The action begins in earnest with union boss Carmine Ricca leaving court after a controversial 'Not Guilty' verdict. As supporters and protesters alike clash with police, Ricca and his entourage push into their car and depart. They're cruising down the highway when a motorcycle cop materializes behind them, forcing them to take the next exit and pull over to the curb. After some pretense, the anonymous officer pulls out his gun, shooting dead all four men in the car before casually strolling back to his motorcycle and leaving the scene.
Harry and his current partner, Earlington "Early" Smith (Perry), arrive as the scene is being processed. Harry's superior, Lieutenant Briggs (Holbrook), furiously tells him to get back on stakeout and Harry gives him some lip in return. Forensics interjects to tell Briggs that the murder weapon is a Magnum. As Harry and Early return to their car, other cops on scene jokingly take bets on how long Early will last, leading Harry to reassuringly explain to Early that he tends to go through partners faster than Spinal Tap goes through drummers.
For no reason other than to pad the running time of this film, Harry and Early then go to the airport to eat at a hamburger stand run by an ex-homicide cop. While there, Harry foils a hijacking by pretending to be a pilot. From hi-jacks to hi-jinks, amiright? OK, back to the plot.
That evening, Harry heads to the shooting range for some practice. In the parking lot he's nearly run over by Charlie McCoy, a colleague with a major mid-life crisis. McCoy is a mess: he informs Harry that he and his wife Carol are separating, he expresses frustration with his dwindling privilege of being able to kill "hoods" with impunity, and most troubling of all, uses the phrase "a coon's age." "I'll never retire," he threatens. "Never. I'm going out fighting."
After bidding McCoy a good night, Harry continues to the shooting range, where, despite the late hour, he is surprised to see a small group of rookie cops at the shooting range when he arrives: John Davis (Soul), Phil Sweet, Alan "Red" Astrachan, and Mike Grimes. The foursome quickly endear themselves to the cantankerous Callahan through their deferential recognition of his name and status, their offer to vacate the shooting range for his solitude, and Sweet's impressive shooting skills.
Cut to the following day: there is a mobster pool party [great band name, free to the first taker] going on at a mansion nestled on a grassy hillside with a sprawling view of the bay. One of the women is excitedly showing off a new ring to other party-goers clustered around the pool. Meanwhile, a motorcycle cop weaves his way up the hillside road and stakes out a spot in some brush overlooking the pool. The bejeweled woman (an uncredited Suzanne Somers, by the way) decides to celebrate her ring by going topless and jumping in the pool, and all the other women decide to join in (female toplessness is a lot like yawning: contagious).
After foiling a robbery and engaging in a shootout at a home goods import store, Harry and Early head back to police HQ, where they run into the four rookies that Harry met at the shooting range. Early, who'd been an academy classmate of the four, remarks on how close-knit there are (or something to that effect... we'll get into that later).
Cut to the exterior of the ritzy Fairmont Hotel. Despite a long queue at the cab stand, a woman cuts to the front, insisting that "it's very urgent" and giving the driver the address of "1000 O'Farrell." She begins stuffing money into various items of clothing- first her bra, then under her pantyhose and into her underwear- all while the driver watches lasciviously in the rearview mirror. She flirts with him and reveals she is a sex worker when she tells the driver she'd give him a "freebie" if he were on welfare.
The pimp (in his requisite/spectacular pimpmobile) is shown the next day going for a scenic drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. As the audience has come to now expect, a motorcycle officer appears behind the pimp, forcing him to pull over on a remote country road just off the bridge. The pimp, with a jaded yawn, hands his license to the approaching officer with a $100 bill plainly folded over the top. He is promptly shot dead by the rogue officer.
Meanwhile, Harry returns to his apartment building, where Sunny, a beautiful neighbor with impossibly long hair, pretty much throws herself at him. They're about to get down to business when Briggs calls Harry to inform him that he's been reassigned back to homicide. Putting Sunny on hold, Harry travels to the morgue, where he, Briggs, and Police Captain Avery review the victims to date. This great piece of dialogue happens:
Captain Avery: You lean out of line, so help me, I'll flop you lower than whale shit.
Callahan: Speaking of whale shit, what have you turned up, Briggs?"
