The Enforcer (1976)


After another act of excessive force, infamous San Francisco police officer “Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood, Play Misty for Me) is reassigned to a conventional desk job. But when a terrorist group kidnaps the mayor of the city, Callahan is asked to rescue the mayor and put the terrorists out of business.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You really are a dirty bastard, ain’t you, Harry?”

This is the third Dirty Harry movie and it is my least favorite movie in the franchise, so far. The Enforcer feels like nothing but a cash-grab. But what do I know? The movie was a smash hit. In fact, it is one of Clint Eastwood’s highest grossing films. I still think it is a disappointing entry in the popular (and controversial) film series.

The Enforcer starts out well enough. It all begins with a tense hostage situation and Insp. Callahan does the craziest thing a cop could do in a situation like that. This sequence made me think that I was about to embark on a thrilling ride but the initial momentum quickly evaporates — sadly, the rest of the movie feels generic and bland.

The Enforcer loses all the ground gained in the previous movie, the fascinating Magnum Force. The script — credited to Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night) and Dean Riesner (Charley Varrick) — is content with regurgitating a proven formula. Once again, cranky Callahan abuses his power, mocks political correctness and complains about government bureaucracy. Being there, done that. Aargh… the movie misses a great opportunity to further explore a truly interesting anti-hero.

Most disappointing is the fact that Callahan doesn’t have a strong adversary. The old saying applies here: “A story is only as good as its villain.” Callahan faces a terrorist group composed of forgettable “punks.” The movie screams from an over-the-top villain ala “Scorpio” (memorably played by Andrew Robinson in Dirty Harry).

The revenge aspect of the film isn’t handled well either. Callahan’s main motivation is to avenge the vicious murder of his friend, but he never verbalizes his feelings about the tragedy thus making it impossible for this viewer to connect with him. Callahan remains stoic and laconic to a fault. Clint Eastwood’s cold characterization — I blame the script, not the actor — simply doesn’t work in the context of the story.

On a positive note, I thought first-time director James Fargo (Forced Vengeance) did a decent job. I especially liked how Fargo exploited San Francisco’s beautiful locales. In director Fargo’s hands, the cosmopolitan city becomes one of the most important characters in the movie (make sure you watch a widescreen print).

I also liked Tyne Daly’s performance as Callahan’s new partner, Insp. Kate Moore. Fans of the beloved TV show Cagney & Lacey will notice the similarities between NYC police detective Mary Beth Lacey and Insp. Moore. In addition to Daly, Harry Guardino (Loves and Other Strangers) and John Mitchum (High Plains Drifter) appear (for the last time in the series) as Lt. Bressler and Insp. DiGiorgio respectively. The always great Bradford Dillman (The Mephisto Waltz) plays Capt. McKay.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

At the time, film critic Gene Siskel (of the Chicago Tribune) wrote: “The major disappointment in The Enforcer is its disjointed script with its relative absence of thrills.” While I don’t necessarily agree that the movie is completely devoid of thrills, I do think that The Enforcer falls flat compared to Dirty Harry and Magnum Force. As much as I like Clint Eastwood, I can’t in good conscience recommend the movie. That being said, it’s worth at least one watch. Color, 96 minutes, Rated R.

Followed by Sudden Impact (1983)

11 responses to “The Enforcer (1976)

  1. Got to swim a little against the tide here… I love this movie!
    Maybe not as much as DIRTY HARRY and MAGNUM FORCE (which is understandable since Dirty Harry is my favorite movie of all time and Magnum Force isn’t far behind) but still I think it’s a very worthy 3rd installment in the series.

    I will add I see echoes of Charles Manson and his ‘Family’ in the band of hippie revolutionaries who are cast as the villains in this piece. The scene where they kidnap the mayor with use of a tazer gun and by first cornering his car by raising the bridge is a classic for me, as is the final showdown amid the eerie silence of an abandoned Alcatraz.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have always welcomed opposing viewpoints! Never be afraid to swim against the tide. Anyhow, I did like the Alcatraz sequences. In fact, I loved the beginning and ending (it was surprisingly downbeat). It was the middle that didn’t do much for me. BTW, I’m eager to revisit Sudden Impact, which seems to be the most divisive movie in the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Completely agree with this insightful review. Sequels are always problematic, but “Magnum Force” had an interesting direction to take Harry – this was just a limp film with no purpose…the fourth is a vicious vigilante film and the last a bit of a spoof, so what can you say except this series went the way of most others…downhill…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah yes, films must have a strong villain… I’ve only ever seen the first of these, Dirty Harry, which I appreciate for its influence but don’t love. However, I do like what the first commenter said in defence of this particular movie – and that’s what your blog does, it encourages a wide variety of opinions.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I always loved this one.
    The whole recruit scene is so great. Clint in OTT sexist mode lol. But it was all kinda true.
    I liked the addition of Tyne Daly to really get Harry’s back up.
    Loved running about Alcatraz and will second that crazy early tazer gun and bridge scene.
    Big fan of The Enforcer.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. 3 minutes 30 second mark –

    “For one thing, his honour intends to broaden the areas of participation for women in the police force. He also said something about winnowing
    the Neanderthals OUT of the department.”

    All delivered in a stiff, school-teacher-correcting-a-pupil tone of voice and manner complete with dramatic removal-of-glasses-for-emphasis effect.

    This most assuredly is the timeless, superior and determinedly ‘right’ voice of bureaucracy speaking. This scene will never get old for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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