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There is a type of movie which, while ostensibly set in the real world (such as it is), actually goes over the boundary into surrealism. Kafka, reviewed elsewhere  on this website, is one such film. The Game is another (which I'll review one of these days). These movies take an approach similar to that sometimes used in science fiction:  create an alternative reality which allows for the telling of a story of archetypes. Only what I call Urban Mythologies do so in a setting which appears to be our world. And in one sense it is our world, but with the facade ripped off. One such film is Brian de Palma's The Untouchables...another is Dirty Harry...

theuntouchables.jpg

THE UNTOUCHABLES 

 

"Why do you want to be a cop?"--Sean Connery

 

I have to admit, when I saw Brian dePalma's The Untouchables for the first time I walked out of the theater not exactly pleased. For one thing, dePalma had changed the historical record so now, instead of eleven federal agents, there are only four going after the Capone organization. And on top of that, two of these four get killed in the movie when, back in the real world of Treasury agents versus Prohibition era gangsters, none were – which is one reason they were called, "The Untouchables."

 

But upon seeing this movie more recently—watching it several times, actually—I've come to a completely different conclusion, to wit: The Untouchables is a movie of archetypical heroic values played out not in some epic setting of swords & sorcery or war on a distant frontier, but rather in Prohibition era Chicago. It's this setting which throws people, because the movie The Untouchables is not about the historical Untouchables but simply uses them as a backdrop on which to tell a much deeper tale.

 

Historically, the Untouchables were a team of U.S. Treasury agents headed by Elliot Ness who took on the Capone organization. The federal government has passed the Volstead Act in 1919, banning the sale and purchase (but not use!) of alcoholic beverages. This was supposed to bring in a new era of progress but the actual result was an explosion in organized crime. Gangsters such as Al Capone became powers unto themselves in many American cities. They had both the money from the alcohol trade, and the support of much of the public. After all, they were giving them what they wanted, right? The fact that this led to endemic violence in the streets of Chicago, as well as the corruption of civic government, went by the boards. The mobsters had the power to corrupt local government, so enter the feds. Ness's strategy was to go after Capone by going after his money which meant attacking his alcohol distribution network. This way, the Capone organization income would dry up, and judges, cops and politicians could not be bought off. This strategy worked after a fashion, though in the end Capone was actually sent to prison by a separate Treasury operation which got him on income tax evasion. So endeth the historical sermon.

 

There was a landmark television series called The Untouchables way back in 1959-63, starring Robert Stack, presented as a quasi-documentary if somewhat fictionalized series of Ness and his men taking on Capone's chief henchman, Frank Nitti (Capone himself being sent to prison during the opening pilot). Old timers might recognize the voice of Walter Winchell as the series' narrator.

 

All this is a background for understanding the DePalma's 1987 movie, The Untouchables.

 

Let's start with the setting, a city of concrete and steel rising from the prairies, a world which seems to be a distant mirror of our own 21st century: there are automobiles (the ubiquitous Model-A), airplanes (a Ford Tri-motor at one point wafts our heroes to a rendezvous with Canadian Mounties), automatic weapons (Thompson submachineguns) and telephones (mercifully, not the ever present background clutter of cell calls). This world has, for a lack of a better word, style. T-men, cops and even gangsters go into action wearing suits and ties. But there is more to it than the Armani fashions. At the center of the action is the primary male group, the warband. Let me explain.

 

To emphasize, Chicago comes across as a vision of the future as seen from 1930, a sort of Ayn Randian world of gleaming art deco skyscrapers, opera houses with muralled ceilings vaulting to the heavens, and manmade technological wonders, whether radios or passenger airlines (new enough inventions for that time to be the equivalent of space travel today, or at least back when America did have a manned space program in another era of technological advance). But in another way, it is our own world, seen through a glass lightly. For we can recognize the same struggles that men face today.

   

Elliot Ness' mission is to enforce the law, but the law itself has been corrupted. Capone (Robert DeNiro), we are informed, is the unofficial mayor of Chicago, and we see him reigning over his court, whether being interviewed by reporters while being shaved (as if he were a Sun King), presiding over a meeting of his top men (with a baseball bat), or patronizing the arts (in the form of a tear fest of an opera).

