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Magnum Force
Magnum Force
Theatrical film poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Ted Post
Produced by Robert Daley
Screenplay by John Milius
Michael Cimino
Story by John Milius
Based on Template:Based onCharacters
Starring Clint Eastwood
Hal Holbrook
Mitchell Ryan
David Soul
Felton Perry
Robert Urich
Tim Matheson
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Frank Stanley
Editing by Ferris Webster
Studio The Malpaso Company
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) Template:Film date
Running time 124 minutes
Country Template:Film US
Language English

Template:Italic title

Magnum Force is the 1973 American sequel to the 1971 film Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood as maverick cop Harry Callahan. Ted Post, who also directed Eastwood in TV's Rawhide and the feature film Hang 'Em High, directed the second film in the Dirty Harry series. The screenplay was written by John Milius (who provided an uncredited rewrite for the original film) and Michael Cimino. This film features early appearances by David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven and Robert Urich as the primary antagonists, the vigilante traffic cops. At 124 minutes, it is also the longest Dirty Harry film.


Mobster Carmine Ricca drives away from court after being acquitted on a technicality. An unseen SFPD motorcycle cop stops Ricca's limo for a traffic violation. Suddenly, the patrolman pulls his service revolver—a .357 Magnum Colt Python—shoots all four men in the car, then rides away.

Inspector Harry Callahan and his partner Earlington Smith visit the crime scene. Callahan is controversial within the department. His superior Lieutenant Briggs views Callahan and his tactics—such as his handling of the Scorpio case, and foiling an aircraft hijacking at the airport by impersonating a pilot—as reckless and dangerous. The dislike is mutual, with Callahan mocking Briggs about the fact Briggs had never pulled his gun since he had been on the Police Force, saying "Well, you're a good man Lieutenant, and good men always know their limitations". Others, such as rookie traffic cops Philip Sweet, John Davis, "Red" Astrachan, and Michael Grimes, see the inspector as a role model. The young officers' zeal and marksmanship impress Callahan.

A motorcycle cop attacks a mobster's pool party, using a satchel charge and a 9mm Smith & Wesson M76 machine gun to kill multiple people. A pimp who killed one of his prostitutes is himself shot by a motorcycle cop. Callahan realizes that the pimp had let his killer approach him and had offered a bribe. He deduces that a cop is likely responsible, and suspects his old friend Charlie McCoy, who is unstable after leaving his wife.

A motorcycle cop murders drug kingpin Lou Guzman and associates with the Colt Python equipped with a suppressor, but encounters McCoy and kills him to eliminate a potential witness. Callahan presents his suspicions to Briggs, who informs him of McCoy's death and that Davis was the first on the scene of the shooting. Davis' promptness draws Callahan's suspicion. During a shooting competition with the rookie, Callahan borrows Davis' gun and embeds a slug in a wall. He finds that the slug matches those found at the crime scene involving Guzman and McCoy, and begins to suspect that a secret death squad within the department is responsible for the murders.

Briggs insists that mob killer Frank Palancio is behind the deaths and obtains a warrant for his arrest. Callahan requests two of the four rookies, Davis and Sweet, as his backup. Palancio and his gang are called shortly before the raid and told that men dressed as police officers will attack. Palancio kills Sweet during the resulting shootout with a 12 gauge Winchester Model 1897 shotgun; he and his men are also killed.

The three remaining renegade cops ask Callahan to join their organization; he responds, "I'm afraid you've misjudged me." He discovers and defuses a bomb in his mailbox left by the vigilantes in case he refused their offer, but a second bomb kills Smith. Briggs arrives and asks Callahan to drive; in the car he draws his .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 19 snubnose revolver and forces the inspector to disarm. Briggs reveals himself as a member of the death squad, cites the traditions of frontier justice and summary executions, and says, “You’re a great cop, Harry...But you’d rather stick with the system.” Callahan responds, "I hate the goddamn system, but until someone comes along with some changes that make sense I'll stick with it."

