Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Film Appreciation - The Dirtiest Bastard

Investigating Cody Hamman's Film Appreciation for the 1976 Dirty Harry sequel The Enforcer.

In 1974, film students Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr pulled off the impossible. Having seen Dirty Harry and its sequel Magnum Force, they collaborated on what usually would have just been a fan fiction script that wouldn't go anywhere - a Dirty Harry sequel they titled Moving Target. But then they took that script to the restaurant Dirty Harry franchise star Clint Eastwood owned and passed a copy over to his Hog's Breath Inn business partner... who actually gave that script to Eastwood. Then another unexpected thing happened: Eastwood actually read this unsolicited sequel spec script. And he liked its "ripped from the headlines" story enough that Hickman and Schurr's script did end up serving as the basis of the third Dirty Harry film. Of course, their script was rewritten by established professional screenwriters along the way, but it's an incredible feat that it was produced at all. While The Enforcer, as the film was titled by the title it was released, turned out to be Schurr's only screen writing credit, this marked the beginning of a successful career for Hickman, who went on to write such films as Murphy's Law and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown.

The screenwriter who reworked Hickman and Schurr's script was Stirling Silliphant, who had written his own Dirty Harry sequel script called Dirty Harry and More - the More of the title being the female police officer Harry was partnered with in the story. Eastwood had Silliphant blend the female partner idea with the story Hickman and Schurr came up with,  and then when Silliphant completed the script he had Dirty Harry co-writer Dean Riesner come in to do revisions.

Directed by James Fargo, a veteran First Assistant Director and frequent Eastwood collaborator who made his feature directorial debut with this movie, The Enforcer isn't the sort of third film that feels like it's capping off a trilogy. It's really just like another chapter in the life of San Francisco Homicide Inspector Harry Callahan, a view into another case he works on, but there are callbacks to the first movie in here - like the fact that Harry is riding around with fellow Inspector Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) when we first catch up with him. Harry had wanted to be partnered with DiGiorgio in the first film, and the character was also seen around in Magnum Force.

As he goes around the city with DiGiorgio, Harry lives up to the first movie's "does any dirty job that comes along" explanation for his "Dirty" nickname. First he crosses paths with a con man who's trying to get a free meal in a restaurant by faking a heart attack, then we get a quick action sequence when he busts up a liquor store robbery that has gone wrong and turned into a hostage situation. He busts it up in a very literal way, driving his car through the front of the building and causing almost $15,000 worth of damage. Then he whips out his gun and gives the robbers some very serious wounds - with one being especially cringeworthy. Shooting up at the man while he's running up a flight of stairs, Harry appears to get a bullseye in the guy's anus, with the bullet exiting out the front...

Before entering the liquor store, Harry has DiGiorgio wait behind because he doesn't want to be slowed down by the fact that his partner has eaten "too much linguini". DiGiorgio used that excuse during a bust back in the first movie, and that has obviously been stuck in Harry's mind for years.

The liquor store incident causes Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman), who is very mindful of the public's low tolerance for such Wild West displays from officers, to transfer Harry from Homicide to Personnel, a job Harry says is for assholes. It just so happens that McKay worked in Personnel for ten years. But if you don't want to watch Harry sitting around and working Personnel jobs, don't worry. The transfer doesn't last very long at all.

Harry's time in Personnel does last long enough for him to sit in on the exam board while they evaluate hopeful new Inspectors. Among the fifty officers aiming to fill one of the eight vacancies is Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), who has been on the force for nine years, working mostly in Personnel and Records. Silliphant's original idea for the Moore/More role was that the character would be Asian, continuing the trend of Harry being partnered with someone of a different race in each film - his partner in Dirty Harry having been Hispanic and his partner in Magnum Force having been African American. The Asian aspect didn't make it into the film; I guess they figured the fact that the character is female was enough of a shake-up in itself.

Moore being female does shake Harry up, because the intention is that three of the eight new Inspectors will be women, the Mayor's attempt to bring the department into the 20th century mainstream and push out the Neanderthals. Harry puts down this idea, referring to it as "stylish". It annoys him that these women will get opportunities over more deserving candidates simply because it will look good to the public. Moore is naive and inexperienced; the opposite of Harry in that she is very by-the-book. Harry doesn't believe she has earned the right to become an Inspector and is hard on her during the evaluation, but does seem to get a kick out of the way she handles herself.