Harry returns home, where Sunny has made good use of the time he was away to take off all her clothes. As they retire to bed, she says "you're my first cop." He responds, "guess that'll be two firsts tonight, won't it?" I could be wrong (and I really hope I am), but I think he's basically saying "you're the first Asian woman I've slept with."
The next day, Harry and Early are reviewing the pimp's car in the forensics department, where they learn that the fatal bullets are .357 Magnum hollow points. Harry notices the pimp's driver's license, with the bribe still wrapped around it, separated from the wallet in the car. Based upon this, he begins to suspect that the killer could be a cop.
Briggs, however, pushes his own pet suspect on Harry: Frank Palancio, Carmine Ricca's former right-hand man, who would stand to gain from Ricca's assassination. A surveillance team follows Palancio and his assorted cronies as they leave their dockside import business and travel north across the Golden Gate Bridge. When the two cars split up, Harry and Early follow Palancio's car onto a winding country road. Palancio pulls over to lose Harry, but Harry simply turns the car around and pulls up alongside Palancio as both cars travel down the road. Harry asks Palancio if he knows how to get to San Quentin, because he's going to be heading there real soon. And then, for good measure, adds "ASSHOLE" to the end.
Shortly thereafter, a cop with a motorcycle helmet bursts onto the penthouse level, expertly killing the armed toughs standing guard with a silenced gun. He bursts into the lush apartment, awkwardly breaking up Guzman's pansexual coke orgy and shooting everyone inside. A naked corpse plummeting from the balcony grabs the attention of the men on stakeout, and they hustle down to street level and to Guzman's building.
Back at HQ, Harry gets his ass handed to him by Briggs for confronting Palancio and blowing the stakeout. Harry shares his theory that instead of focusing on Palancio, the police should be looking for the killer within their own ranks. He even suggests a real hothead who's losing his grip: Charlie McCoy. Briggs informs Harry that McCoy has been removed from both the suspect list and the list of people currently inhaling and exhaling. We then see McCoy's coffin being loaded onto an airplane as Carol explains to Harry that she and the kids are "going home" to experience four unique seasons once again. Davis, also in attendance, comments that "I feel responsible somehow." Ha.
Harry is next shown participating in the department's annual shooting championship, where the four rookies, but Davis in particular, are giving him some stiff competition. During the event, Harry begins talking to one of the cops assigned to stakeout Guzman and learns that Davis was on the scene almost immediately after dispatch put out the call. A seed is planted in Harry's mind. At the end, Harry and Davis must participate in a tie-breaker, which Harry ultimately loses. Congratulating Davis, he asks to try out the winning gun, and strategically shoots a slug into a beam of wood on the course. Later that night, Harry sneaks back onto the course, retrieves the bullet from Davis' gun, and takes it to forensics.
Matching the striations of Davis' bullet casings to those found at the scenes of the murders, Harry brings his evidence to Briggs. Briggs dismisses Harry's suggestions out of hand, informing him that their focus is still on Palancio: arrest warrants have been issued and police are about to pounce. Harry specifically requests the four rookies to lead the arrest team. Palancio and his crew, eating a quiet lunch in their dockside office, get an anonymous phone tip that they're about to be hit by a team "dressed like cops." Grabbing a shotgun, Palancio blasts through the door, immediately killing Officer Sweet. A shootout ensues, during which Palancio attempts to escape in a car, but instead impales himself by driving into a crane instead.
Briggs is furious and chews Harry a new asshole while the latter is getting stitches for facial lacerations acquired in the shootout. He demands the bullet fired from Davis' gun which Harry showed him in forensics, which prompts Harry to throw it at him and respond "eat it." Oooh, sass!
Alone with Early, Harry confides his new theory that the rookies, perhaps with the assistance of more seasoned cops, have formed some sort of vigilante 'death squad.' Harry gives Early the bullet from Davis' gun (explaining that he had given Briggs a phony bullet earlier), in case anything should happen to him. "What if they get both of us?" Early asks. "Then they win," Harry answers.
Returning to his apartment, Harry sees Sunny outside. Already on her way to the store, she offers to grab some beer to bring back and enjoy together, and Harry gratefully takes her up on it. She continues down the sidewalk and Harry pulls into the parking garage. To his surprise, the three surviving rookies are waiting for him there. Confirming his suspicions that they have gone rogue, they ask him "do you have any idea how hard it is to prosecute a cop?" Before threatening him that "you're either for us or against us." Harry merely responds "I'm afraid you've misjudged me." They shrug and leave.
