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Warner Home Video presents
Magnum Force (1973)

"A man's got to know his limitations."
- Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood)

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: November 22, 2001

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, David Soul
Other Stars: Felton Perry, Robert Urich
Director: Ted Post

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language)
Run Time: 02h:03m:54s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 085391859925
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-A C-

DVD Review

As politically incorrect as Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" character is, there's no doubtthat he left a very specific mark on cinema, opening up a whole new type of police actionfilm. The first of Eastwood's Dirty Harry projects, while generally well received, was alsoconsidered controversial for its portrayal of a policeman who takes the law into his own hands to nail a deadly serial killer. Some people felt it encouraged an attitude of assuming guilt before innocence and letting violence sort things out. Whether intentional or not, the first Dirty Harry sequel, Magnum Force, actually dealt with the issue of police brutality head-on, as if to answer all the critics of the first film. It also marked a great collaboration between experienced director Ted Post and writers John Milius and Michael Cimino, both of whom would move on to their own director's chair.

San Francisco policeman Harry Callahan opens this chapter in the doghouse; being punished by his Lieutenant for his usual rule-breaking. He's assigned to stake-out duty rather than homicide, but things change when a rash of killings suddenly hits the city. Someone, apparently impersonating a cop, is killing off criminals at an alarming rate in a vigilante craze. Callahan thinks he may know who the culprit is, but the further he investigates, the more he uncovers resistance within the police department. No one cares who the killer is, because he's doing the public a perceived "favor" by executing offenders. Callahan, typically interpreted as the 'loose cannon' of the force, now seems much more moderate than others around him.

Obviously, the storyline was a great idea to make Callahan appear more mellow and less wild than his reputation had previously marked him. This way, Magnum Force cleverly skirts the issue of Callahan's "my rules only" style in favor of portraying him as a more sensible good-guy. While Harry Callahan, as a character, can never escape controversy, here he at least gets some breathing room; we see him as a functioning detective rather than just an angry officer out for justice. Clint Eastwood gets to act a bit more and make his character more intellectual and sympathetic, resulting in an extremely well-rounded picture; arguably the best of the whole series. That's not to say Magnum Force is without its trademark violence and action: Callahan does busts some heads, from airplane hijackers to armed robbers in a convenience store. The action, however, is kept on a certain leash. It never gets ridiculous or outlandish, just for the sake of showmanship. Instead, gunfight and car-chases are made more intense by their simplicity and "one-two punch" attitude.

Skillful editing and direction, though, are to thank for the impressive intensity, which never really lets up. The writing is incredibly tight and efficient, streamlining the movie into the bare-basics, but still telling a good tale filled with some intriguing twists and turns, especially for a 1970s-era action film. John Milius and Michael Cimino have pretty much had their charismatic careers defined by their ability to take gritty, 'pulp' fiction-type stories and turn them into impressive spectacles, and the two of them working together here is exciting to see. Perhaps the most clever element is, surprisingly, what they didn't write into the story; by leaving certain elements vague, such as the nature of the conspiracy to stall Callahan's investigation, it allows one's mind to fill in the gaps, rather than some over-explained script feature. Perhaps no other Dirty Harry vehicle has so deftly balanced being a commercially viable picture at it's mostbasic, but yet tell a fairly stimulating story.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anamorphically enhanced and widescreened to the original aspect ratio of 2:35:1, Magnum Force is extremely impressive as a DVD. While the opening credits seem a bit messy, the film settles into a very solid and extremely clear picture with very good depth and resolution. Some grain is apparent, but only in select scenes; everything else is suprisingly pristine and free of age problems like scratches or holes. While the anamorphic enhancement has brought out some aliasing problems, it's pretty minimal overall. The picture is very defined, with no signs of edge-enhancement or over-sharpening. Most importantly, everything feels very film-like, especially the colors, which match the muted cinematography rather than jumping out at you. It's obvious that some care and effort was put into the digital master.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Very surprising is the excellent new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. An impressive soundfield has been created, with loads of directionality in the front speakers, as well as some choice surround effects. The soundtrack is extremely natural and fluid, never drawing too much attention to itself, but enhancing things with its design. Surround effects are generous and used just about every place they can be, but they never sound out of place or exaggerated. Same story with the front speakers, which carry a variety of effects from street noise to moving dialogue, never seeming manufactured, like many mono-to-5.1 mixes. Most gunshots are beefed up with some heavy bass in the subwoofer channel, especially Dirty Harry's trademark .357 Magnum. Again, it's obvious that serious effort was put into this mix, as it is amazingly good given the age—souped-up without going overboard.

While I detected a few moments where some new foley was probably used to augment thesound effects, they still sound extremely natural. There is an accompanying French dubin mono which, though acceptable, is nowhere near as dynamic and immersing as the 5.1. If you must have French, use the subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Chinese with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The biggest supplement is an 8-minute featurette entitled The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today, made in 1973 as part of the marketing campaign for Magnum Force. Asa promotional program (especially one made at the time of filming), it's about what one would expect. Hardly informative or educational, it does provide some interesting behind-the-scenes footage of Eastwood working with Ted Post and the other actors. It presents itself as a semi-historical document of the past of crimefighting as well, but that's not a very precise description. There are some cast and crew bios, as well as some short, text pieces with making-of trivia with the original trailer (1:85:1, anamorphic enhanced, poor condition). The case is a typical Warner Bros. snapper with an interior chapter listing and artwork themed to the rest of the new Clint Eastwood series on DVD.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

One of Clint Eastwood's best action films makes for a great DVD experience, virtually atextbook example of how older films can be reborn into the digital age for futuregenerations. For Dirty Harry and Eastwood fans, it's a no-brainer purchase.


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