 

Ness (Kevin Costner) initially tries to take on the Capone organization by bureaucratic methods, cooperating with the Chicago Police Department. But his first raid turns into a bust as someone inside has ratted them out, causing them to hit a warehouse full of parasols instead of bootleg Canadian whiskey. "Poor little buttercup," remarks an ironic newspaper headline. Clearly, the system is not working, or if it is working, it is for the other side.

 

Afterwards, Ness finds himself on a bridge spanning one of Chicago's waterways, a symbolic and literal crossing point, when out of Homeric mists comes veteran but honest cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery, who else?). Ness offers him a deal, a position on his team (which at this point consists only of himself!) in return for the veteran's experience. After the obligatory reluctant hero bit, Malone joins up. They then recruit two more men, rookie but streetwise cop aka Giusseppi Petri aka George Stone (Andy Garcia) and bookish accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith).

 

OK, four Untouchables, not eleven, what gives?

 

"Why fo you want to be a cop?" they ask each other in a line which becomes a mantra.

 

What we have here are four archetypical members of the warband: neophyte Ness, mentor Malone, warrior Stone, and thinker/clever guy Wallace. Think of them in the same way as the protagonists of Star Wars (A New Hope), respectively: Luke Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and C3P0. (Yes, I know, the identifications are not entirely one on one, and it does leave out some characters and all, but you can see where this is going.) Each of the men has their specialty, and by working together unlock the secret. Malone totes about the key to a police callbox and a medallion of St. Jude (patron saint, we are told, of lost causes and police officers)—talismans of power, temporal and spiritual. The key literally opens up communications to the police world and, as we will see, keys become an important part of the world of the Untouchables.

 

The problem, as Malone points out, "is not finding the booze but taking on Capone." In a sacred place (a cathedral, no less), Malone tests Ness by asking how far he is willing to go. Ness replies by stating he will do all within the law and at this point Malone responds that he has taken a blood oath. Now duly sworn in to the brotherhood, Ness is ready for action.

 

And action they get as the four men march into a post office which turns out to be a front for a bootlegger's warehouse. The symbolism is pretty clear: the state itself is but a false front for the criminals who hide behind the facade of respectability. The four lawmen traverse a hallway and come to a red door. Here, Malone tells Ness that if they go through this portal, there is no going back. Ness assents. Axe in hand, they chop down the portal and emerge...

 

....into a different world.

 

The scene contains a bizarre transition, because on the other side of the red door we find a massive chamber containing gangsters and their contraband. Something in the back of your head tells you that the architecture of the building could not contain such spaces. But we get the point: Ness and company have entered a different world. On the other side, they confront and arrest the malefactors. They have truly crossed the line, operating in another world. Capone will soon become aware of them, and they have made an enemy whom they must vanquish or find themselves perishing.

 

It's at this point I'd like to do a brief recapitulation of the usual Joseph Campbell spiel on the Hero with a Thousand Faces. We have seen already the neophyte meeting the older mentor (though in a twist, it is the mentor who proves reluctant, to be convinced by the neophyte to go on this quest). They form a warband and enter a fabulous world where all things are possible. The hero is trained, goes on a quest, there is a death and rebirth, a revelation of inner knowledge, and the great confrontation with the villain which is really a confrontation of the hero with his own inner demons. The final result is the reign of the new law. At the end of the movie we are told that Prohibition may be repealed: having vanquished the corrupt state, the way is open to freedom. But the actual journey is that of the hero: he gains the strength to break the bonds set upon him, or which he set upon himself. As will be seen, this does not turn into vigilantism but something quite else.

 

Significantly, the Untouchables are all men, operating in a male world. Ness is married, but he must send his wife and children away before he can free himself for the quest, though this is couched in terms of protecting them from gangland retaliation (an odd plot device, since gangsters of that era generally did not attack families). Similarly he insists that no married men may be recruited among what the popular press will soon label "The Untouchables." While they come from different backgrounds and experiences, they form a common cause not by bureaucratic fiat (as do the uniformed policemen) but by voluntarily working together.

 

The move contains several set pieces once having passed through that red door and in the new world. Ness and company fly to the Canadian border to intercept a convoy of alcohol. The scene seems clichéd as the Untouchables ride horses along with Canadian Mounties, the cavalry literally to the rescue in a Wild West style shootout. Yet the gunplay is not the thing. Rather, it is that Wallace has discovered something that could break the war wide open—Al Capone has paid no income taxes.  Of course, this is how the feds got Capone in the end, and it is something of a commentary on how two of the centerpieces of the Progressive Era—Prohibition and the Federal Income Tax—are at uncivil war with each other.

