The third Dirty Harry film and the best one. The first film in the series is beyond film criticism, it is revered, a cultural icon, so good, bad or otherwise, is a film classic. The Enforcer is not better made, but it is a balance between all of the independent atomic materials of Dirty Harry.
In every Dirty Harry film, we are introduced to Harry as he deals with a crime in-progress and ends it, Dirty Harry style. In this film it was a liquor store robbery, where Harry crashes his police car through the front of the store and shoots each of the three robbers with his .44 Magnum. In another film he spoils a hijacking at the airport while enjoying a cheeseburger and in another film he ends a bank robbery by shooting the criminals, and rendering his trademark, “Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”
Each Dirty Harry film is its own solar system, independent of the other films in the series. They do not build on the character or anything in each film. That’s okay, the Bond films didn’t either.
The 1970s, much like today, is ripe for the confluence of conservative law and order verses civil rights and generalizations of cops and little people (Blade Runner reference).
In 1968, Richard Nixon ran on law and order, and it was still in vogue during the next decade as crime in American cities was high and people were fleeing the urban core for the safer suburbs and ring cities. New York City was a prime example of high taxes and crime, driving the city to the verge of financial collapse.
The Dirty Harry films proved box office gold, setting off a legion of imitations and vigilante cops or private citizens that grew tired of ineffective bureaucracy and liberal courts that put criminals back on the street. Harry Callahan was like Archie Bunker. They both hated pretty much everybody, for somewhat different reasons, but they did use stereotypes.
In the first film, fellow police inspector Frank DiGiorgio says: “That’s one thing about our Harry, doesn’t play any favorites. Harry hates everybody: Limeys, Micks, Hebes, Fat Dagos, Niggers, Honkies, Chinks, you name it.”
Eastwood’s Dirty Harry saw women as very inferior to men, they had their place, but not on the police force. Criminals were portrayed as minorities, Italians, young militants, drug users and foreigners. The media tended to sensationalize for their own benefit, politicians were weak or pushed self-serving agenda, the police bureaucracy was worthless in fighting crime, lawyers were looking for careers or loopholes, feminism and student protesters were do-gooders needing something better to do, social workers didn’t help people, and hippies were dopers and hangers-on. In total, America was soft and the system was broken. This gives Harry an opportunity to battle everyone from his own department to women’s lib.
During the inspector panel interviews, Harry learns of the Mayor’s new initiative to promote women to field positions. He puts Officer Moore through the a heated interview because he feels she is unqualified and likely to get herself and a male partner killed. She may not have much experience but she responds impressively, holding her own, much to Harry’s surprise.
The militants kill a few people along the way and raided an armory for military weaponry and LAW rockets.
After the armory theft, a dying DiGiorgio gives Harry one piece of information, that leads Harry to the Fillmore District in search of a hooker. At the same time, the city receives a message that the militants will start blowing things up, using explosives stolen from the armory, in exchange for one million dollars. Harry immediately encounters a stonewall from his chain-of-command. And Harry learns that now promoted Officer Moore is his new partner.
At the morgue, a bomb goes off, Harry and Moore are there and give chase to one of the militants, through the streets, across buildings, through a porno shoot and finally into a church. This sequence is accompanied by a very cool jazz score, the kind Eastwood films would be known for. A jazz enthusiast, Eastwood usually worked with Lalo Schiffrin, but used veteran Jerry Fielding on this film. The score is a departure from action films of the era, it reminds me of The Streets of San Francisco opening credits.
The suspect is a member of a black militant group, not the one Harry is chasing, but Harry and Moore have to check it out. Big Ed Mustapha (Albert Popwell) is the leader of the black militants, is able to barter help from Big Ed. Right after Harry and Moore leave, the SFPD raid Big Ed’s, without the knowledge of Harry. The police brass believe Big Ed is responsible for the murders and bombing, and want to publicize it with commendations and a press conference. Harry disagrees and is suspended.
Harry and Moore finally get to know each other a little, and the respect grows. The militants up the score by kidnapping the San Francisco Mayor for ransom.
These militants, patterned after the Symbionese Liberation Army of the Patty Hearst era, are just criminals hiding behind some bullshit manifesto. The militants call a radio station to give their demands to the city.
