& MAGNUM FORCE: A FRANKLY CRITICAL CRITIQUE
One of the
iconic cop movie scenes of the 20th century has Inspector Harry Callahan staring down a punk and informing him
that his own weapon is a .44 Magnum—the most powerful handgun in the world which can blow his head clean off—and
asking said punk if he feels lucky today.
not the scene I want to talk about. There's another scene in Dirty Harry where
Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is talking to the wife of his cop partner. It's some casual chat to establish character, as they
say in the screenwriting biz. She asks Harry about his wife and he responds that
she was killed in a DUI incident. The thing about the scene is the assumption of normalcy, a man would be married, it was
the order of things way back when in the 1970s when these two movies were released. Compare that to the muck marriage has
been made into in the 21st century.
Dirty Harry and Magnum Force are, of course, the first two movies in the Dirty Harry series, where the eponymous (I love using
that word!) cop applies his own unconventional concepts of law and order to a world which seems to be disintegrating around
both him and us. After all, this is the early 1970s and there was a war going on
in America's streets which conventional law enforcement seemed unable to stop. Time
for the government to respond with its own war on crime. Sounds manly, right? In Dirty
Harry, we see Inspector Callahan torture a psycho killer to get him to give up the info so that a kidnapped girl can be
rescued. In a following scene, he gets a tongue lashing from a city official about violating the Bill of Rights. Take the
handcuffs off the police, discard that silly Bill of Rights, and the bad guys will be on the run, right?
Here we are,
some four decades later (is it that long?), and America
has had, and continues to have, wars on crime, drugs and terrorism. Let's think about this for a moment, think about all the
ways in which the system violates the rights of men today. I won't elaborate, I
think we all know the score on that number. It's what happens when you toss out the Bill of Rights. It's not just the psycho
killers who have SWAT teams kicking in their doors.
can understand the fascination with Dirty Harry. In one of the opening sequences of Magnum
Force, Inspector Callahan takes on airplane hijackers and blows them to kingdom come. It's that .44 Magnum again. At the
time the movie was made, terrorism seemed to be on the ascendancy and "take this plane to Cuba" was a common enough trope. Harry was doing what everyone wanted him to do.
Take down the bad guys, no questions asked. And here we are in the post 9/11 world, and look at the situation at the airports.
"Technicalities" such as the Fourth Amendment do not apply (nor does the First—if you do not believe this, try talking
back to a TSA screener). And on top of that, we have national data bases, asset forfeiture, roving wiretaps, people being
jailed for not paying civil judgments, and men (and women) being jailed on trumped up charges all across the Homeland.
working for you?
Dirty Harry has to
be seen what is fundamentally wrong with movies promoting law enforcement acting above the law. When you take the handcuffs
off of the government, you have the government violating everyone's rights. And again, if you do not believe this, try walking
through an airport screening line these post 9/11 days.
the easy shot.
I sat down
and watched Dirty Harry and Magnum Force
together over the course of two evenings. It's the second movie which has the significant element.
In Magnum Force, Inspector Callahan finds himself up against a death squad operating out of the San Francisco Police
Department. To make a long story short, four young officers have been recruited by the seemingly by-the-book Lieutenant Neil
Briggs (Hal Holbrook). This was an interesting setup because Holbrook at the time had a reputation for playing "liberal" characters
(notably a Kennedy-esque senator in Wild in the Streets). The cops Briggs recruits
are just out of the academy, graduates of the killing fields of Vietnam
(a war which was still in progress in those days). Harry has to stop these vigilantes because...well....the film is not altogether
sure why. Maybe it's because he's a lone hero and a death squad is a little too organized. Maybe because he's righting a cosmic
balance over past transgressions. Who knows, it's a movie, right?
death squad is ominous enough in their motorcycle cop uniforms, all black leather, boots and crash helmets. They lethally
terminate any number of organized crime figures. They're going after the guys in the expensive suits and limos, gunning them
down in their penthouse suites. When the death squad's path crosses with Harry's, events transpire such that it's them or
him. Harry wins, apparently, because he says, "a man's got to know his limits."
is where the film is all wrong. More critically, it's where most people, I believe, have Dirty Harry all wrong.
Compare Magnum Force's four killer cops plus their lieutenant to the four Treasury agents
in the Kevin Costner The Untouchables. Both the cops and T-men form warrior aristocracies,
organizing for a higher purpose. Let me elaborate.
across as an alienated loner, shambling through the tawdry episodes of the first movie, especially. While strict constitutionalist
prosecutors might wag their finger at him, they know that Harry's no threat to the system which pays all their salaries. If
anything, he is their designated hitter, taking on the dirty jobs which no one else can do, as Harry sagely observes in the
first movie after saving a potentially suicidal jumper. After the torture scene in the first movie, city officials chew him
out for violating due process, but—and this is critical—they take no real action against him. He's still got his
badge and .44 Magnum, and maybe, just maybe, the minions of the system know that he will go after the killer anyway. As long
as they have covered themselves in paperwork the minions will have the best of all worlds. One less killer on the windblown
streets, and a convenient cop to be sacrificed.
by contrast, are not alienated. They have a team. They have a mission. They have a vision. Officer Davis (a young David Soul)
tells us, "All our heroes are dead. We're the first generation that's learned to fight." It was a stirring line then, and
is still stirring today. Lieutenant Briggs adds: "Anyone who threatens the security of the people shall be executed!" Coming
from Holbrook, that line has all the more impact. A warband under the mentorship of an older veteran provides the comradeship
which Harry seems to be missing—after all, he admits that his partners have a habit of getting killed or wounded, something
we see happening in both movies.
modus operandi is going after lowlife criminals without much regard for due process. OK, no one is going to miss banks robbers,
serial killers, airplane hijackers, and so forth. But does he change anything? Not really. Plenty more from where those punks
Briggs and his men are attacking a much higher echelon: the organized criminals who have corrupted the system, much in the
same way that The Untouchables went after the Capone organization. Look at the advantage to getting organized. This is shown
better in The Untouchables: each member of the team brings a specialty, whether
police experience, combat skills, the ability to decode arcane accounting books (vital these bureaucratic days) and, most
importantly, leadership. Together, they are greater than the sum of their parts. And they learn from each other. If nothing
else, having a man on the inside (a police chief playing double agent in The Untouchables,
Briggs for Magnum Force) provides political cover and inside
intel. You can't get all that with a lone gunman. Because sooner or later it's gonna hit the fan, and you'll need the pencil
pushers to back you up in court and in front of the cameras.
threat today, of course, is not the street level punks. They're just the symptom. If anything, the punks provide the system
with the justification for ripping up the Bill of Rights, ala Dirty Harry. Call it anarcho-tyranny.
is, of course, the system itself. Again, I don't think I have to elaborate to MRAs on how today's system violates rights.
And there are a lot of other people who are not MRAs who also see how their own rights are being shredded—again by the
system. Sure, we can walk down the streets at night without fear because the psycho killers have had the local SWAT team put
a constellation of .44 Magnum holes in them. But...so what? The bigger threat is a system that can deprive anyone of everything
they have built: career, home, family, freedom, life.
system is what Briggs understands. The real enemy is in the forces which have corrupted America, the West, the world. And today, it's not just organized criminals with
their payola and muscling in on legitimate business. The system itself has become the criminal organization.
A loose cannon
like Dirty Harry can not take on this system. It takes a warrior aristocracy to do that. Organized crime requires an organized
response, a warband of free men with a vision that knows no limits.