A financial success that received a critical drubbing, Magnum Force (1973; Ted Post) just doesn’t get the .44-calibre love it deserves, even from Fans of Clint.
It is case of preconceived notions/mistaken identity: Do not watch this expecting the brutal thug cop from Don Siegel’s 1971 classic.
After the stinging sociopolitical criticism that Clint, Siegel & Co. got dumped on them for Dirty Harry’s “hard-line” stance towards law & order (I believe Pauline Kael referred to it as “fascistic”), Eastwood gave the order that the character of Harry Callahan needed to be “mellowed,” but without sacrificing the mayhem the crowds loved.
Inspired by cases in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American nations where policemen formed secret right-wing death squads to mete out “justice” without any interference from courts, lawyers, or even the law itself, the script by Michael Cimino (pre-Deer Hunter) and John Milius has a loose but effective structure, with plenty of moments of nasty ultraviolence shoehorned in (which is why Magnum Force is still popular, often repeated on television).
But this time, Clint’s San Francisco police inspector is the brother of his characters from The Gauntlet (another “bad” movie I love) or Tightrope: a beat-down dude who just need a little chill time, and maybe some good lovin’—who unfortunately get tossed into violent, miserable cases (that we know he’ll eventually solve).
Some good points:
There’s a wonderful and soft moment where Clint ponders his wedding photo (he’s a widower), and some pleasant banter between him and a potential girlfriend; I like the movie’s mistrust of authority via killer cop conspiracy; and the action is definitely exciting, but also particularly vicious, with lots of gruesome killings. (One of which—the Drano killing—actually inspired a real murder.)
Meanwhile, the young, handsome biker cops are like creepy visions out of Cocteau (or gay porn): all leather, chrome and mirrorshades.
BTW, Magnum Force has a brilliant use of “car as weapon”—frame-by-frame analysis HERE.