Big Ed, out on bail, provides Harry with information, which takes him to the Tenderloin District where the massage parlors are. Wanda, a name from Bid Ed, works there. Harry goes there looking for her, but finds trouble. There is a clue, that Wanda hangs around a church in the area, the one the militant was apprehended in earlier. The priest is big in prison reform and assisting militants, including the one Harry is looking for. Harry pays him a visit. Moore follows and saves Harry from one of the militants with a gun.
Harry and Moore are led to Alcatraz, where the militants are holed up with the Mayor. Harry and Moore fight the militants. Moore frees the Mayor but she is killed. Harry kills the last militant with a LAW rocket, a step up from his Magnum.
By 1976, Eastwood was a powerful guy in Hollywood, the biggest action star in movies. Through his company, he hired the director and oversaw the development of the script. It was his production company making the film and Warner Bros. just put up the cash and handling the distribution.
The film script came from any hands until it had Eastwood’s approval. The original characters were created by Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink, but they weren’t involved in any of the succeeding films. The Enforcer was a composite of a script by newcomers Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr, who delivered their script to a restaurant Eastwood owned, hoping to get him to read it. Eastwood liked the film’s idea, but knew it needed a lot of work. It was rewritten by film veteran Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, Route 66), but Eastwood still wasn’t satisfied. Next, it was turned over to Dean Riesner, a frequent Eastwood writer (Rawhide, Coogan’s Bluff), who had worked on rewrites to the original Dirty Harry script. Director James Fargo, in the film commentary, noted the effort to infuse more humor into the script, a difference from the two previous Dirty Harry films.
Eastwood’s films are mostly dialed into America’s psyche, whether it was crime, street-fighting, war, Westerns, geriatric astronauts, boxers or old men with muscle cars. He’s a smart guy, and efficient filmmaker, very few of his films have bombed, and all are profitable. Dirty Harry, more than any other of his characters, resonated with the public. You might not have agreed with his misogynistic or brutal instincts, but you continued viewing. There was something in his character that we embraced, if only for the duration of the film. He often operated outside of the law, when lives were at stake and he felt there was no other way. How many of us would agree? Eastwood’s politics are a different matter, and a different conversation.
The Enforcer continued Harry Callahan’s crusade against yet another group. This time it wasn’t a psycho killer, the mob or rogue cops, just another faction that we can all agree is bad news, militant killers. This group kills many people in their path, including: two gas company guys to get their truck, Inspector DiGiorgio, the Mayor’s driver, and his personal assistant. This brutality gave Harry the freedom to use extreme prejudice in carrying out his mission. And he did.
Over the course of the film, Harry begins to change his view of his new female partner, rookie Inspector Moore (Tyne Daly), who brings tenacity and smarts to the role as his new partner. In Harry’s world, everyone has to prove themselves, but once they do, he’s good with it. In Eastwood films to this point, women served as ornaments, not serious and integral characters, but Daly breaks the mold here, at least for this film.
Eastwood hires a variety of character actors to populate his films, and his cast here includes: Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, John Mitchum, John Crawford and Eastwood regular, Albert Popwell.
The film is light on character development, you know Harry, so that’s all that really matters. Character exposition slows down the plot and diminishes the action, which means fewer viewers. Years later, Eastwood would care more about characters as he turned into a more serious director and wanted his films to have depth. The Dirty Harry films were intended as visceral entertainment.
From the opening sequence of the gas company murders to the fade-out on Alcatraz, the film takes you through Harry’s journey to trail the militants and inflict his style of justice. I’m not even sure Harry owned a pair of handcuffs, his suspects either go to the hospital or the morgue. Handcuffs are unnecessary, as is the Miranda warning. Instead of a lawyer, he should reference doctor or coroner.
The Enforcer, like the other films in the series, are culturally very hip, and San Francisco is the perfect locale for a film with a contemporary vibe. Hippies, porn, protests, activist priests, free love, militant groups, Black Power, the films reflect the times though a slightly distorted mirror.
Eastwood was in the midst of a very prolific period of filmmaking was in need of a director, so he selected his assistant, James Fargo, to direct the film, under Eastwood’s supervision. A big hit, the film essentially made back it’s production cost in the first week of release and was the top grossing Dirty Harry film to that point.
In nearly 45 years since The Enforcer, the brashness of the violence in the film is passe today, you see more on television, any night of the week. We’re not shocked it by it. We see it on the news. Daily.