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Friday, 29 June 2012

Dirty Harry is back in Vigilance

Directly following his stint behind the camera, directing the gentle romance drama Breezy America's greatest living star, Clint Eastwood was to return to Dirty Harry with the movie Vigilance - the title was eventually changed to Magnum Force in reference to the hand cannon the character used.

The idea was to make the originals right wing politics more palatable to the modern audience - the concept of a gang of rogue cops wiping out organized crime interested Clint because it seemed to suggest that there were worse cops out there than Harry.  Eastwood  wanted to address the controversy of the original film supposedly endorsing fascism, by making it clear Harry was not a vigilante. However there were problems with the original script and Clint brought in newcomer, Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) to work on the script. And filming then started in April 1973. Initially Eastwood was to direct but the star didn't feel fully confident and so Ted Post took over, though Eastwood's made claims since that although Post got the director credit  it was actually second unit director, Buddy Van Horn who did most of the directing.

The death squad cops were cast with young actors - David Soul, Robert Ulrich, Tim Matherson and David Niven's son, Kip. Ted Post was given the director's chair but the director found that Clint was no longer the same man he had worked with on Rawhide and Hang Em High. Post and Eastwood crossed swords several times during shooting and Post  blamed Eastwood for his later career stalling.

Magnum Force could not help but be derivative of the classic Dirty Harry - it played around with the character. Where Harry was a sad lonely individual in the first movie, in this film he becomes a sexy ladies man, almost James Bond with a better gun.

"The same old stuff only worse." Frank Rich, The New York Times

"Clint Eastwood isn't offensive; he isn't an actor so one couldn't call him a bad actor. He'd have to do something before we could consider him bad at it. And acting isn't required in Magnum Force." Pauline Kael,

In the end Magnum Force took $58.1 million, far more than Dirty Harry. And if it proved anything it was that Clint Eastwood had the charisma to carry a any film. The film was Clint's biggest box-office ever and would hold the record until the next Dirty Harry came along.

Ignore the critics, though - Magnum Force rocks! The movie also boasts the highest body count of any of the Dirty Harry movies with a total of 30 kills.

Whilst Magnum Force is not quite as good as Dirty Harry it's still a fine film - the critics were over harsh and have never understood this kind of movie in any case. True it showed a mellowing of the Harry character but then it was intended too. And the action scenes, particularly the final shoot out, are excellent. And Clint, who had already realized that Harry must become a parody of the original character, does his best to turn him into some kind of super cop.

It made my day in any case.

A sad postscript to the movie is that on April 22, 1974, 2 men robbed a HIFI shop in Ogden Utah and made the 5 hostages drink Draino and then shot them in the head. The next day an unnamed informant called in a tip to Ogden City Police with information that would help wrap up the case much sooner than police had anticipated. The informant, an airman stationed at Hill Air Force Base, told police that he had overheard two of his fellow airmen talking about robbing a store and killing witnesses utilizing the Death By Drano method by which the Pimp murders the Prostitute in Magnum Force, which the two had seen prior to the Crime. Two of the hostages miraculously survived. The crime would forever be known as The Hi-Fi Murders.

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