 

The key to the investigation is in unlocking a series of accounting books which have come into the possession of the Untouchables. And Wallace is that key man, like R2D2 jacking into the Death Star computer to shut down the garbage mashers, or better, carrying the plans to the Death Star which must be decoded, analyzed and then used to launch a final attack on a seemingly unstoppable foe.

 

This is a theme which is present, though somewhat low-key ("key," there's that word again!), since it is presented largely in terms of dialog. Wallace unravels the code, first by shattering another facade, this of Capone's front organizations; then of mob payoff recipients; and finally into the diversion of funds to Capone himself. Think of it as the McGuffin, the Death Star plans in this world not so long ago and not too far away.

 

At the conclusion of the Wild West sequence there is a bizarre scene in which Malone bamboozles a captured mobster into giving the code to the books, doing so by shooting a dead man. The scene has a bizarre sacred or maybe sacrilegious tone to it, desecrating a corpse after all, killing a dead man to find a truth. But we are informed by Ness that this is the "Chicago Way." Malone will later pay for this usurpation, though as will be seen, not before he is able to perform his own (temporary) resurrection.

 

It's at this point that things start going bad as Wallace is killed while escorting the captured gangster. The killer is Frank Nitti (Billy Drago), depicted in the movie as an angel of death gliding through scenes in spotless white suits. There's something oddly effeminate about Nitti in the movie (who, historically, was Capone's chief deputy and known as the "Enforcer"), making him stand out from not only the male archetypes of the Untouchables but even of the rough and tumble gangsters of the Capone mob.

 

Wallace's death is jarring. For one thing, it destroys the premise that Ness's organization is untouchable as advertised. This point is made graphically as we see the word "Touchable" written in blood on the walls of the elevator which has become an execution chamber (why would Nitti waste time to do that?). For another, Wallace's death does not seem to be necessary from the standpoint of the movie as we will see a much more significant death later on. Perhaps Wallace, because he has provided his function of finding the secret, has now become expendable, but nonetheless, this does not feel "right."

 

Anyway, with the informant dead and the key to the coded books beyond human agency, Ness announces, "I have taken this as far as we can go." This harks back to Malone's question, "just how far are you prepared to go?" For Ness, this is not simply a matter of delving deeper into the investigation of Capone. Rather, he must further transcend his own limitations to win the final victory.

 

Following on this first killing comes a second, this time as Nitti guns down Malone in his own apartment. Malone, who had earlier informed us that if "Capone comes after you with a knife, you go after him with a gun," uses a sawed-off shotgun to chase away an apparent assassin, remarking that the intruder has brought a "knife to a gunfight." Then stepping out of the darkness, Nitti in turn opens up with a submachinegun.

 

At this point the movie takes another apparent departure from reality. Despite being shot full of more lead than Sonny Corleone at a turnpike toll booth, Malone survives long enough to tell Ness where to find Capone's accountant. The scene is ridiculous in terms of the real world, but remember, this is not the real world we are dealing with in The Untouchables. We are in the world of archetypal heroes. "Trust your feelings," Luke Skywalker hears in another galaxy from the disembodied Obi-wan Kenobi as he flies into the Death Star trench. In Chicago, Malone is returning from the dead, a temporary resurrection, a spirit voice speaking through the mechanism of what rightly should be a corpse. He finally expires, but not before imparting the final key to the quest. Ness and the surviving Untouchable are now ready for their final battle.