In the lobby of his building, Harry peeks into his mailbox and discovers a bomb. While inspecting his apartment for further traps, Harry hears Sunny returning and runs downstairs to prevent her from checking his mail. He successfully defuses and removes the bomb before running upstairs to call Early and warn him, as well. Early, returning to his own apartment with a bag of groceries, hears the phone ringing through his closed door, but decides to check his mail before rushing in to catch the phone. It is, sadly, a fatal mistake, and yet again, Harry is down a partner.
Unable to get Early on the phone, Harry calls Briggs instead to inform him of the mailbox bomb and to dispatch backup to Early's apartment. Briggs tells Harry not to move and that he'll be right over. Upon arriving and inspecting the bomb, Briggs informs Harry that they'll have to bring the bomb in to forensics. Harry fetches his car and begins driving the two while Briggs continues to inspect the bomb.
Suddenly, Briggs pulls a gun on Harry, revealing himself to be the leader of the vigilantes. Harry's simply gotten too close to the truth, and now he's going to die as well. Briggs instructs Harry to get on the freeway, at which point Grimes appears behind the car on his motorcycle. They exit the freeway at the same point where Ricca was murdered at the film's beginning, at which point Harry swerves suddenly to disorient Briggs and then slams his head repeatedly into the dashboard until Briggs goes unconscious. Now free to evade Grimes, Harry leads the cyclist vigilante on a chase throughout a neighborhood and into the industrial areas of the city.
Exhausted but triumphant, Harry returns to his car. Before he can leave, however, Briggs has turned up with his gun. Stealing Harry's car right out from under him, Briggs extrapolates, in true Bond Villain fashion, his plan to pin the vigilante killings, as well as the killings of the vigilantes themselves, on Harry. Harry's a well-known loose cannon, and besides, who's going to believe Harry's word against the word of a highly-decorated Lieutenant like Briggs? Harry stealthily reactivates the mailbox bomb, which has been in the car this whole time, and allows Briggs to drive off. A few moments later, the car explodes spectacularly. Harry drops a pithy bon mot.
Speaking of gangsters- something that certain viewers might find interesting (at least, I did) is the stakeout cops' constant pronunciation of his name as 'GUZZ-min' rather than 'gooz-MAHN.' It had the effect of a.) making a stakeout of a drug lord sound more like two impatient vacationers in the Catskills eagerly anticipating the onstage arrival of their favorite Jewish insult comedian, and b.) repeatedly conjuring in my mind the disembodied head of Jim Rash screaming "GOOZ-MAAAAHHHHN!"
Although I would be surprised to actually hear someone say 'Guzzmin' today, San Francisco has a lot of weird little Spanglish pronunciations. Both Vallejo Street and the city it's named for are pronounced "vah-LAY-ho," meaning we observe the Spanish 'J' but that double-'L' can fuck right off. I think 'Guzzmin' is a relic of an older time (the 70s, to be clear) before the paradigm of popular entertainment and news reporting expanded to include a greater diversity of voices, and the traditional pronunciations of non-English words and names began to take hold in the public vernacular. I note with some amusement that while my friends and I all refer to Valencia Street in The Mission as "vah-LEN-see-uh", my parents, both Bay Area natives and lifelong residents, call it "vah-LEN-sha."
Two years later, Harry shows his bleeding liberal heart when he and Early pass by the quartet of rookies in front of police HQ and exchange friendly words. As they part ways, this dialogue happens:
Early: They came through the academy after me. They stick together like fly paper, y'know? Everybody thought they were queer for each other.
Harry: Tell you something- if the rest of you could shoot like them, I wouldn't care if the whole damn department was queer.
Although Dirty Harry was inspired by the crimes of the still-unnamed Zodiac Killer, it was an unfortunate reversal that saw life imitate art after the release of Magnum Force. On April 22, 1974, a group United States Air Force airmen entered a stero shop in Odgen, Utah, took hostages, and spent hours brutalizing the victims in the store's basement. Although three men were arrested, tried, and convicted of the crimes which came to be known as the Hi-Fi Murders, it is believed that as many as six were involved. Of the five victims, only two survived to relay the horrific ordeal, which came to an end only when their captors forced the victims to consume drain cleaner.
