assholes!” “I was in personnel for ten years!”) but nothing that quite measures up to “A man’s got to know his limitations.” It’s not as enjoyably goofy as THE DEAD POOL and certainly never aspires to the serious level of SUDDEN IMPACT. It does have the interplay with Clint & Tyne Daly and it is a Dirty Harry movie with the action, gunplay and other various elements which that promises. And it was worth finally getting to see it.