 

This preliminaries are fought out in the Chicago railroad station. I'll note I have been in that station several times on railroad trips cross country, so this scene was like an old stomping ground to me. It's done as a set piece with a baby stroller bouncing down the steps, evoking (as all film students and most revival house audiences know) of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. Actually, Woody Allen did this homage or rip-off or whatever in his Bananas back in 1971, and I suppose any number of meanings can be read into it. Whatever. The thing that is significant is that Ness and Garcia take on any number of bad guys and kill them without a scratch to themselves, though apparently a couple of bystanders are hit. Well, perhaps, marksmanship in gangsterdom is poor, no doubt they have better things to do than go to the range and perforate paper targets. Or maybe we are seeing the heroes transitioning to their next stage, becoming hyper-warriors (we earlier saw something like this when Wallace dispatches several other gangsters back at the Canadian frontier and later discusses the joy of the tactical aspects of law enforcement). As the gunsmoke settles at the train station, one of the gangsters holds the accountant hostage threatening to kill him (and thus Ness' case) unless he is to allowed to escape. Stone calmly kills him in turn, thereby freeing the accountant who, now grateful, will testify. (I'll note I like this turn of events, because one of the stupidest clichés in movies and television is the use of hostages to gain entry or exit in a situation in which the writer can not think their way out of.)

 

As with much of the rest of the movie, the train station sequence has a touch of the surreal. The accountant is to be take a train to Miami which departs at five minutes past midnight. Why would a train from a major railroad hub leave at that hour? Maybe I am used to the Amtrak schedule. Why would the gangsters wait until the literal last moment to put their man on the train? Is this some sort of security thing? But after midnight is also a time of transition, the day has ended, time has run out, it's the deep night, and the next day has arrived though the sun has yet to rise. Did I leave out any clichés? Anyway, Ness saves the baby carriage and the accountant, and we are ready for the big courtroom scene and the finale. Well, not quite.

Ness spots Nitti in the courtroom pews, and Nitti has a gun. Removing the assassin to a vaulted hallway by ruse, Ness confronts him. Alas, Nitti has a permit for the gat, a signed card from the mayor. This seems facile, after all, it's not even a typed license, but we get the point. Once more Capone's organization has become the state. The criminals are armed and operating under the color of law and have, in fact, already executed two of the agents and who knows how many more others. Cleary, it is not simply Capone who must be put away, but an entire system. Ness will do so later, by manipulating the judge into ensuring there is an honest jury for the trial. But for now, there is the matter of Nitti. Ness realizes that Nitti is Malone's killer because he finds a matchbook with his mentor's address written in it.

 

Then things seem to get stupid. Again. Despite a criticism of Malone for turning his back on an armed man when they first met on that bridge, Ness now does precisely that, turning away from Nitti. He verbalizes his realization about the killer's i.d., and Nitti uses this as an excuse to not only shoot a bailiff, but to attempt an escape. He ascends to the upper reaches of the court house where, after some trickery on both sides, Ness apprehends the killer. Nitti goes along with the gag, knowing that the law is on his side and he will walk later on. But he makes the mistake of taunting Ness about how Malone died, and Ness responds by throwing Nitti over the edge of the roof. We then see Nitti futilely flapping his arms, no doubt a fallen angel trying desperately to fly. Alas for him, his wings have been clipped and he ends his descent by crashing through the roof of a car and exploding in bloody doom.

 

This sequence holds a key to a movie full of keys. The first interpretation to this scene is that Ness is doing the vigilante thing, ala a sort of super Dirty Harry, breaking the rules and offing the bad guy both figuratively and literally. Nitti had killed two of his men (though given the evidence in the movie, Ness knows only that Nitti has killed Malone). This might also explain why he turns his back on Nitti: Ness wanted Nitti to escape, so he would have an excuse to carry out this extralegal execution. On the rooftop and conveniently without witnesses, he can administer some frontier justice, perhaps learned in the earlier scene on the US-Canadian frontier--only instead of executing a dead man, he executes an angel of death. The Chicago Way, no doubt.

 

But this does not wash. For one thing, if Ness really were into assassination, why not kill Capone, and why not do it earlier in the film? Why go through all the convolutions of cracking coded books and so forth if the investigation is to be resolved by a Wild West shootout? This goes back to the central thesis, that The Untouchable is about the hero's journey. The real journey is internal, it is breaking the bonds and seeing the higher world as it really is, about gaining power from the revelation. Again to use pop analogies, Luke Skywalker using the Force in his attack run on the Death Star; or Neo seeing the code of the Matrix and thus defeating the Agents; or Frodo and Samwise trekking across Middle Earth to bring the Ring of Power to Mount Doom.

 

For Ness, a man of the law, to violate the law is the breaking of his own barriers. It has little to do with killing Nitti, and everything to do with his own internal development. He has now fulfilled the blood oath taken in the cathedral in what seems to be an earlier age.