Callahan distracts Briggs and knocks him out, then kills the pursuing Grimes by hitting him head-on with his car. He runs onto an old escort aircraft carrier as the remaining two vigilantes arrive. The unarmed Callahan evades his pursuers and kills Astrachan with his bare hands, then rides his motorcycle with Davis in pursuit. After a series of daring jumps on the carrier, the two cyclists run out of deck space; Callahan is able to stop but Davis falls in the sea with his motorcycle and he is killed. Briggs confronts the inspector back at his car and threatens to prosecute Callahan for killing fellow cops. The inspector surreptitiously activates the timer on the mail bomb; it explodes, killing Briggs. The final scene of the movie is a close-up of Callahan's face as he says, "A man's got to know his limitations", before he walks away.




Writer John Milius came up with a storyline in which a group of rogue young officers in the San Francisco Police Force systematically exterminate the city's worst criminals, portraying the idea that there are worse cops than Dirty Harry.[1] Clint Eastwood specifically wanted the story to show that, in spite of the 1971's film perceived view of Inspector Callahan, Harry was 100% not a vigilante. David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and Kip Niven were cast as the young vigilante cops.[2] Milius was a gun aficionado and political conservative and the film would extensively feature gun shooting in practice, competition, and on the job.[2] 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 and with Dirty Harry once again eating a hot dog but this time foiling an airplane hijacking at the airport.[2]

With Milius committed to filming Dillinger, Michael Cimino was later hired to revise the script, overlooked by Ted Post, who was to direct. According to Milius, his script did not contain any of the action sequences (the car chase scene and duel on the aircraft carriers) at the end of the film. His was a "simple script".[3] The adding 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).[3]


Frank Stanley was hired as cinematographer and Lalo Schifrin once again conducted the score and filming commenced in late April 1973.[2] During filming Eastwood encountered numerous disputes with Post over who was calling the shots in directing the film, and Eastwood failed 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 and he confronts the rogue cops.[4] Eastwood was intent, like with many of his films on shooting it as smoothly as possible, often refusing to do retakes over certain scenes insisted on by Post who 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".[4] Post remained bitter with Eastwood for many years and claims disagreements over the filming affected his career afterwards.[5] According to 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."[4]


The film would launch a number of careers, including David Soul (Starsky & Hutch television series), Robert Urich (S.W.A.T., Vega$ and Spencer for Hire) and Tim Matheson (films like Animal House (1978) and Fletch (1985), which the latter spawned a sequel that featured Hal Holbrook, who plays Briggs). Future Three's Company TV star Suzanne Somers can be seen as the topless blonde at the mobster's pool party. Interestingly, Soul and Matheson, who played two of the vigilante cops, would later both play protagonists in Stephen King made-for-TV film adaptations that involves their characters returning to their childhood home town only to find that it is infested by an evil presence (Soul starred in Salem's Lot, while Matheson starred in Sometimes They Come Back).


The film received negative publicity in 1974 when it was discovered that a scene in which drain cleaner is used to murder a prostitute 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 that had they not seen the movie, would have chosen a method from another film. The drain cleaner reference was repeated in three other films, 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.[3]



Although the film was a major success after release, grossing $58.1 million dollars in the United States alone, a new record for Eastwood, it was not a critical success.[5] New York Times critics such as Nora Sayre criticized the often contradictory moral themes of the film and Frank Rich believed it "was the same old stuff".[5] 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.[5]

Box office performance[]

In the film's opening weekend, it grossed $6,871,011.[6] In the US, the film made a total of $44,680,473 (USA),[7] making it more successful than the first film.


  1. McGilligan (1999), p.233
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 McGilligan (1999), p.234
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 John Milius commentary on Magnum Force Deluxe Edition DVD
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 McGilligan (1999), p.235
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 McGilligan (1999), p.236
  6. Munn, p. 142
  7. Template:Cite web


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