Synopsis: When detective Harry Callahan stops a liquor store hostage standoff in his own no-nonsense way, he gets busted back to personnel. But not for long. When terrorists rob an arms warehouse and go on a blood-soaked extortion spree, San Francisco’s leaders quickly seek out Callahan: The Enforcer.
Clint Eastwood takes dead aim again in this third of his five Dirty Harry films. Presaging her four-time Emmy-winning stint as half of TV’s Cagney and Lacey, Tyne Daly co-stars as Harry’s new partner, who has two jobs: nailing the terrorists – and winning hard-boiled Harry’s confidence. Stoked with brisk humor and hard-hitting mayhem The Enforcer carves another winning notch in the handle of Harry’s .44 magnum.
The Enforcer 8.0
‘The Enforcer’ is the second sequel in the ‘Dirty Harry’ series. To this day, it remains a big favourite of mine, not only in the franchise but as a stand-alone action film. I can’t say that I’m a big action movie fan; I frequently find them too moronic and overblown to be enjoyable. But when they’re good, they’re great – and ‘The Enforcer’, in my estimation, is one of the greatest.
Inspector Harry Callahan: “She wants to play lumberjack, she’s going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.”
One of the key reasons why I love this film is because of its feminist edge. Callahan may think that women aren’t up to the task of law enforcement, but he quickly recognizes his new partner’s skill and is impressed with her – which is completely in character, seeing as he only cares about competence. He just hadn’t seen proof of a woman’s ability yet. But, the moment that he does, he doesn’t even think twice about working with her.
Harry Callahan (heading into the Coroner’s office): “Tell me, ever been to one of these before?”
Kate Moore: “No.”
Harry Callahan: “In that case, I’d like to suggest that you sit out here.”
Kate Moore: “Please don’t concern yourself, Inspector.”
I truly love the dynamic between Eastwood and Tyne Daly: she’s the rookie cop who has never made one single arrest, has never worked the grittier side of police work and, thus, constantly has to prove herself to a seasoned lawman all the while struggling with a dramatic learning curve. In the form of Daly, we get an extremely capable character who is eager to learn, challenge and prove herself, and has the resilience to take the blows that come along the way. She doesn’t balk at any challenge.
So, not only does she make for an excellent match for Harry Callahan, but she is also an admirable character to boot. And the movie breezes by on the calibre of the performance sustaining this role.
As is typical of the ‘Dirty Harry’ films, they are heavily influenced by the socio-political climate of the time. Whereas the first one discussed racism, victims’ rights and the legal entanglements that limit police work, the second one discusses bigotry further and drew a line in the sand as to what is acceptable in the quest for “justice”. ‘The Enforcer’, meanwhile, tackles home-grown terrorism (ex: The Weather Underground and The Black Panthers) and the women’s movement – which were both topical in the mid-’70s.
On the one hand, the film justifies the advancement of women in areas once closed to them, and on the other, it discusses the extremes that some people take to supposedly fight societal oppression, suggesting that the causes are sometimes used as empty cover for illegal activities. While this may seem cynical, it does two things in the process: it provides “Dirty” Harry with targets that match his forceful approach to law enforcement and it humanizes him.
Mustapha: “Callahan, you’re on the wrong side.”
Harry Callahan: “How do you figure that?”
Mustapha: “You go out and put your ass on the line for a bunch of dudes who’d no sooner let you in the front door than they would me.”
Harry Callahan: “I’m not doin’ it for them.”
Mustapha: “Who then?”
Harry Callahan: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
One of the key questions that had been plaguing “Dirty” Harry from the onset was whether or not he was prejudiced. In ‘The Enforcer’, we discover Callahan at home with African-Americans as much as with anyone else. He can relate to anyone that he respects in some capacity. This would be explored further in the next film, ‘Sudden Impact’, when we discover that one of his close friends is black, further solidifying Callahan’s reputation for disliking everyone equally – that his contempt is solely rooted ideology.
And that obviously extends to his supervisors, when he’s stuck with self-important pencil-pushers who are more interested in furthering their own careers than in actually doing what’s right. As a rebellious youth at heart, I adore seeing Callahan consistently challenging authority even as he tries to uphold the law. He has no time for bureaucracy, politics and incompetence; he just wants to do his job, and he won’t let anyone roadblock his efforts for political reasons:
Capt McKay: “All right, Callahan, button your lip, that’s an order!”
Harry Callahan: “Captain, if you want to jerk all these people off, you can, but don’t do it with me.”
Capt McKay: “That’s it, Callahan! You just got yourself a 60-day suspension!”
Harry Callahan: “Make it 90!”
Capt McKay: “180! Give me your star.”
(Harry pulls out his badge and angrily hands it to Capt. McKay)
Harry Callahan: “Here’s a 7-point suppository, Captain!”
Capt McKay: “WHAT did you say?”
Harry Callahan: “I said STICK IT IN YOUR ASS!”
While I get a kick out the “7-point suppository” line, I have to admit that, for the most part, the one-liners in this picture aren’t as sharp as they were in the first two. They’re not at all terrible, but the script could have been improved some. On the flip-side, ‘The Enforcer’ introduced amusing catchwords in the Dirty Harry lexicon, with “marvellous” being the recurring term that Harry uses in this film to express his disgust. In ‘Sudden Impact’, it would be replaced by “swell”, and in ‘The Dead Pool’ a combination of the two would be used.
Still, one gets the sense that there’s a lack of imagination and/or effort at work here. For instance, some scenes are taken right out of conventional action film blueprints (which is another way of saying that they don’t make sense ), such as: Wanda wearing a veil and carrying a machine gun in a Church (conveniently in wait for Callahan), or the lengthy rooftop chase with Callahan and a suspect (when he could have pulled out his gun like usually does), or the fact that that same suspect was actually waiting on the street corner after committing a crime, …etc.
As well, the score doesn’t have as much of a personality as the previous ones did; Lalo Schiffrin’s compositions actually helped define ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Magnum Force’. Unfortunately, as accomplished as he was, Jerry Fielding only provided a standard ’70s action film accompaniment to ‘The Enforcer’. That is not to say that it is not good, or enjoyable, it’s just that it doesn’t distinguish itself in any way and, obviously, pales in comparison to the first two. Schiffrin’s fresh and innovative approach is sorely missed.
The film was also manned by a novice director, James Fargo. While he had much experience working on Clint Eastwood films and had the latter’s blessing, there are some editing issues along the way that could -and should- have been prevented. These were not major problems, more along the lines of different takes pasted together, that sort of thing, but it’s enough so that the film loses its edge a bit. And yet it’s a short film, relatively-speaking. But the issue isn’t length, it’s in the fractions of seconds that needed trimming.
All in all, however, ‘The Enforcer’ stands up quite well even 35 years later. It’s a product of its time, certainly, but very few ’70s action films maintain their potency like this one does. A lot of it is due to its feminist edge, because it delivers its message without an ounce of preachiness. But it would all be for naught if not for Tyne Daly’s intensity and the determination that she imbued her character with.
As smouldering as “Dirty” Harry is in the form of Clint Eastwood, the film would have lacked balls if not for his female sidekick. And, in that respect, ‘The Enforcer’ showcases the purest example of the balance between the male and female of the species: both have their respective strengths, as well as shared ones, but they are made stronger by virtue of the existence of other. For a picture with a feminist theme, this factor is quite fitting.
And, for that reason alone, ‘The Enforcer’ is worth seeing; whether it was actually conceived as a feminist statement, whether this is accidental or not, it turns out that it’s an action film with more substance than its peers.