Magnum Force is a 1973 American action thriller film and the second to feature Clint Eastwood as maverick cop Harry Callahan after the 1971 film Dirty Harry. Ted Post, who also directed Eastwood in the television series Rawhide and the feature film Hang 'Em High, directed this second installment in the Dirty Harry film series. The screenplay was written by John Milius and Michael Cimino. The film score was composed by Lalo Schifrin. This film features early appearances by David Soul, Tim Matheson and Robert Urich. At 124 minutes, it is the longest of the five Dirty Harry films.
Mobster Carmine Ricca (Richard Devon) drives away from court in his limousine after being acquitted of a mass murder on a legal technicality. However, while his limousine is on an isolated road, Ricca and his three associates are pulled over by an SFPD motorcycle cop and murdered. Inspector Harry Callahan (Eastwood) visits the crime scene alongside his partner Earlington "Early" Smith (Perry), despite the fact that the two of them are supposed to be on stakeout duty. Callahan trades barbs with their superior, Lieutenant Neil Briggs (Holbrook), who was responsible for loaning out Harry to the Stakeout squad.
After Harry and Early stumble upon and foil an attempt to hijack an airliner, Callahan meets rookie cops Phil Sweet (Matheson), John Davis (Soul), Alan "Red" Astrachan (Niven), and Mike Grimes (Urich) while practicing at an indoor firing range. Callahan learns from Sweet that he (and though not directly stated it is presumed the others as well) is an ex-Airborne Ranger and Special Forces veteran after loaning his gun to the rookie, being very impressed by the rookies' marksmanship. Sometime after, a motorcycle cop slaughters a mobster's pool party using a satchel charge and a submachine gun.
As Callahan and Early deal with an attempted armed robbery of a store, a pimp (Popwell) murders a prostitute (Avery) who was withholding money from him. The next day, the pimp is killed off by a patrolman he attempted to bribe. While investigating the scene, Callahan deduces what occurred and realizes that the culprit is a cop. He assumes it to be his old friend Charlie McCoy (Ryan), who has become despondent and suicidal after leaving his wife, Carol (White). Later, the motorcycle cop murders drug kingpin Lou Guzman (Pellow) using a Colt Python equipped with a silencer. However, Guzman is under surveillance and Callahan's old partner, Frank DiGiorgio (Mitchum), sees McCoy dump his motorcycle outside Guzman's apartment just before the murders. The motorcycle cop, revealed to be Davis, encounters McCoy in the parking garage and kills him to eliminate a potential witness. Harry learns of McCoy's death while presenting his suspicions to Briggs.
At an annual shooting competition, a puzzled DiGiorgio tells Callahan that Davis was the first officer to arrive after the murders of Guzman and McCoy. Callahan borrows Davis' Colt and purposely embeds a slug in a range wall. He later retrieves the slug to have ballistics confirm it to match the bullets from the Guzman murder. Callahan begins to suspect that a secret death squad within the SFPD is responsible for the killings. Briggs ignores his suspicions and insists that mob killer Frank Palancio (Giorgio) is behind the deaths. Callahan persuades Briggs to loan him Davis and Sweet as back up for a raid on Palancio's office. However, Palancio and his gang are tipped off via a phone call. When the cops arrive, Sweet attempts to enforce authority but is killed by Palancio, resulting in a shootout between the police and Palancio's men. All of Palancio's men are shot. Palancio attempts to escape but Callahan jumps on the hood of his car, causing a crash, killing Palancio. A search of Palancio's office turns up nothing and only raises Callahan's suspicions further, but an infuriated Briggs puts him under suspension. After returning home, Callahan finds Davis, Astrachan and Grimes waiting for him in his garage, presenting him with a veiled ultimatum to join their organization; Callahan refuses. While checking his mailbox, Callahan discovers a bomb left by the vigilantes and manages to defuse it, but a second bomb kills Early as Callahan phones to warn him.
Callahan calls Briggs and shows him the bomb, only to learn that Briggs is the leader of the death squad. Briggs cites the traditions of frontier justice and summary executions, expressing disappointment for Callahan's refusal to join forces. At gunpoint, Briggs orders Callahan to drive to an undisclosed location while being followed by Grimes. Callahan distracts Briggs by sideswiping a bus and knocks him unconscious. Grimes gives chase and shoots out the car's rear windshield before Callahan runs him over, killing him. In the course of the chase, Briggs falls out the right front door of the speeding car. Davis and Astrachan appear, causing Callahan to flee onto an old aircraft carrier in a shipbreaker's yard. As they stalk Callahan through the darkened ship, Astrachan wastes his ammunition and Callahan beats him to death. Callahan runs onto the top deck and starts up Astrachan's motorcycle, leading Davis in a series of jumps between ships before the two run out of deck space. Callahan skids to a stop while Davis falls to his death in San Francisco Bay. Callahan makes his way back to the car. Briggs, who Callahan assumed was dead or incapacitated, reappears and commandeers the car at gunpoint. Briggs states his intent to frame Callahan for the murders rather than kill him. As Callahan backs away from the car, he surreptitiously activates the timer on the mailbox bomb and tosses it in the back seat. Briggs is driving off when the bomb detonates, killing him, after which Callahan proclaims, "A man's got to know his limitations."