Harry is also in Personnel long enough that DiGiorgio is out working the streets without him, and during this time DiGiorgio encounters the main villains of the film. Villains who then remove him from the franchise.

When creating the villains for their story, Hickman and Schurr were inspired by the events and revolutionary groups of the time; specifically by the Symbionese Liberation Army, who had kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst the same year they wrote the initial draft of the script. Standing in for the SLA here are the People's Revolutionary Strike Force, which is a motley crew of hippies, Vietnam veterans, a former member of a Black Panther-esque group called Uhuru, and some people who are just using this revolutionary stuff as a way to make money. While there may be more villains this time around, the collective is the one thing the villains in the previous films most certainly were not: they are dull. Most of the people in this group don't even register as characters. One of the standouts is Miki, played by future Tourist Trap heroine Jocelyn Jones, and she really only makes an impression because the movie begins with a scene of her hitchhiking, and luring a couple men to their deaths, while wearing short shorts. She goes on to be the first member of the group to die; she's killed off pretty early on in the movie, during the warehouse robbery that DiGiorgio disrupts and gets killed for disrupting.

The group steals some heavy duty weaponry from that warehouse: M-16s, explosives, rocket launchers. Things that they could have used to come off as being much more threatening than they ever seem to be within the film.

Harry is transferred back to Homicide after DiGiorgio is killed by the People's Revolutionary Strike Force. His time in Personnel only lasts for about 18 minutes of screen time. Now partnered with Kate Moore, newly confirmed as an Inspector, Harry sets out to bring down the PRSF, who set off a bomb in a police department restroom (a bombing that results in zero injuries) while demanding first $2 million and later $5 million from the city.

The bombing doesn't accomplish much, but it does kick off one of the best sequences in the film, as Harry and Moore chase the bomber through the city on foot. Accompanied by a fun jazz score, this foot chase goes across rooftops, through a church, and even interrupts a porn crew shooting an orgy scene... and for most of the chase, Moore is unknowingly carrying another bomb in a briefcase.

While searching for information on the revolutionary/terrorist group, Harry meets with Uhuru leader Mustapha, who happens to be played by Albert Popwell, the same actor Harry asked "Do you feel lucky?" (the first time he asked that question) in Dirty Harry. Popwell also played a pimp in Magnum Force, but he gets his biggest role in the series yet with Mustapha, and when Harry meets him there's a nod to the fact that Popwell has played other roles in these movies. Harry asks him, "Where do I know you from?"

There are ups and downs during the investigation. McKay makes a bad call and Harry gets a 180 day suspension when he calls his Captain out on his stupid decisions. Later, after the PRSF abducts the Mayor and holds him for ransom, Harry continues his search for clues by visiting a very thorough massage parlor where one of the members is said to work. His alias while in this place is Larry Dickman.

Harry and Moore also bond over the course of the investigation, developing a mutual respect but not embarking on the romantic relationship Silliphant had originally intended for them. While Eastwood believed Harry could fall for Moore, Daly didn't like the idea of them letting romance get in the way of them doing their jobs. So it remains a platonic relationship, with Harry being something of a mentor to Moore.

Eventually the Inspectors are able to deduce that the PRSF is using Alcatraz as their headquarters, setting the stage for what you would expect to be a spectacular climactic sequence, with Harry and Moore raiding Alcatraz Island to take on the revolutionaries and rescue the Mary. But the sequence never really reaches the level of spectacular, despite the fact that it features explosions and shootouts, and it's over pretty quickly. Harry and Moore don't reach Alcatraz until around the 84 minute mark of this 96 minute movie. With this action sequence, the PRSF prove to be underwhelming from beginning to end.

Things do end in a somewhat surprising way, but it's not exactly shocking, given that films of this era were far from precious about their characters.

The Enforcer isn't bad when taken on its own merits, but it is a lesser follow-up to Dirty Harry and Magnum Force. Although Harry has great interactions with his supporting cast, the film falls short in the villain department and might have benefitted from devoting more time to developing the villains, digging deeper into the characters and giving them more to do. The Enforcer is six minutes shorter than Dirty Harry and twenty-eight minutes shorter than Magnum Force; it could have made up some of that time by making the PRSF more interesting and threatening.

Even with lackluster villains, The Enforcer is an entertaining buddy cop action flick that's well worth watching, and in it Eastwood continues to make "Dirty" Harry Callahan one of the greatest heroes in action history.

Plus it's a piece of fan fiction written by a couple of college students that got turned into a major studio production. That's pretty cool.

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