Daily Archives: October 3, 2016

The Enforcer (1976)


*. In my notes on the first two Dirty Harry films — Dirty Harry (1971) and Magnum Force (1973) — I covered a lot of ground that I don’t think has to be gone over again here.
*. This time out Harry is teamed up with Tyne Daly, foisted on him by “the mayor’s new guidelines” and a mealy-mouthed, politically-correct establishment. So is the message feminist (because Daley is likeable and shown to be tough and competent) or anti-feminist (since she’s a quota hire and does in fact get killed)?


*. Aside from Daley, there’s little new about The Enforcer. Even the title is a generic throwaway: it sounds cool, but has no clear referent.
*. The opening business with the gas company employees being murdered is pure Leone. It’s hard not to think Eastwood was involved. Look at the shot of Maxwell standing behind the man and then the cut to a close-up of his eyes. We really are in the Wild West.


*. I mentioned in my notes on Dirty Harry that the franchise never again had a villain as good as Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio. In Magnum Force the biker vigilantes provided an interesting twist, but they were faceless and indeed nearly identity-less behind their mirrored shades. In this movie we take another step down into anonymity with the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, an obvious nod to the (equally bogus) Symbionese Liberation Army (a group who were in the news a lot at the time).
*. Who are the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force? It’s not clear. Apparently a few of them are Vietnam vets who now just want to make a big score, though they’ve wrapped themselves in some kind of pseudo-political cause as a false front. The leader of the gang, Bobby Maxwell, has scarcely any lines at all aside from barking out a few orders.
*. So in other words the villain has become a mere cipher. The movie really has no interest in Bobby Maxwell at all: we don’t know anything about him, and his purpose is just to keep the plot going and then die in a spectacular fashion.


*. In my notes on Magnum Force I mentioned how in each of the first three movies there is a suggestion that the killers are gay. It’s also interesting that they are all at least hinted to be veterans. Obviously in Magnum Force we are told the vigilantes are ex-special forces. You may think that Scorpio is an exception to this rule, what with his hippie look and peace-symbol belt buckle, but according to Robinson the character as originally written was a Vietnam vet. Harry’s military service, meanwhile, is left vague, with only a couple of suggestions that he might have been in the Marines.
*. The officials in this movie aren’t the corrupt shadow government they were in Magnum Force, but they are dangerously incompetent. “Besides being wrong, they’re stupid,” in Harry’s dismissive summary judgment. From the ass-kissing mayor’s assistant (and indeed the mayor himself) to Brad Dillman as the police captain we are meant to despise these people.


*. Damn, I really miss the word “honky.” Does anybody use it any more? It was great.
*. Damn, I really love Mustapha’s pants with the patches and laces. I don’t even think you can buy pants like those today. You have to make them yourself.


*. According to director James Fargo, what really sold Eastwood on the script was the character of the priest. Why? He has no real plot function. Was he just representative of a kind of soft liberalism that Eastwood despises?
*. Most of the movie is a falling off. Bradford Dillman as Captain McKay is just a weasel (for some bizarre reason, perhaps simple laziness and oversight, he reappears in Sudden Impact with a different name). Lalo Schifrin has been replaced by Jerry Fielding (another friend of Eastwood), and the results are dismal. From the opening credits on it sounds like a TV cop show (Fargo calls it “a little reminiscent of the old TV series Streets of San Francisco“). The problem with this is that TV scores have to play bigger. Listen to Fielding’s scoring of the rooftop chase or the kidnapping scene as examples of how not to score action.
*. The cool tag line for Harry has gone from “Do I feel lucky?” and “A man has to know his limitations” to “Marvelous.” Come on. They couldn’t come up with something better than “Marvelous”? Fargo admits that it’s “not the best one [catch-phrase] in the world, but it was there.” Ugh.


*. Revealing commentary moment: After Daly shoots the killer dressed up as a nun she yells out “Look at her hands! Look at her hands!” When I was watching the movie I assumed she meant look at the fact that the nun had a shotgun in her hands and was about to kill Harry, thus justifying the use of lethal force in stopping her. According to Fargo’s commentary, however, “the reason, of course, she’s shouting ‘Look at her hands! Look at her hands!'” is to draw attention to the fact that the killer was wearing red nail polish, “which no nun would wear.”
*. This makes no sense at all because (1) we’re not given a close-up of the nun’s hands after she’s dead so the connection is never made clear; (2) the nun is obviously wearing lipstick and make-up as well; and (3) how the hell would Daly have seen her fingernails in the first place?
*. I rate The Enforcer the worst of the Dirty Harry movies, not because it’s atrociously bad but mainly because it just has an air of going through the motions. There is the usual inflation — Fargo was thrilled that he was able to one-up “the most powerful handgun in the world” with a rocket launcher — but at the end of the day it’s a dull story without any new wrinkles to the old formula. The series was due for a twist, and in the next instalment it got one.