 

Let's go deeper here and compare The Untouchables with vigilante movies, such as the Death Wish or Dirty Harry series. Paul Kersey of the former, and Inspector Harry Callahan of the latter, break or otherwise flaunt the law early in their respective movies; but Costner's Ness only becomes a lawbreaker after completing his journey. And there is a political reason for so doing. While the "system" under which a Paul Kersey lives may be incompetent to protect its citizens, and that which Dirty Harry serves may be overly lenient on criminals, the assumption is that they are still run by men of good will. In Capone's Chicago it is revealed that the system itself is criminal. In literally overthrowing Nitti, Ness is taking a revolutionary action, liberating his city as well as himself.

 

In the final scene, Ness turns over the key to the kingdom, in this case Malone's callbox key and religious icon, to Stone. Come to think of it, the name "George Stone" is replete with religious symbolism: St. George slaying the dragon, St. Peter (from the Latin for "stone") establishing a new order.

 

All this, need I say, has no small ramifications for today. The reality is that the system has failed men, indeed, many citizens. Working with this system becomes increasingly futile. What I'd editorialize here is that men must do what they do in The Untouchables—form their own warbands (or the modern equivalent thereof) and take those steps necessary to restore the true law. You can not rely on the law to protect your life, liberties or properties; you can rely on your fellow warriors.

 

"Why do you want to be a cop?" Malone asked Stone during his recruitment. Stone gives a by-the-book reply which Malone dismisses. We see this question raised several times in The Untouchables, but never actually answered. In a sense, the movie in its entirety is that answer.

 

The Untouchables all want to be cops because they believe in the law, and ultimately, it is the law which guarantees a free society—whether the freedom of a citizen to take a drink, or the freedom of a storefront owner to refuse an offer of alcohol sales and not have to worry about being blown to kingdom come. The real struggle here is for the law, but not the law in the sense of the repression of alcohol. We actually see two of the Untouchables imbibing at various points in the movie. Given this, why are they fighting for Prohibition? As Malone takes pains to remind us, it's not the booze they are after, it's Capone. And Capone represents the forces of corruption, the secret government behind the government, The Conspiracy if you like (capital letters and all). These are the forces who establish their own perverse and debased law. Just as much of the American legal system today has become debased by the usual suspects.

 

While Capone may claim to be a "businessman," the reality is that he does not operate by voluntary transaction but by the use of force and fraud. Which is one reason he can corrupt government because government's two primary instruments are just that—force and fraud. The force is fairly obvious, but the fraud is in the facades behind which Capone hides his organization, whether the false front of a post office, the hieroglyphics of his accounting books, or the veneer of being a respectable businessman and politician. Ness wins by ripping aside these frauds and seeing the truth. Outmaneuvered, Capone drops the final facade in the courtroom and explodes into irrational violence, revealing his true corrupt self. Ness has completed the quest for truth.

 

To put it in Randian terms: a free society needs honest courts, honest cops, and honest soldiers. Well, we see how the cops and the courts have been corrupted in the movie's Chicago, but the soldiers? That is what Ness and his men are, a warband wearing three piece suits, carrying Tommy Guns and armed with secret knowledge. Think of them as a Roman comitatus gathering around a warlord general in a time of barbarian invasion and government corruption, marching to repel the invaders and restore justice.

 

The end of the movie, with the expected repeal of Prohibition, means that the struggle of the Untouchables might be considered pointless. But – again! – it's not about the booze, it's about men freeing themselves and with that, bringing freedom to society. The hero's journey is not about defeating the bad guy as much as it is in creating the good guy, in taking a man beyond the limits which were set for him by society, or by himself. The hero has returned to the ordinary world, and Ness may walk down the street and legally take...a drink.

 

DIRTY HARRY & 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.

 

But that's 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?

 

Wrong.

 

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.

 

Still, you 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.

 

How's that 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.

 

But that's the easy shot.

 

There's a deeper issue.

 

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?

 

Anyway, the 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."

 

And this 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.

 

Harry comes 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.

 

Brigg's men, 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.

 

Dirty Harry's 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 come from.

 

But Lieutenant 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.

 

The primary 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.

 

The threat 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. 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.

 

And this 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, a warband of free men with a vision that knows no limits.

 

EOF