Writer John Milius came up with a storyline in which a group of rogue young officers in the San Francisco Police Department systematically exterminate the city's worst criminals, conveying the idea that there are even worse rogue cops than Dirty Harry. Terrence Malick had introduced the concept in an unused draft for the first film; director Don Siegel disliked the idea and had Malick's draft thrown out, but Clint Eastwood remembered it for this film. Eastwood specifically wanted to convey that, despite the 1971 film's perceived politics, Harry was not a complete vigilante. David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and Kip Niven were cast as the young vigilante cops. Milius was a gun aficionado and political conservative and the film would extensively feature gun shooting in practice, competition, and on the job. Given this strong theme in the film, the title was soon changed from Vigilance to Magnum Force in deference to the .44 Magnum that Harry liked to use. Milius thought it was important to remind the audiences of the original film by incorporating the line "Do ya feel lucky?" repeated in the opening credits.
With Milius committed to filming Dillinger, Michael Cimino was later hired to revise the script, overseen by Ted Post, who was to direct. According to Milius, his script did not contain any of the final action sequences (the car chase and climax on the aircraft carriers). His was a "simple script". The addition of the character Sunny was done at the suggestion of Eastwood, who reportedly received letters from women asking for "a female to hit on Harry" (not the other way around).
Milius later said he did not like the film and wished Don Siegel had directed it, as originally intended:
Of all the films I had anything to do with, I like it least. They changed a lot of things in a cheap and distasteful manner. The whole ending is wrong, it wasn't mine at all. All movies had a motorcycle or car chase at the time — except Westerns. They have a scene where this black girl's pimp forces Drano down her throat. In the script, they merely went into the morgue and Harry said, "I don't feel bad for that son of a b****, 'cause two weeks ago one of his girls was in here and he'd poured Drano down her throat." I think it's better to hear about it than to see it later; also, it goes right back to the character again: you understand Harry's feelings about it. All the stuff they put in about the Japanese girl: they put in a scene where the star gets to f*** some girl, and it's pretty hard to get it out. My Dirty Harry scripts never had Harry knowing any girls too well other than hookers, because he was a lonely guy who lived alone and didn't like to associate with people. He could never be close enough to a woman to have any sort of affair. A bitter, lonely man who liked his work
Eastwood himself was initially offered the role of director, but declined. Ted Post, who had previously directed Eastwood in Rawhide and Hang 'Em High, was hired. Buddy Van Horn was the second unit director. Both Eastwood and Van Horn would go on to direct the final two entries in the series, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool respectively.
Frank Stanley was hired as cinematographer. Filming commenced in late April 1973. During filming Eastwood encountered numerous disputes with Post over who was calling the shots in directing the film, and Eastwood refused to authorize two important scenes directed by Post in the film because of time and expenses; one of them was at the climax to the film with a long shot of Eastwood on his motorcycle as he confronts the rogue cops. As with many of his films, Eastwood was intent on shooting it as smoothly as possible, often refusing to do retakes over certain scenes. Post later remarked: "A lot of the things he said were based on pure, selfish ignorance, and showed that he was the man who controlled the power. By Magnum Force Clint's ego began applying for statehood". Post remained bitter with Eastwood for many years and claims disagreements over the filming affected his career afterwards. According to second unit director of photography Rexford Metz, "Eastwood would not take the time to perfect a situation. If you've got seventy percent of a shot worked out, that's sufficient for him, because he knows his audience will accept it."
The film received negative publicity in 1974 when it was discovered that the scene where the prostitute is killed with drain cleaner had allegedly inspired the infamous Hi-Fi murders, with the two killers believing the method would be as efficient as it was portrayed in the film. The killers said that they were looking for a unique murder method when they stumbled upon the film, and had they not seen the movie, would have chosen a method from another film. The drain cleaner reference was repeated in at least three other films, including Lethal Weapon (1987), Heathers (1989) and Urban Legend (1998). According to scriptwriter John Milius, this drain cleaner scene was never meant to be filmed, but was only mentioned in his original script.
In the film's opening week, it grossed $6,871,011 from 401 theatres. In the United States, the film made a total of $44,680,473, making it more successful than the first film and the sixth highest-grossing film of 1973.
The New York Times critics such as Nora Sayre criticized the conflicting moral themes of the film and Frank Rich believed it "was the same old stuff". Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "The problem with 'Magnum Force' is that this new side of Harry—his antivigilantism—is never made believable in the context of his continuing tendency to brandish his .44 Magnum revolver as if it were his phallus. The new, 'Clean Harry' doesn't cut it. Some of the film's action sequences do." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times found the film "too preoccupied in celebrating violence to keep it in focus." Pauline Kael, a harsh critic of Eastwood for many years, mocked his performance as Dirty Harry, commenting that, "He isn't an actor, so one could hardly call him a bad actor. He'd have to do something before we could consider him bad at it. And acting isn't required of him in Magnum Force." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post was positive, praising the film as "an ingenious and exciting crime thriller" with "a less self-righteous message" than the original Dirty Harry. Gary Crowdus wrote in Cinéaste, "We are left with the comforting assurance that when we need him, Harry (and all the cops like him who do the 'dirty' jobs no one else wants) will be there protecting us from the lunatic fringes of both Left and Right. Sure, Harry may be a little trigger-happy but at least he shoots the right people. The problem, however—one which the film raises but never resolves—is who determines the definition of 'right' people?"