In the media coverage that followed, it became known that the suspects had viewed Magnum Force multiple times in the months prior to the crimes, and had come to the erroneous conclusion that forcing one to drink drain cleaner, as the pimp does to the sex worker in the film, would be a quiet and efficient method of execution. In reality, the corrosive liquid caused severe and painful chemical burns rather than a speedy and convenient passing, and the mess and noise created by the unfortunate victims as a result forced the killers to resort to guns and other grisly lethal devices.
The scene in question is, put plainly, despicable, especially from a 21st century perspective. Even though Magnum Force contains irrelevant scenes like the airplane hijacking and the store robbery, I would sooner cut the sex worker's murder from the film- and not because it inspired a handful of awful people to commit a horrific crime (I'm not of the ilk who believe that art should be censored based upon the nefarious interpretations of a select few). Ostensibly this scene establishes the pimp as a bad person who has met criteria for the rookies' viligante justice, but it does so at the expense of humanizing his victim, who is never even given a name (actor Margaret Avery is credited only as 'Prostitute'). In an era where predators like The Grim Sleeper and Anthony Sowell can remain under law enforcement radar for decades simply because their victims were black women, I find it to be both lazy and in extremely poor taste to use the forcible domination, penetration, and destruction of yet another nameless black female body as a mere catalyst to the bad guy's comeuppance. And, let's be honest, as a bit of her own comeuppance as well- she is not only written as a flirtatious sex worker, reinforcing the myth of the oversexualized black woman, but as a devious cheat as well, cutting in line to take a taxi and hiding money that should have been handed over to her pimp. In a final insult, the murder itself is assigned pornographic imagery: the camera hovers at crotch level as she thrashes in her death throes before going limp, her legs spread apart.
Left: Starting from Harry's apartment at 1501 Leavenworth, the car plots a straightforward route to the highway by hooking around and onto Broadway. From Broadway, Harry and Briggs merely need to continue straight onto the Embarcadero Freeway (since demolished), which subsequently connected to I-280.
Below: from I-280, the car exits, now pursued by Grimes on his motorcycle. Mapping out the points seen in the film (see below in the 'Sightseeing' section), a realistic, if circuitous, route can be plotted through the Potrero Hill neighborhood. The route as plotted out via Google Maps is a bit confusing, so I overlaid it with a gradient line- starting at red, you can follow the chase route by working your way through the rainbow, ending at purple just a block away from where the pursuit started at the exit ramp.
Chase continued below
Below Left: This is the most unrealistic part of the chase sequence. From Pennsylvania and 19th in Potrero Hill, Harry's car and the pursuing Grimes suddenly jump over a mile to the northwest and appear at 9th and Division, underneath the confluence of highways I-80 and 101.
Below Right: However, once transported to 9th & Division, the chase immediately returns to the realm of the plausible, zooming across the 3rd Street drawbridge and into the industrial docklands of the Dogpatch.
The film's final confrontation and the true conclusion of the chase, at an aircraft carrier, was actually filmed across the bay in Richmond's Point Molate. However, putting both that and the chase's sudden one-mile jump between Potrero Hill and SoMa aside, I have to concede that this chase takes the most authentic/realistic route I've seen in a movie to date.
Although Carmine Ricca is leaving court, the physical building he exits is City Hall. This isn't necessarily inaccurate, as touched upon in last month's entry on Bedazzled, as San Francisco Superior Court held sessions in City Hall courtrooms up until sometime in the mid-70s.
This location is also where the cab ride ends in the sex worker's death. The terrified driver pulls over and leaps from the car in front of N. Alioto's Captain's Cabin (not to be confused with Alioto's No. 8, a few hundred feet northwest). A sign for the Ripley's Believe it or Not! attraction, still standing today, can be seen in the background, although N. Alioto's, like its fantastic scalloped awning, is now history.
Authenticity: 8.5/10- Paying $3,000/month for an efficiency studio in SoMa with a view of a hobo getting fisted.
Moral Quandary Scale: 6/10- You help a little old lady across the street and then find out she's a Nazi war criminal.
Overall: 9/10- Like its predecessor, a genre-busting philosophical question disguised as a rock-em sock-em action movie.
References & Further Reading
Magnum Force on Wikipedia
Magnum Force filming locations on The Movie District.
Magnum Force My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic, because why not.